DAVE Jones aims to wipe out the ‘fear’ that crept into Sheffield Wednesday’s game under Gary Megson.
Although the Owls are third in the League One table, Megson was sacked following a sequence of three wins in 11 games.
On Tuesday night, the Owls romped to a 4-1 victory against Bury and closed the gap on second-placed Sheffield United to a single point, with fourth-placed Huddersfield Town, who have a game in hand on Wednesday, also winning.
Jones, who was on the touchline for the first time since taking charge, praised the team’s performance which was less ‘direct’ than in recent weeks.
The former Wolves and Cardiff City manager watched from the stands last weekend at Rochdale – due to arriving just 24 hours earlier – and had worked with the players for only three days.
“It was a bit of a culture shock for me on Saturday, let’s put it that way,” he said. “I told the players after the game that I couldn’t be watching that for very long.
“Someone said they played good football in the first couple of months of the season and, talking to the lads, it’s only the last couple of months where it became a little bit ‘boom boom’.
“That might have been a little bit of fear and getting frustrated with things,” he reflected.
“There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to play. The right way is getting results. I just asked them to be a bit more patient rather than getting from A to B as quickly as possible.
“All we did was ask them to believe in what they can do,” he added. “There were times when they gave the ball away but what I am proud of is they were not frightened of the ball. We tried to be a little bit different and I think it worked. They did everything we asked and more.”
Jones made two key changes to the side – striker Ryan Lowe preferred to Chris O’Grady and winger Mike Jones replacing David Prutton to start for the first time in more than six weeks.
“Until you know your players inside out, it has to be a case of putting round pegs in round holes,” he explained.
“Prutts is not really a wide fella. It was about getting more shape and fluency.
“It was all about keeping the ball,” he said. “It’s a stupid saying but if you have got the ball, they can’t score. And you also have more chance of doing it than they have.”
Jones, who has spent the majority of his managerial career in the Championship or the Premier League, admits that it will take time to learn about the different demands of League One football.
He will rely on his existing backroom staff – Chris Evans, Neil Thompson and Andy Rhodes – with support from his long-time No 2 Terry Burton.
“We are on a bit of a wing and a prayer because I don’t know the division as well as the boys here do,” he said. “I rely on the likes of Chris, Neil and Rhodesy and that was a discussion with the chairman.
“They do know the division better than me but, at the end of the day, if you set your team up right, it doesn’t matter what the division is. You have still got to go and play the team in front of you.”
With another home game on Saturday against Bournemouth, the Owls are looking to build momentum and squeeze arch-rivals United out of the top two.
“We have to keep it going but it’s important not to get carried away,” said Jones. “The Bury result will do the players the world of good because it was a victory in front of 17.000 people.
“The performance was for the fans because it has been a little bit raw over the last week,” he said, referring to the controversial departure of Megson.
“I was also really pleased for the chairman (Milan Mandaric) because he has taken a little a bit of flak. It was nice to see him with a smile on his face because, in the last couple of days, he has been a little bit down.
“It was my night but it could have been so different,” he added. “That’s why I never take anything for granted in football.”
The Owls, however, are only one point clear of Huddersfield, who are unbeaten in four games under new manager Simon Grayson.
After surrendering two- and three-goal leads in their previous two drawn games, the former Leeds chief praised scorer Alan Lee after the 1-0 home win over Hartlepool.
“He hasn’t played in the last couple of games, but you want players to have an effect from the bench and Alan certainly did that. He hustled and bustled and took his chance very well.
“We are all in this together – trying to achieve the same target.”
Grayson feels the strength of his squad will be key to their automatic promotion hopes. “We don’t have any injury problems, apart from Peter Clarke and Tommy Miller and with this squad of players you don’t see any of them moping around – everyone is in the changing room celebrating.
“All the players will get an opportunity from now until the end of the season because we have got a demanding schedule and it is all about the squad.”
Blades manager Danny Wilson, who brought in Blackpool full-back Matt Hill and Sunderland centre-back John Egan on loan to answer a defensive crisis said after the 3-2 defeat Walsall: “I don’t think we have ever been outplayed but we have conceded six goals in the last two games and that’s an area we have to concentrate on.”