Sheffield Wednesday v Oxford: Lee Gregory keeping Owls feet on the ground

Teams learn more in adversity than good times, so Tuesday’s 2-1 win at Wigan Athletic hopefully rang the bell on the Sheffield Wednesday players’ first big lesson from their first collective experience of League One.

It is a division with more than its fair share of big clubs and playing for them comes with difficulties. When you average over 22,000 fans at every home game yet ten teams are unable to pull in a quarter of that it can create a bit of a snowball effect – handy when things are going well, dangerous when not.

The start of the campaign was great for the Owls, five matches unbeaten, no goals conceded, no need for bedding in, book the open-top bus now. Then came a wobble of four league games yielding just two points – panic stations.

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Today’s visitors to Hillsborough, Oxford United, are dangerous opponents in an unequal division. Definitely not giants, they consistently punch above their weight, finishing in the play-off positions in the last two seasons and above Wednesday on goal difference this morning, albeit having played a game more.

Into the air: Lee Gregory wins a header during Sheffield Wednesday’s 1-1 draw at Ipwich Town last Saturday, a result they backed up with a win at Wigan. (Picture: Steve Ellis)

Fortunately Lee Gregory thinks his team-mates have had their kick up the backside and learnt from it. Ultimately he feels the big beasts – of which the Owls are definitely one – will pull away over 46 games but that does not mean anyone can be under-estimated over 90 minutes.

“Anyone can beat anyone in this league, I just think the top four or five teams are going to have deeper squads to rotate than other teams have and that will be their downfall and hopefully our game,” says the centre-forward.

“You can’t take any game for granted. We went to Plymouth with everyone thinking, ‘Ah yeah, we’re the better team’ and got battered 3-0. We can’t turn up to games with that mentality. Hopefully we’ve learned from that.”

The biggest thing for a squad with plenty of players starting careers and others who have never been as big a fish in as small a pond as Wednesday are now is not to get too high or too low.

Sheffield Wednesday's Lee Gregory celebrates scoring against Rotherham (Picture: PA)

“The gaffer tells us that a lot,” says Gregory. “Sometimes we need to control our emotions. When we win we can’t think we’ve won the league and when we lose it’s not, ‘We’re rubbish, we’re going down.’ Maybe a bit of experience helps with that and it’s up to us to show the younger lads how to react. You can’t be up and down all the time.”

As a manager who likes to develop young players, Darren Moore sits comfortably in the role of teacher.

“We’re always learning,” he says. “You learn when you win, you learn when you lose but I never get clouded by it. I like to see the woods through the trees in terms of performances.

“We’re still not at the level I want us to be at, but we’re working hard. Things are becoming clearer. I still want to win every single game but we’re still building.”

One of the lessons from Wigan was that in such a varied division his team needs to mix it up. They were quicker and more direct against the Latics.

“We knew they would be aggressive and quick so we just had to match them,” says Gregory.

“Wigan didn’t give us any time and space so that’s the reason we were quicker. We would like to have had a bit more of the ball but every game’s different. They (Oxford) are more of a footballing team, so we have to match but we need to bring that hard work.”

After nearly 200 games under Karl Robinson – compared to 25 for Moore at Hillsborough – the Us know what they are, what is expected of them, and the division. “They’re a classic team that’s got an identity and philosophy,” says Moore admiringly. “That’s what we’re all looking to do as managers. We’ll get it.”