Sheffield Wednesday’s lack of application is a footballing crime

No relegation is about one person or one day. The problems that dragged down Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday had been building for four years.

Bitter end: Sheffield Wednesday's Barry Bannan is consoled by Derby County's Colin Kazim-Richards. Picture: PA
Bitter end: Sheffield Wednesday's Barry Bannan is consoled by Derby County's Colin Kazim-Richards. Picture: PA

But if there are big structural and cultural issues to be addressed, the draw with Derby highlighted more specific footballing problems to be put right, too.

“Sometimes you just look to the 90 minutes but it’s over the course of the season,” stressed manager Darren Moore as well he might after only being handed command of the ship when it was badly leaking water.

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Moore was addressing the media for the first time since April’s defeat at Swansea, after which he was found to have post-Covid pneumonia and blood clots on the lung. “It felt like my body was poisoned before but now when I get up in the morning I feel more like I should,” he said.

Down: Goalkeeper Keiren Westwood in tears at the final whistle. Picture: Steve Ellis

As a football club, Sheffield Wednesday still need to go through that process.

It would be excessively harsh to call Dejphon Chansiri, the owner/chairman who rightly bore the brunt of much supporter ire once relegation was concerned, as a “poison” on Hillsborough, the ground he owns and leases to the Owls. The money he has ploughed into the club shows he cares but he has lacked the footballing expertise, either himself or those around him, to make it effective.

Similar charges could be laid against Derby, the team Wednesday faced on the final day, who ultimately stayed up by default at the expense of the Owls and Rotherham United.

Moore will rebuild the team in the summer. He confirmed after the game he wants to stay, and Chansiri’s post-relegation statement – a rare act of self-awareness where he admitted responsibility for the demotion though stopped short of owning up to specifics – was clear in its support for the manager, though with the Thai it is always best to wait and see if words and actions match up.

Dejected: Sam Hutchinson.

But there is only so much can be done at a footballing level. Between them, the Owls players and their multitude of managers – Moore, Neil Thompson, Tony Pulis and Gary Monk – won 47 points in the season, enough to stay up in this demanding and at times dismal Championship but Chansiri’s disregard for financial fair play rules saw six of them taken off.

He felt he needed to look for loopholes because he wasted so much money chasing promotion after the 2016 and 2017 play-offs. The haemorrhaging of footballing expertise around him has left a network of “advisers” whose identities, roles and even numbers are unclear but their advice has either been ignored or awful judging by Wednesday’s last four seasons. This relegation has been coming.

This season’s managerial appointments zig-zagged in styles from the pragmatic Pulis to the adventurous Moore. That and a reluctance or inability to sell players left a mish-mash of a squad and little in the coffers to bring in players.

Calum Paterson made and scored a goal on Saturday. Chey Dunkley, who produced important contributions good and bad at either end, joined with a broken leg and has unsurprisingly struggled for consistent fitness. Sam Hutchinson’s opening goal underscored his commitment but he was jettisoned last summer, taken back in January. Like the other eight starters, he was a relic of failed past campaigns.

Owls' Julian Borner with County's Martyn Waghorn (Picture: Steve Ellis)

Hutchinson, Keiren Westwood, Joey Pelupessy, Adam Reach, Jordan Rhodes and substitutes Elias Kachunga, and Kadeem Harris are out of contract in the summer, Josh Windass’s father Dean has already said his son wants out, too.

It means Moore will have close to a blank canvas, but was hardly a show of faith that these players could rescue the club at Pride Park.

That Moore felt the need to say: “There’s a care in there,” was true yet damning.

“When we went 2-1 down, goodness me, the spirit delivered by the boys to get back and go 3-2 up was absolutely impeccable,” he reflected.

But the fact they did go 2-1 down shortly after Hutchinson bundled Paterson’s long throw into the net, and that they ultimately conceded three goals to a side that has struggled badly for them told a story.

For at least 18 months this team has shown itself to be neither mentally strong enough nor defensively good enough. Rare brilliant performances have only highlighted players not producing their best the rest of the time.

If Wycombe Wanderers and Rotherham lacked the quality to bridge the gap to the Championship after promotion, Wednesday lacked the application. The first is a shortcoming, the second a professional footballing crime.

It was too easy for Martyn Waghorn to redeem himself after missing a first-half sitter, outjumping Dunkley in the 49th minute to head in Tom Lawrence’s cross. It was too simple for Patrick Roberts to curl a second three minutes later.

The Owls did show fight. Rhodes, whose header forced the save Hutchinson pounced onto at the end of the first half, made a nuisance of himself from Reach’s hoisted ball and Craig Forsyth’s poor touch allowed Paterson to calmly equalise.

Dunkley headed a corner across goal in off Julian Borner.

That left 20 minutes plus stoppage time not to concede again, and Colin Kazim-Richards was given too much time to play the pass which sliced Wednesday open, Dunkley bundling Kamil Jozwiak over for a penalty.

As Waghorn lined up to take it, Cardiff scored the equaliser which meant victory would keep Wednesday up, then the striker smashed the penalty which put them bottom.

There was plenty of time to do something about it, but not the ability as the game became too frantic.

The 2020-21 Sheffield Wednesday managed to scramble over some self-created obstacles, but not enough.

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