SHEFFIELD Wednesday captain Rob Jones insists that Gary Megson has the full support of his players.
Amid mounting pressure on Megson, Jones hailed the ‘fantastic job’ done by the Owls manager and stressed that automatic promotion is still not out of reach.
The Owls, who are third, host arch-rivals Sheffield United tomorrow needing a victory to stay in the race for a top-two spot.
Defeat would give the Blades, who are second, an eight-point advantage with 15 games to play and they would still have two games in hand.
Centre-back Jones, one of the first players signed by Megson last season, is aware of the speculation currently surrounding the club.
“All managers are under pressure to get results but we are thoroughly behind ours,” said Jones yesterday. “He’s done a fantastic job since he came in last season. We are third in the table with 14 games to go.
“We have got a great group of players and a good manager who believes in us. And we believe in him.
“When you sign on the dotted line for a club as massive as Sheffield Wednesday, you have pressure whether you are a manager, a coach, or a player,” he said. “There is pressure to reward the fans for their loyalty, there is pressure because of who you play for and the stature of the club, and the manager is no different.”
Tomorrow’s derby has been described by some as the ‘most important’ since the clubs met in the 1993 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.
Back in 1993, the Owls were managed by Trevor Francis and the Blades by Dave Bassett – with the latter regarded as the artisans compared to the artists of Wednesday.
These days, however, the perception is different with the Blades hailed for the style of their football under former Owls manager Danny Wilson and the Owls portrayed as the more direct outfit under Megson.
Jones insist that the Owls get a raw deal.
“We are not a Route One side! We can mix it as much as the next,” he said. “Sometimes we have two big boys up front in Gary Madine and Chris O’Grady – who hold the ball well and play well together – but we also have passers in our team; Chris Lines, Jose Semedo, David Prutton, Chris Sedgwick and John Bostock who like to get the ball down and play.”
The Owls were second in the table, ahead of the Blades, until they suffered three defeats in the space of a week against Exeter, Stevenage and Chesterfield.
“We have all been disappointed by the week that went – three defeats and scoring only one goal,” he said. “It’s not great and you can’t do anything about that. But we had a slip up for a full week. We lost three games. Overall, the season has gone very very well and confidence is high.”
Jones does not share the view that defeat tomorrow will leave the Owls relying on the play-offs to achieve their goal of promotion to the Championship.
“There’s still a long, long way to go,” he said. “You have to look at each game as it comes and not allow yourself to get too far ahead of any situation. We will get through this weekend and look at the following weekend. That’s the way we have done it all season so why change now we are in third position?
“We can’t do anything about (leaders) Charlton now – we have played them twice – and we can’t influence the rest of Sheffield United’s season after this weekend. But what we can influence is our own season. There are still lots of points to play for and I’m sure there will be lots of twists and turns in the division as we go into the back end of the season.
“As long as we get as many points as possible let’s see where that takes us. Who knows where we will end up? Our aim is still within grasp.”
A lifelong Wednesday supporter, Jones, 32, says tomorrow’s derby will be the ‘biggest league game’ of a career that has been spent mainly in lower league football.
“As footballers, you want to play on the best stage possible and I think there is no better stage in our division than Hillsborough in front of a full capacity crowd,” he said. “The atmopshere will be fantastic and it’s a derby which adds that bit extra.
“Players want to play in full grounds week in, week out but you have to play the game not the occasion. Sometimes young boys get carried away with the atmosphere – so it will be up to the older boys around them to try and keep their heads on what we are there to do.
“I love derbies because they are intense and there is a bit of bite to the game. The atmospere in and around the ground is fantastic. The atmosphere for a week to 10 days before the gamne is fantastic. It’s important for the fans and the players.”
Although the Blades have been flying in recent weeks, he says the formbook goes out of window.
“It is a massive game irrespective of the last three results. We are both in great positions in the league. It’s an opportunity for us to close the gap and an opportunity for them to try and open it up.”
Blades striker Ched Evans is likely to be the main threat to the Owls having scored 21 goals so far this season.
“He’s a good player,” acknowledges Jones. “If you give him chances, he will score goals but we also have good footballers. Chris O’Grady holds the ball up well, Ryan Lowe is a finisher, and Clinton Morrison has played in great leagues and the World Cup. It’s not about one or two indivduals, it’s about how you react in different situations.
“I am a defender and I am there to stop goals. As long as we defend from the front, as you should, we will be okay.”
He may be Owls captain but even Jones does not take his involvement tomorrow for granted. “We have got a lot of quality in the squad and no-one is guaranteed to play – whether captain or not,” he said.”I’m a heart on my sleeve player and that’s the way it will be on Sunday – if selected!”