SHEFFIELD Wednesday manager Gary Megson claims the race for the League One title is over.
The Owls suffered a first home defeat of the season against leaders Charlton Athletic on Saturday and dropped to fourth in the table.
Megson immediately hailed the Addicks as champions-elect and stated the rest of the top five were now chasing second spot.
He also vowed that Saturday’s 1-0 loss would not signal the start of a collapse in the Owls’ season.
“This result is significant in terms of who will win it – I think they will,” said Megson. “From our point of view, it is a disappointment but there are two places to try and get up there for and there’s also the play-offs.
“I would say it is a four-way fight now for second place,” he added. “I think Charlton are sold. They are organised, they all work hard and they are difficult to play against. Whoever finishes above them is going to have to be an exceptional side.
“Both the result and the way we played was a disappointment,” he reflected. “It was nowhere near the way we have played all season.
“We have a choice now. Do we roll our sleeves up and plough on again? Or do we feel sorry for ourselves and let what happened last season go on again – and we don’t do that.
“We can either let this result get to us or pick ourselves up, dust ourselves down, and move forward – and I can assure you it will be the second option.”
Jonnie Jackson’s free-kick secured victory for Charlton, whose next opponents are second-placed Sheffield United.
The Blades, who won at Bury, are four points behind but have also played one game more.
However, with 21 games still to play, Charlton manager Chris Powell is refusing to take anything for granted.
“Things can change quickly especially when you have three games in a week,” said Powell. “All the other 23 teams are still a threat. I believe it’s going to go all the way until the end of the season and we just have to stay focused on what we do.”
The Owls had gone 14 home games without a defeat prior to Saturday’s game and would have been just two points behind Charlton if they had won.
Reflecting on the reasons for his team’s lacklustre performance, Owls manager Megson said: “There are lots of different issues and we just had too many players not up to the level I know they can play.”
Winger Ben Marshall, who was playing his final game on loan from Stoke City, and winger Mike Jones, who was making his debut after moving from Bury, were both substituted.
Striker Gary Madine was also substituted after being plunged straight back into the side following a two-month injury lay-off.
Megson said: “Ben was nowhere near where you would normally expect him to play and he’s probably got reasons for that.
“He’s got a lot going on in his life that he can’t do too much about but keep playing. It’s simplistic to say that but when you are 20 years old and trying to get everything sorted it’s not as easy.”
Marshall has yet to agree a new deal with Stoke and his future has been the subject of intense speculation.
He has been on loan with the Owls since the start of the season but is now being linked with a possible £500,000 move to Huddersfield Town.
“Ben will go back to Stoke on Monday but we will keep trying to do something,” said Megson. “It seems he will either sign a contract at Stoke and be loaned out – or he won’t and he will just stay there.”
On Jones, Megson said: “He worked hard but wasn’t at the level I’d expect along with probably nine of our outfield players.
“It was probably a bit too much to ask on reflection,” he added. “He’s come from Bury and there were nearly 28,000 here for a top of the table game. He can do better than that.
“A lot of our players individually were maybe 10-15 per cent down in terms of what I would expect.
“Semedo was playing against his old team and I didn’t think he was anything like what he would normally be. I thought Chris O’Grady was the only one who was anywhere near like where I expect them to be.”
The Owls, meanwhile, have decided not to extend winger Sanchez Watt’s loan deal from Arsenal.
Watt was omitted from Saturday’s squad with Megson saying: “He’s a talented lad but I am not sure that League One is where his future lies at the moment. I like him as a person, he’s just not physically up to the demands of this division.
“He has a lot of things going for him that would dictate you play at the higher level but he’s got to do other things to be able to get himself into the Arsenal team which is a big ask because of the quality that Arsene Wenger has got available.”
Huddersfield moved a point above the Owls into third place with a 1-0 home win against Oldham despite having had five players involved in a car accident after training on Friday.
Alan Lee required stitches in his head and fellow striker Danny Cadamarteri, winger Gary Roberts and defender Antony Kay suffered whiplash injuries when a car driven by captain Peter Clarke hit another. All five, however, were involved in Saturday’s encounter at the Galpharm Stadium as Town remained three points behind the Blades.