Owls strengthening links with champions in bid to avoid drop

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DAVE JONES is hoping that a midweek visit to Premier League champions Manchester City can help forge a positive relationship between both clubs.

Jones – who yesterday moved to solve his goalscoring crisis with the acquisition of Swansea striker Leroy Lita on a loan deal until the end of the season – visited City’s Carrington training base on Wednesday and met staff and watched training.

Ostensibly, the visit was more to do with smoothing the passage for a possible return of Jeremy Helan to the club following the end of his loan spell, but it had further rewarding spin-offs.

On the worthwhile experience, Jones said: “Stuart (Gray – coach) and I were at Man City for three or four hours; we watched a bit of the training, met the manager and his staff, had a long chat about players’ futures and things we would like to try and do. It was a very fruitful day.

“But until players from any club are here and signed, it is not worth talking about (individuals) as people will get excited or disappointed.

“It is best to keep everyone guessing because that is what we are doing – guessing whether things are going to happen or not.”

On the difficulties of getting deals over the line for established players, Jones – outmanoeuvred financially by Leeds United in his bid to re-sign midfield man Ross Barkley from Everton – added: “We are in the mix with teams but, at the moment, it is ones who pay that little bit extra that we cannot go (up) to.

“It is also not just about that; it is about other things such as location for instance, not everyone wants to come to Sheffield Wednesday and there are other options. But we are working really hard to sort things out.

“Agents keep players’ options open for a long as they possibly can, as do chairmen who think they might get a bit more money closer to the deadline.”

Although not a permanent signing, the loan acquisition of experienced Championship operator Lita should at least satisfy Jones for now.

His record of 105 goals in 217 starts is almost a goal game and comes from stints for Middlesbrough, Reading and the Swans.

He scored three goals in nine starts for Birmingham during a loan spell earlier this season.

Lita is available for today’s trip to Chalrton, but speaking before the signing, Jones was also not ruling out a return to the fold for Chris O’Grady and Gary Madine, who have been used sparingly so far this month.

He said: “Chris and Gary are not out of favour. It is just we cannot fit them in at the minute as the others are doing well and we can only play 11.”

Mamady Sidibe’s loan return to Hillsborough is on hold due to family reasons and, in the absence of any out-and-out strikers in his plans, Jones has been utilising the pace of wingers Jermaine Johnson and Michail Antonio.

Jones believes the change in roles is benefitting the two natural widemen, who do not have to track back as much as they do when they are on the flanks – something neither are that comfortable with.

“It’s an easier position (up front),” said Jones. “They haven’t got to chase a winger or full-back, they can get more rest but then be dynamic when they get the ball.”

All the strikers, whether natural or makeshift, are being coaxed along in training by former Liverpool and England frontman Robbie Fowler.

Fowler has been training with the Owls, a factor Jones hopes will ultimately result in an end to their goal drought.

Jones said: “Michail is still young and learning his trade. The best way to learn is by picking it up from other people.

“When you see somebody like Robbie in front of goal, if you have anything about you, you pick up his habits.

“We talk to Michail, and get him into better positions. He scored a fantastic goal at Hull but, against Wolves, he was snatching at it a bit.

“As a team, we have to find a bit more composure in front of goal, be more clinical; then that eases the pressure elsewhere. When we get our noses in front, we’re difficult to break down.”

Former Owls chief Paul Sturrock has signed Wednesday’s young striker Caolan Lavery on loan until the end of the season for Southend United.

The 20-year-old Canadian-born Northern Ireland Under-21, who left Ipswich Town midway through last season, has yet to make a senior appearance for the Owls since joining in the summer.

The recent heavy snowfall left today’s fixture in some jeopardy, with Charlton indebted to the fans who came and helped shovel an estimated 110 tonnes of snow that had fallen on the pitch at The Valley.