Just two wins in 17 games has the alarm bells ringing at Hillsborough as Sheffield Wednesday find themselves plunged deep into a relegation battle. Richard Hercock reports.
Milan Mandaric had hoped to celebrate the two-year anniversary of his takeover of Sheffield Wednesday by toasting a long overdue Hillsborough win.
Instead the Owls chairman was forced to endure a second-half drubbing as Watford thrashed his club 4-1 on Tuesday evening.
It started well when Michail Antonio put the Owls in front after just three minutes, and even when Fernando Forestieri equalised, Chris Lines should have restored their advantage but missed a 29th-minute penalty.
Second-half goals from Alexandre Geijo, Troy Deeney and Mark Yeates punished some appalling home defending and left Mandaric and his manager Dave Jones to deliver defiant messages.
“We will pick up more points and we will not just survive, we will stabilise,” said Mandaric, who appointed Jones after sacking Gary Megson in February.
“We will put a team together that will give us a good platform to move forward. Now is not a time for panic, now is a time for character.
“It took patience and good support for us to get what we wanted but it is a building process and we need everyone to understand we are doing everything humanly possible to make the club successful. We are not overlooking anything.
“We need to recognise we have hit a stumbling block and some of the players have not gelled as quickly as we would have liked but that will happen.”
As for Jones, he yesterday dragged the players in to their Middlewood Road training ground to watch their second-half performance on DVD.
Asked if he thought such a shocking defeat could prove to be a turning point, and bring a defiant reaction from his squad, Jones said: “I have just asked them that. I didn’t get an answer from them, they were all quiet, maybe a bit of embarrassment.
“Blame culture is the wrong thing. You have got to look yourself in the mirror and ask did I do enough? And none of us did enough in the second half.
“I will stick by them, even though I haven’t kicked a ball, I am still part of that.
“None of us can shirk any blame. How do we turn it round? The only way I know is come out kicking, scrapping and being brave. That’s what it’s going to take.
“I’m not making any excuses, that second-half performance was poor. We didn’t do our jobs, we switched off from set pieces and you can’t do that.
“Teams in this division will pick you off if you make basic errors and that’s what we have seen.”
Watford deserved their victory, but were lucky to still have 10 men on the field after Daniel Pudil took Jay Bothroyd’s legs from behind to earn Wednesday a penalty.
The Hornets defender, however, was shown just a yellow card much to the annoyance of Jones.
“The referee said he didn’t send him off because he wasn’t in control of the ball,” he said.
“I don’t really understand that one, a penalty is a penalty, and he is clean through. There’s lots of times you knock the ball forward and people are taken out on the halfway line, you are never in control of the ball but you are taken out.”
Wednesday – whose vice-chairman Paul Aldridge will face a grilling from supporters at a sold-out fans forum next Tuesday at Hillsborough – also lost three players on the night to injury with Anthony Gardner (hamstring), Lewis Buxton (hamstring) and Rhys McCabe (ankle) ahead of Sunday’s daunting trip to Cardiff City.
If Gardner’s injury is serious, that could signal a recall for Mark Beevers, who has excelled in his loan move to Millwall with Jones having a 24-hour recall on the centre-half.
The trip to South Wales is followed by two key games against fellow relegation battlers Bristol City at Hillsborough, before a televised trip to South Yorkshire neighbours Barnsley on December 15.
An improvement on their ratio of two wins from 17 games will be a necessity, or the pressure on Jones and Mandaric to take drastic action will only incease.