Even with the World Cup and the excitement it brings soon approaching, just like most English football fans, I can’t help but keep one eye on next season. After a year of ups and downs for Sheffield Wednesday – the sacking of manager Dave Jones and introduction of the Stuart Gray and Lee Bullen as manager and first team coach combination, what can be realistically expected in 2014/2015 from the Championship side?
For many years now, it’s been no hidden secret that Wednesday have heavily relied upon the loan system, be it for promotion from League One in 2011/12 or avoiding relegation on numerous occasions. Great examples that come to mind are Ben Marshall and Michail Antonio (signed at the end of the campaign from Reading) who both helped the Owls clinch promotion during loan spells in the 2011/12 season. Leroy Lita was deemed an Owls hero for his contribution in the later stages of the 2012/13 campaign that saw Wednesday seal Championship status – in their first season back following a two-year absence – on the final day of the season.
With various departures already this summer, which include fan favorites like Jermaine and Reda Johnson, there’s already a sense around Hillsborough that Stuart Gray and his team are seriously looking to improve the questionable quality from the past two seasons and build on last season’s 16th placed finish.
The general consensus coming from many Owls fans is that the team require a consistent goal scoring striker, which was highlighted during Connor Wickham’s second loan spell in which he scored 8 goals and provided 2 assists in 11 games. However I believe what’s more important is a strong spine down the center; a goalkeeper, a centre-back, a central midfielder and a striker who all have experience and the quality required to make a top half finish if not push for promotion. The goalkeeper we already have in Chris Kirkland is one who has produced some game-saving performances during his two year spell at the club, which is shown through the awards he has received during that time. However other key positions are still vacant gaps that must be filled early on in the summer transfer window if we want to achieve a top half finish.
So far during his time at the club, many supporters have praised the positive changes Stuart Gray has made which have shown in the club’s results since his appointment. On December 1, Dave Jones was sacked and the Owls sat second bottom of the Championship with only 11 points after 16 games, a full five points off of safety! After this point, Stuart Gray and his men picked up 42 points from 30 games, averaging 1.4 points per game, meaning the Owls finished 16th in the league and clear of the relegation zone by nine points. In hindsight, the job Stuart Gray has done may not seem impressive but had the league begun when Gray took over the Owls would have finished in 12th place with a team that had low morale upon his appointment and weren’t “his players,” so to speak.