Sheffield Wednesday: The small steps that may bring big leap forward for Owls

“They’re good wins,” said Dominic Iorfa of Sheffield Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Bolton Wanderers at Hillsborough.

Sheffield Wednesday's goalscorer Lee Gregory and central defender Dominic Iorfa salute the home fans at the final whistle. Picture: Steve Ellis

Some are good wins because they are achieved with good football – days when everything clicks and fans are entertained. Others are good wins because the opposite is true. This one fell into the latter category.

When your season is struggling to get going – understandably after such an extensive summer rebuild – you have to take your enjoyment any way you can and the full-time cheers from the 23,692 were hearty and heartfelt.

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“Everyone really appreciates it because they’ve put in a good shift,” explained Iorfa, not just celebrating three points but a first clean sheet in seven games.

Sheffield Wednesday's Dominic Iorfa battles with Bolton Wanderers' Michael Williams. Picture: Steve Ellis

It may not be where a club of Wednesday’s standing expects to be, but a point outside the League One play-offs is not the worst place to be finding your feet – so long as you do.

Iorfa is a proper centre-back and his meaty second-half tackles on Antoni Sarcevic and Bolton’s best player on the day, Oladapo Afolayan, were rare highlights.

The decisive moment came from Lee Gregory midway through the second half.

With the other two goals of his maiden Owls season back in August, Gregory is not a prolific goal-getter but his club is no longer in a position to have players of the quality of David Hirst, Mark Bright or Johnny Fantham leading the line. Despite being – whisper it quietly – a boyhood Blade, Gregory gives his all for the blue-and-white stripes and when his team-mates carved out two great chances for him, he put one away.

SATISFIED: Sheffield Wednresday boss Darren Moore shakes hands at the final whistle after his team's 1-0 win over Bolton Wanderers. Picture: Steve Ellis

Barry Bannan delivered the first in the 37th minute only for Joel Dixon’s tip-over to keep Gregory’s header out, but when Jack Hunt curled a lovely cross in after 66 minutes, there was nothing the goalkeeper could do.

“His understanding of the game is just absolutely superb and he’s a big player for us,” gushed Gregory’s manager, Darren Moore.

“I’m so pleased he’s got that goal after all his hard work and endeavour. He was in the right place at the right time.”

Team-mates with Bannan’s natural ability are a joy but those with Gregory’s attitude are just as popular.

STRIKE ONE: Sheffield Wednesday's Lee Gregory wheels away to celebrate what proved to be the match-winning goal against Bolton Wanderers. Picture: Steve Ellis

“He’s been brilliant,” commented Iorfa. “He’s been a handful every game.

“He’s been massive for us in terms of his work-rate off the ball, he makes it difficult for defenders so I’m pleased to see him on the scoresheet.

“I know he’d like to have scored more but he gives 100 per cent every game.”

Shortly before his header, Gregory neatly summed up the mood he would eventually change.

On his knees having slid across to try and head the ball to Saido Berahino, he screamed skywards. His pass had gone awry and a rare Owls attack foundered. That was how the day was going for them.

Bolton’s rebuild from League Two only really got going in match 12 last season, and the Owls reached game 11 of their League One campaign looking a bit befuddled.

For the first time this season they started with three central defenders, but Bolton enjoyed the hosts’ 3-4-1-2 more, Elias Kachunga getting in behind Jaden Brown to deliver a couple of dangerous crosses, Afolayan drifting off the left to good effect.

Wednesday’s problems were more than just tactical, lacking rhythm and defensively disjointed. Although they got slightly better towards half-time, the frustration was audible, jeers as Liam Palmer and Brown exchanged pointless passes in their own half, some boos at the break.

Moore claimed injuries to league debutant centre-back Lewis Gibson and Sam Hutchinson, this time a midfield bodyguard in front of the three, forced him to change to 4-2-3-1, but given he replaced them with another centre-back (Chey Dunkley) and another midfielder (Dennis Adeniran), it felt like a smokescreen.

Regardless, Wednesday were more solid, though not so much so that Joe Wildsmith – playing as Bailey Peacock-Farrell was on international duty, although given his recent form that may have played into Moore’s hands too – did not have to make a crucial close-quarters save from former Bradford City striker Eoin Doyle.

Once Gregory scored, Wednesday went 5-2-3 and pulled the shutters down. That there was little of note thereafter was great credit to Iorfa and co.

Some stability would make Iorfa’s life easier but clearly Moore has not yet hit on a formula he is happy with. Maybe he has too many players to choose from.

“The more you play with someone, the more you build a relationship but I haven’t really had that this season,” said Iorfa, who has partnered Hutchinson, Gibson, Dunkley, Palmer and Ciaran Brennan. “We work hard in training and we just do the best we can together but it is nice to have someone you play with week in, week out. Eleven games in we’re still getting to know each other.

“I’d never played with Lewis Gibson before so I’m getting used to his game then he’s off after 45 minutes and I’m playing with Chey again – two different types of players.”

“Different” is a very League One word. The questions Wimbledon ask at Kingsmeadow on Saturday will not be the same as Bolton’s at Hillsborough.

This was a different win to the one Owls fans would prefer, even if Iorfa took the perverse pleasure from it that explains why he is such a natural defender.

But this is Sheffield Wednesday in 2021, “ideal” left the building years ago. Right now, you take what you can get, and hope it is a step towards what you want.