How a summer of tumult led to strife for Sheffield Wednesday - season so far
Or if you prefer, continually playing Monopoly and daring not to look when you receive a Chance or Community Chest card.
There has been controversy, bad feeling, drama and despair interspersed with brief interludes of joy and the odd pleasant surprise – but if 2019-20 did finish now, not too many Wednesdayites would complain.
Where to start? That is at least straightforward. It is a convenient end point as well with Wednesday’s season dictated by the announcement of their last set of financial results last summer.
The club sold their ground to owner Dejphon Chansiri before leasing it back in order to meet profitability and sustainability rules that prevent clubs from recording losses of more than £39M over three years.
It helped the Owls record a pre-tax profit of £2.5m for 2017-18. Without the sale, a pre-tax loss of £35.4m would have been made.
In November, the club were charged with misconduct for trying to avoid breaking spending rules. The charges relate to “how and when” it was sold and its inclusion in the 17-18 accounts when it was sold a year later.
The matter remains in the hands of an independent disciplinary commission – with rival clubs demanding serious action.
A swingeing points deduction would plunge Wednesday into the relegation picture. It is their biggest fixture of the season.
Back in high summer, the fall-out centred on one man as opposed to book-keeping.
After masterfully steadying the ship, Steve Bruce found the lure of boyhood club Newcastle United irresistible. He may have rejected the Tynesiders on two earlier occasions, but passing up the job for a third – and most likely final – time was not an option.
It left the Owls in limbo and searching for their ninth permanent appointment in a decade and a fanbase seething with anger. Once it died down, came the grim realisation that a season of struggle was highly likely.
A distressing July ended with striker Fernando Forestieri being banned for six matches and fined £25,000 after being found guilty of using racist language towards Mansfield defender Krystian Pearce in a friendly in July 2018 – which sparked a brawl.
The Argentine appealed, but the ban was to be upheld.
As build-ups to a start of a season go, it was among the worst in the club’s history. Mercilessly, the history books were dusted down for more pleasurable reasons once the action got underway.
Under the caretaker command of a loyalist in Lee Bullen, the Owls enjoyed their best start to a league season for 23 years.
A post-match airing of the Style Council’s classic anthem ‘Shout To The Top’ will have rarely sounded so delightful for Wednesdayites as their side looked down on the rest of the division after a 2-0 derby win over Barnsley in their home opener.
The Owls were to tail off slightly, but Bullen’s interim reign at least avoided the early-season drama that many feared, with new head coach Garry Monk likely to have been grateful for that.
In the circumstances, Chansiri’s decision to bring in someone whose experience belied his relatively tender years in managerial terms looked shrewd.
The ex-centre-half soon installed steel and organisation in a regimented unit, whose game management was initially strong.
Amid the solidity, there was the sublime in a big win at Middlesbrough, with Monk afforded schadenfreude after being sacked by Boro after winning at Hillsborough at Christmas 2017.
In safe keeping at the back, with Julian Borner emerging as a bit of a cult hero and the rejuvenated Morgan Fox also prominent, Wednesday’s concern was with the top end of the Championship as opposed to the bottom.
The form of their two class acts in Steven Fletcher and Barry Bannan fortified a belief that Wednesday could hang around the business positions.
A late penalty from the latter saw the Owls very tidily placed in third spot for Christmas after a 1-0 triumph over Bristol City.
By the time that the decorations came down, Wednesday’s season was starting to unravel – with the background noise regarding a possible points deduction becoming an audible din.
It was a time when Monk needed his leaders, with a roller-coaster season summed up by events at Brighton in the FA Cup on January 4 when the Owls secured their first win over top-flight opposition in that competition for 27 years. Injury ensured that Fletcher was not seen again until February 22 – by which time, the club were in freefall and Monk cut a beleaguered figure.
Victory at Elland Road in the Owls’ first game without Fletcher hardly hinted at the things to come. A pitiful haul of three points from 21 in a dire seven-match winless run would transform them from play-off possibles to relegation candidates.
It was Fletcher who provided huge respite in a priceless victory over Charlton on February 26. His late goal helped Wednesday claim their first home league win of 2020. The scenes of celebration among players and staff was worth a thousand words.
And then in keeping in Wednesday’s topsy-turvy year, they losy 5-0 on a desperate afternoon at Brentford ahead of the coronavirus shutdown.
It has been that sort of year.
Player of the season: Morgan Fox. Back on August 20, Fox’s name was jeered by a small section of supporters when it was announced that he was starting in the home game with Luton.
The defender passed a character examination and has stood tall in admirable fashion ever since and ended the respect of a fanbase. A heart-warming story amid a difficult campaign for Wednesday.
Season’s highlight: The victory at Leeds United on January 11. An oasis in a desert in a parched 2020 at Championship level. It was Garry Monk’s third win in four outings against Marcelo Bielsa - he has drawn the other.
Biggest disappointment: Among several, it would probably have to be an atrocious 5-0 home reverse to Blackburn Rovers just a week later on January 18, with a large proportion of the 23,504 crowd leaving before the end. It was a ‘horrible day’ as Monk succinctly put it.
Hope if season resumes: Pretty simple. That the club avoid a hefty points deduction from the EFL which would plunge them into a desperate late-season relegation battle. As it stands, 15th-placed Wednesday are nine points above third-from-bottom Charlton after a haul of just two wins in their past 14 league matches.
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