Owls aim to break duck as pressure increases

Sheffield Wednesday's Stephen McPhail
Sheffield Wednesday's Stephen McPhail
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IF fortune does favour the brave, then Jeremy Helan is hoping his Sheffield Wednesday side enter the lion’s den of Oakwell this lunchtime without fear.

For the Owls travel to neighbours Barnsley for a 12.15pm kick-off without a win so far this season in any competition.

Dave Jones’s side thought they had broken their duck last weekend only to see Jermaine Johnson’s second-half header wrongly ruled out for offside with the game locked at 1-1.

That resulted in a seventh draw in 11 Championship games for the Owls, who go to Oakwell a place below the Reds, who have won twice this term, including a 3-2 defeat of Middlesbrough last weekend.

That result saw Boro chief Tony Mowbray lose his job, and while the pressure is certainly on Jones to deliver results quickly, Wednesday’s impressive displays have seen chairman Milan Mandaric stand by his manager.

The Owls have actually only lost four Championship games this season, a record only bettered by teams in the top seven. It is just their seven draws which have been their Achilles heel.

If the Owls need any omens, they only have to look back 12 months when Jones’s side were on a seven-match losing strike but managed to pinch a 1-0 win at Oakwell which helped kick-start a revival.

“It’s a big derby, especially with the position both clubs are in,” said Frenchman Helan. “Everyone is looking forward to the game.

“When we went there (to Oakwell) last season the pressure was the same, same positions as well. Pressure was on both clubs and Saturday will be the same.

“We came out with the victory then, so hopefully we can do that again. It would be good to get that first win in a big derby, especially in the position we are in.”

Championship games in general are tight, meaning a slice of fortune can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Last week, the Owls were denied victory by an offside flag, but at Oakwell last season they profited when Gary Madine seemed to foul goalkeeper Luke Steele in the build-up to Chris O’Grady’s winner. The former Owls striker will be in the red of Barnsley today after a summer switch.

Midfielder Helan is philosophical on such matters.

“That will happen,” said the 21-year-old former Manchester City youngster. “It was us last week, it will be another club this week. Misfortune against us, in the situation where we are, no doubt hurts us more. We needed the luck to go our way not the opposite way.

“I remember against Barnsley last season, we won with a controversial goal after a foul against their goalkeeper. Last time it went our way, maybe again, we don’t know.”

While wins have not been forthcoming, Helan believes the Owls are playing better football this season, aided by the arrival of former Oakwell favourite Stephen McPhail.

“There have been a few games we have come close to winning,” he said. “I actually feel we are playing better football than last season.

“The players cannot believe we have still not go that first win. Last season, we sometimes got the three points without even playing well.

“It’s been surprising this season.

“Sometimes last season we maybe won 1-0, and we were thinking ‘when are we going to concede?’ Yet we would win. It was like if we had to play five minutes longer we wouldn’t have won the game.

“This season it’s like ‘when are they going to score?’ We have had good possession in some games this season, and not come out with a win. We would concede in the last five minutes, it’s hard to deal with.”

One of the key features for the Owls this season is the partnership between left-back Reda Johnson and Helan just in front of him in midfield.

Helan’s experience of playing left-back means he can sit deep to cover for Johnson’s attacking raids.

“Last season, we worked that combination and as we are both French, it makes it easier,” said Helan.

“When he goes forward, I take his place, and he is a target man as well. He’s very good to play alongside and I am enjoying it. He is older than me so is giving me instructions, some tips on what to do and where to be. He is back fit, no problems, because last season it was difficult for him.”

Fans favourite Reda Johnson has taken over the captaincy from injured Anthony Gardner – out for several months with ligament damage – and Helan believes he has quickly taken to his new role.

“To see someone that the fans love, being captain, is good. He can bring that love from the fans into the team, he has a voice, is big and tall.

“He is not shy of saying anything, which is good.

“If he has something to say he will say it. It’s very good to have him as captain. He’s a happy man, always smiling.”

It is that positive influence which seems to have rubbed off on his team-mates, and Helan insists the Owls cannot allow their winless start to affect their match-day approach.

“Not winning is disappointing, but if you start with that mentality of ‘that we have pressure on our shoulders to get that win’ it’s not good to step onto the pitch under that pressure,” he said.

“Sometimes you feel you are not doing things right and will be scared of doing things. We should play freely and the win will come.

“The players are ready. We just want to get out on the pitch and play.”

As for Jones, he is desperate to find a formula which can help turn draws into wins for Wednesday.

There can be no better setting than a fierce all-ticket derby at Oakwell in front of a partisan crowd.

“All derby games are big juicy ones, no matter what level you’re at,” he said. “We are playing all right, we just can’t get that win, we are drawing too many games.

“We have got to try and turn them draws into wins. We are getting closer.

“We got that on Saturday, we scored a perfectly good goal and it was taken away from us through no fault of our own,” added the Owls chief.

Today is the final match of striker Matty Fryatt’s loan spell from Hull City.

Jones revealed he plans to hold talks with the striker and Tigers manager Steve Bruce over the weekend in the hope the loan deal can be extended for at least another month.

richard.hercock@ypn.co.uk