Dave Jones insists avoiding relegation at Sheffield Wednesday would be a bigger achievement than last year’s stunning promotion success.
Jones celebrates 12 months as manager at Hillsborough this weekend with the Owls embroiled in a fight to avoid dropping out of the Championship.
His arrival at the club came in unusual circumstances. Just two wins in 10 meant not even a Steel City derby victory over the Blades could save fans’ favourite Gary Megson from being axed by Milan Mandaric.
If the Owls had lost to Sheffield United at Hillsborough on February 26 last year, they would have trailed their city rivals by eight points having played two games more – a potential 14-point deficit.
Instead, Chris O’Grady’s winner proved pivotal come the end of the season, as Jones engineered a 13-game unbeaten streak which saw Wednesday pip United to automatic promotion by three points.
Now Jones has 13 games to keep Wednesday in the Championship, a feat he believes would surpass even last year’s drama.
“Let’s be honest, nobody expected when I came in last year with 13 games to go for us to be automatically promoted,” he said.
“That was not on the agenda, it was possibly to stay within the play-offs. The club had drifted a little bit. My remit was to make sure we got to the play-offs, but along the way results started to fly, others were dropping points – across the park – and we capitalised on it.
“We needed others around us to lose games. That’s what happened, and it was the bit of luck we had. But to get that luck we had to maintain that winning streak.
“This time round, to get where we want to be is to continue our form, continue what we are doing. But it’s a lot harder because it’s a harder division. The Championship is a tough division.”
The Owls started well in the Championship, but in the autumn Jones saw his side struggle and win just twice in 19 games.
But a gritty 1-0 win at Barnsley in December revived their season and they have lost just once in their last dozen Championship games.
Ahead of tomorrow’s tea-time visit of Nottingham Forest for a televised game at Hillsborough, the Owls are five points clear of third-from-bottom Wolverhampton.
Jones is reluctant to reflect with any degree of satisfaction over the last 12 months, until Championship safety is secure.
But he admits replacing fans’ favourite Megson, and rebuilding a club which had suffered over a decade of decline, has been a tough challenge.
“The last 12 months have been hard, I won’t say it has been easy,” said the former Southampton and Cardiff City manager. “It has been difficult. There were difficult times when I arrived, because of the circumstances.
“I have enjoyed my year here though. Financially, we have to be diligent in what we do and make sure we get the right players in.
“Slowly but surely we have seen a turnaround within the club and that means the club must be moving forward.
“I think it’s been a successful year; it would be even more successful once we are safe and know we are staying in this division.
“Promotion within a year is always success, but we want more than that. We want to push on, build, and make it stronger.
“If you employ me, that’s what you get, you get a builder. Every club I have been at I have left in a far better position than when I started. I am proud of that.
“You expect tough moments, even at a top club. It’s how you deal with it. We had a plan, so when the tough times came the secret really was not to chop and change and lose sight of what you are doing. Then you are all over the place and might as well get a blank piece of paper out and start all over again.
“When you look at some of the clubs, even in our division, the money they have spent to get where we all want to go is phenomenal. Are we jealous of that? Yes, a little bit envious.
“We just have to do it a different way, and sometimes you can appreciate it more rather than just throw money at it. The day that I leave, the one thing I know, the club will be better off for it.
“When you look at the clubs below halfway in the Championship, it’s quite scary. I hate it with a passion, the unpredictability to it.”
Asked if he had expected such a difficult challenge at Hillsborough, Jones replied: “Every club you go into is difficult. This is no more difficult than any other club I have been at. For one reason, expectation levels. I am not talking about fans’ expectation levels, I am talking about my own.
“My expectation levels are just as high, if not higher, than anybody elses. I expect to win every game, no matter who we play.”