IF Gary Megson needs any sort of barometer on the improvements Sheffield Wednesday have made in the last 12 months then he only has to dive into the history books.
For Saturday’s hard-fought win over Leyton Orient saw the Owls leapfrog Yorkshire rivals Huddersfield Town – who face leaders Charlton tonight – into second place with an impressive 39 points from just 19 games.
Last season it took Wednesday three months longer – a 1-0 away win at Carlisle United on February 26 – to reach a similar points tally.
Compare also the much-improved home form, Wednesday managed just 10 Hillsborough wins all last season yet are unbeaten in S6 so far this campaign with eight wins and a draw from their first nine matches.
It all adds up to sound foundations for Megson’s side to launch a promotion bid in the second half of the season.
Yet you only had to look at the side which triumphed on Saturday, courtesy of left-back Reda Johnson’s towering far post header, to quickly realise the reliance on temporary loan players by Wednesday.
Five started on Saturday – recent arrival Arsenal’s Sanchez Watt was unable to take part as League rules only allow for five loan players – and Megson knows he will have to act in the January transfer window to try and bring some permanent additions to Wednesday.
That three of the back four, Danny Batth (Wolves), James Tavernier (Newcastle) and Miguel Llera (Blackpool) – plus goalkeeper Stephen Bywater – had never played together before Saturday made the clean sheet even more impressive.
Megson said: “I spoke to all the six loan players and explained the situation. The rules are that we can only have five in the squad so one of them will always have to stand down.
“But they are a really good set of lads, they have the right attitude and today, I thought Miguel and James did really well in their first games.
“They were calm and composed and part of a defence that got a clean sheet. Stephen Bywater didn’t have a shot to save and that says a lot about the defensive display.”
Orient should have scored in the opening minutes but on-loan Huddersfield Town man Tom Clarke headed against the crossbar from Leon McSweeney’s cross.
That would be the closest the visitors came to scoring.
Ben Marshall – the fifth loanee from Stoke City – and Chris Lines played a short free-kick to set-up Johnson’s winner, the defender having a second ‘goal’ disallowed for pushing elsewhere in the box, while Ryan Lowe was thwarted by goalkeeper Ben Alnwick and Chris O’Grady missed several chances in the second half.
Sheffield Wednesday: Bywater, Tavernier, Batth, Llera, R Johnson, O’Connor (Palmer 53), Lines, Semedo, Marshall, Lowe (Morrison 78), O’Grady (Prutton 89). Unused substitutes: O’Donnell, Bennett.
Leyton Orient: Alnwick, Craig, Cuthbert, Forbes, Lisbie (Laird 46), McSweeney, Spring, Smith (Cureton 83), Cook (Porter 66), Clarke, Mooney. Unused substitutes: Chorley, Butcher.
Referee: S Mathieson (Cheshire).
Man of the match: Reda Johnson.