Sheffield Wednesday celebrate the 20th anniversary of their Wembley heroics this year but for current manager Dave Jones the chance to rekindle former glories in this season’s FA Cup is not just a pipe dream.
For Jones was the manager of unfashionable Stockport County who went within a whisker of taking the Division Two side from Lancashire to the League Cup final back in 1997 only to lose out to Middlesbrough over two legs in the semi-finals.
Then, in 2008, Jones saw his Cardiff City side reach Wembley in the FA Cup where the Championship outfit fell at the final hurdle, losing 1-0 to Portsmouth thanks to Kanu’s first-half goal.
Today, Jones’s Sheffield Wednesday side set out on the FA Cup trail against League One MK Dons and the Owls manager insists he is not just content to make up the numbers.
It is now 20 years since the halcyon days for Wednesday, which saw Trevor Francis’s side visit Wembley four times in seven weeks.
After an all-Sheffield semi-final in the FA Cup, the Owls went on to feature in the League Cup final against Arsenal before taking the same opponents to an FA Cup final replay.
Wednesday missed out on silverware on both occasions, a feeling Jones is all too aware of, admitting his own losers’ medal with Cardiff is tucked away at home.
And while Championship survival is Wednesday’s priority this season, 56-year-old Liverpudlian Jones believes a cup run can help the Owls.
“Cup competitions are a bit of relief from the league. It’s also an opportunity, if you’re on a good run, to keep it going,” said Jones, who has helped the Owls halt a winless run with 10 points from a possible 15 over Christmas.
“It’s just as important a game as what a league game would be, although the league is the priority because people will say ‘ah well, you won’t get to the final’.
“Well, I proved that one wrong. It doesn’t matter where you are you always have an opportunity to get there. That year, we played Barnsley in the semi-final.
“There were three Championship clubs in the semi-finals (Premiership Portsmouth played West Brom in the other tie), which people said was unheard of.
“Leading a team out in an FA Cup final was a fantastic experience. I have been at a final walking out, semi-finals, but to actually lead your team out is something special.
“We played the semi-final at Wembley as well. The atmosphere and the build-up to the day was really special.
“We were really close (to winning). We thought we scored a perfectly good goal in the game, had some good chances, the goalkeeper made a right blooper which cost me the game.
“But it was a fantastic experience. I have played in finals before, came close to taking other clubs to finals, but it was just the whole day, it was just so special.
“The biggest thing it did was propel Cardiff City in terms of going global. It wasn’t just in this country, it was global. It was watched in so many countries, it was ridiculous, and gave the club such a high profile that they probably hadn’t had before outside of Wales.”
While the glory of the Cup raised Cardiff’s profile, it cost them a place in the Premier League.
“Beating Barnsley in the semi-finals at Wembley was a fantastic feeling, but probably cost the club promotion that year because people took their eye off the ball,” said Jones. “Everyone wanted to talk about the cup final rather than promotion, and we missed out, which was disappointing.
“Our priority, and our goal, was always to try and get promoted because we fell away a bit at the death, maybe because of the final.
“It was a great occasion, but the medal is put away now because it wasn’t a winners’ medal. We wanted to succeed, and were so desperate for a winners’ medal. We just fell short.”
Jones will resist wholesale changes today, believing the lure of playing in the FA Cup will have his Hillsborough squad eager to start.
“If you talk to foreign players that come to play in this country, their cup games back home are not seen as high-profile,” he said. “But when they come here they see the passion and how everyone wants to do well.
“Over there, there’s no way a non-league side can beat a league side. In this country it happens every year, time and time again. So, we will have to be at our best. MK Dons are a solid side.
“I don’t see the point in changing the whole side just to give some players a game. You put a team out you think is going to get a result.
“You never say never in football. Millwall reached the FA Cup final one year, Stockport got to the semi-finals of the League Cup and only got beat on away goals. It can happen. I forget who was in charge then,” he grinned.
Hoping to halt the Owls at their first hurdle today is striker Ryan Lowe, sold by Jones in the summer after helping the Hillsborough club win promotion.
“Ryan did well here, he was a big part of us getting promoted,” said Jones. “He came on, scored goals, and started when I first arrived.
“He played a part of this club getting promoted. But he was getting older, he wanted security of an extension to his contract and we then got money for him and we thought the decision was right (to let him leave).”
Fringe players like striker Chris Maguire and goalkeeper Nicky Weaver could be allowed out on loan in the transfer window, but Jones insists the Owls have had no firm offers for any of their players.
“We have one or two things we are pursuing and we will see where it leads,” he said. “At the moment we won’t discuss any players we are interested in – we could alert another club who might be thinking of that (same player).
“We have to cut our cloth accordingly. That might mean people going out to get people in. We will see what becomes available, and how much.”