The elements rescued the Owls on Wednesday. Glenn Loovens wants them to make the most of the reprieve. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
AS the locals filed out into a miserable Sheffield night that had just caused the abandonment of Wednesday’s clash with Wigan Athletic, there was a palpable sense of relief.
Referee Keith Stroud had called a halt on the hour after a monsoon-like storm had left the already-sodden Hillsborough pitch covered in puddles and clearly unplayable.
The cause of the Wednesday fans’ relief was that the Latics were not only 1-0 ahead but also so in control of proceedings that they really should have been at least three goals ahead when Stroud called time on proceedings.
Defeat would have meant the Owls remaining in the bottom three at the 20-game stage of the season – a position that a glance back through recent history teaches us is likely to lead to a club being relegated come the following May.
Both Peterborough and Bristol City went down a year ago after being in the relegation zone at this stage of last season. Ditto Doncaster Rovers and Coventry City 12 months earlier.
A look back across the past decade of the Championship reveals those last two seasons have very much been the norm with, on average, two of the three teams ultimately relegated having been in the bottom three at this corresponding stage of the year.
Such a damning statistic is why Wednesday’s already delayed fixture at Hillsborough – Wigan’s Europa League commitments as FA Cup holders had seen the original fixture postponed from September 17 – was such a big one for the Owls, who needed a point to move out of the drop zone.
As it was, Wednesday were – as caretaker manager Stuart Gray pointed out in yesterday’s Yorkshire Post – handed something of a ‘get out of jail free’ card by the weather as, on the evidence of the opening 60 minutes, it was difficult to envisage the hosts preventing the Latics from collecting all three points.
Glenn Loovens, the Dutch defender who signed a short-term contract at Hillsborough until December 29, had never before experienced an abandonment in a career that has included stopovers in Spain, Scotland and Wales.
He said: “It was very wet out there. In the end, it just wasn’t playable any more. It was getting a bit dangerous as well. Tackles were flying by and I think the referee made the right call to call it off.
“I have never been involved in a game like that before, but it was just one of those things. You can’t control the weather.
“In the first half, Wigan were the better team. They have good players and I thought they played the ball around well.
“We were struggling a bit with the way we play. That is sometimes how it goes in football. We tried to turn it round in the second half by making a couple of substitutions.
“There were still 45 minutes to play. Or that is what we thought. Of course, we were going to have a go for it and try to win the game. That is what we tried to do.
“We play again on Saturday (at home to Bournemouth). That is the good thing about the Championship. The games come along very quickly and we have another chance to get a good result.”
As a quick glance at the table illustrates, the Championship is once again proving to be a tough proposition for many of Yorkshire’s teams.
Barnsley are bottom, while even a Wednesday win over Wigan would not have altered the fact the White Rose are providing four of the bottom six clubs right now.
It is a gloomy state of affairs, even compared to a year ago when the struggles of Barnsley and the Owls (21st and 23rd respectively) were offset by Hull City and Middlesbrough being in the play-off places and both Leeds and Huddersfield harbouring hopes of joining them from mid-table.
The hope, of course, is that all the county’s sides in trouble can strike the sort of form that took the Reds and Owls to safety.
From distinctly unpromising beginnings, both clubs discovered a spark that would bring form that bordered on title-winning, to avoid the drop. Wednesday, for instance, claimed an impressive 43 points from their final 25 fixtures, while the appointment of David Flitcroft early in the new year inspired Barnsley to embark on a 20-game run-in which yielded 34 points.
Flitcroft, of course, has gone, replaced this week at Oakwell by Danny Wilson. So, too, has Dave Jones, the manager who led the Owls to safety on the final day of 2012-13.
Aitor Karanka, meanwhile, is in charge at Middlesbrough, but the Spaniard is yet to make an impact, leaving the Riverside faithful hoping some neat work in the transfer window can improve their fortunes.
The hectic festive programme featuring several games is invariably an important time in the Championship.
On paper, Wednesday appear to have the best chance of accruing points with home games against Bournemouth and Blackpool sandwiching trips to Blackburn Rovers and Charlton.
Loovens said: “I think we have shown in the last few games that things are changing. We can win games and we can stay in games better.
“If everyone works really hard from front to back, that is the main thing. We need to be solid as a team because you will always get chances as a team.
“As for me, I have signed until December 29. I have talked with the club since and we agree I finish my few games before we sit down and discuss what happens next. This is a big club so I would like to stay. I don’t see any reason why any player wouldn’t want to stay here.”