Sheffield Wednesday v Preston North End - Survival would be ‘massive’ for Owls

Neil Thompson: Determined to keep Owls up. Picture: Darren Staples/SportimageNeil Thompson: Determined to keep Owls up. Picture: Darren Staples/Sportimage
Neil Thompson: Determined to keep Owls up. Picture: Darren Staples/Sportimage
THE foundations of Sheffield Wednesday’s season may be shaky, but for caretaker manager Neil Thompson there is plenty of perspective.

The 57-year-old, manfully holding the fort at Hillsborough along with several other club stalwarts, wakes up on these cold winter mornings and counts his blessings.

He does not have to get up at the crack of dawn like his brother does and head to the building site, for instance.

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Football management is hazardous in its own way. Yet there are plenty of worse alternatives.

Speaking across the Steel City earlier this week, Chris Wilder spoke about how a week’s ‘proper’ work many years ago one January after his playing career finished – helping to install roofs at Meadowhall – provided context to his current travails in football.

Thompson will be able to empathise. Being in this game remains a privilege, however fraught things seem.

Thompson, recovered from a mild bout of Covid-19 which forced him and fellow staff members to isolate earlier this month, commented: “There are a lot more people around the world who you need to feel sorry for, that is for sure.

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“We are in a massively privileged position doing what we do. I have been in it since I left school 41 years ago.

“I know my brother is a brickie and it is tough going out at this time of year doing his work.

“I have had a great time in football. I am heading towards the back end of it now. But you have to treasure every minute.

“Once it is gone, it is gone. Once your playing career has gone, it goes very, very quickly.

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“How many people think back and say: ‘What if?’ You cannot have any regrets.”

Wednesday’s position at the bottom end of the Championship is a grim one, but neither is it forlorn just yet.

For players and staff who can only affect matters on the pitch, it has to be a case of cultivating a mentality of ‘what does not kill you makes stronger.’

Should Wednesday’s players, who produced a tepid midweek performance against Coventry City, start to feel sorry for themselves, then the task will become insurmountable.

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Thompson has experienced a similar parlous predicament at one of his former clubs in Boston United in 2002-03 – a season which saw the Pilgrims docked four points before a ball was kicked after an FA hearing investigating financial irregularities.

The Lincolnshire outfit came out fighting and staved off relegation come the end of the season – with those times also providing further valuable perspective for the Yorkshireman, who was in charge during Boston’s first campaign as a Football League club.

Thompson commented: “We had trials and tribulations down there, that is for sure. We had eight defeats on the bounce – only one-nils – and were languishing down the bottom and had a points deduction as well.

“Then, in the last 25 games, we only lost seven or eight and got ourselves just below mid-table. It is achievable, but it does not come easy. It is hard work. We all have to dig in – as staff, players and everyone at the club. But it is doable without a shadow of a doubt.”

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The glass may be half-empty for many when talk turns to the situation at Hillsborough.

Those whose vessels are half-full will point to the fact that Wednesday are chasing a fourth successive home league win for the first time in five years today.

As it stands, the Owls are six points adrift of safety, but with a game in hand on the two sides who sit just outside of the relegation zone in Derby County and Nottingham Forest.

At just past the halfway point of the campaign, there is time on Wednesday’s side yet. But the clock is undeniably ticking.

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On what survival would mean, Thompson said: “It would be massive, absolutely.

“I am realistic about what we can achieve. We have got to start dragging teams in and getting out of this bottom area of the table.

“We know it won’t happen overnight and whether I am in charge of not is irrelevant. We’ve got to get ourselves out of this.

“You do that with hard work, focus and everyone being together and not being too down when things go bad or high when things go well. You have to keep a level.

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“This season, we have three months to turn this around. At the end of it, if we do succeed, you get a massive big pat on the back and you come out of it well. The only people who benefit are you, the club and supporters. And then we can move forward.”

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