Robert Gledhill at Hillsborough Sheffield Wednesday 2 Swindon Town 0
OWLS chief Paul Sturrock insists he does not enjoy employing them but it is his loan stars who have helped Sheffield Wednesday close in on an automatic promotion spot in League One.
Republic of Ireland Under-19 Joey O'Brien celebrated the start of his second month on loan from Bolton with a cracking volleyed opener and towering Southampton striker Kenwyne Jones underlined why Sturrock wants to keep him after his initial spell ends next week by stabbing in his seventh goal in six games to give Wednesday their fifth win in six.
Sturrock will also hope to move into the loan market again this week – the club's precarious financial position makes it impossible for him to sign anyone on a permanent basis – due to yet another injury to the jinxed Matthew Hamwshaw.
The 23-year-old Rotherham product has fought back from two cruciate ligament injuries over the last three years and was making a sixth successive appearance on Saturday when he pulled up on halfway with a severe hamstring pull.
The injury is expected to keep him out for at least a fortnight and with none of the Owls' long-term casualties anywhere near to recovery, Sturrock wants cover, even though he praised replacement Chris Brunt for his contribution.
Quick to put the lid on the growing air of expectancy at Hillsborough, which opened its gates to another bumper 20,000-plus crowd on a gale-hit and hailstorm-lashed afternoon, Sturrock said:
"I am very pleased with what was a very professional performance. Swindon have been very difficult opponents in the last two meetings – they won the league encounter 3-2 and FA Cup tie 4-1 – and this win shows just how we have developed as a team.
"The important thing is to ensure a gap between us and those below us. If we get on the coat-tails of the top three then that would be great. We have a long way to go to becoming the finished article. O'Brien and Jones will return to their clubs eventually and we do not have the back-up to fill the voids. I do not like loans in a way because they go away and break the rhythm of the team. I would much prefer to have a settled 18-man squad but loans will have to do us until the end of the season. I have used three and have another five to go."
Though he failed to add his 13-goal tally, it was the mature performance of 22-year-old Steven MacLean, leading the line and bringing Wednesday's wide men into play, which troubled the visitors most. Their own top scorer, Sam Parkin, was kept in check by a commanding display from centre-back Graeme Lee, who also ensured the success Swindon enjoyed on the flanks was rarely converted into goal-scoring opportunities.
Wednesday took well into the first half to develop any cohesion and they were exasperated as Swindon goalkeeper Rhys Evans first tipped over a 30-yard chip from Jon Paul McGovern and followed up by clawing away the corner, parrying the follow-up header from Trinidadian Jones and blocking at the feet of MacLean.
However, Evans, under pressure from Jones, was at fault with a weak punch shortly after and O'Brien volleyed in his second goal for the club.
Swindon rallied after the break but Jones gave the Owls an invaluable cushion when he was the quickest to react during a goalmouth scramble and forced the ball home with 21 minutes remaining.
Mindful that Swindon had scored three times in the last 10 minutes of their previous league encounter, the Owls spent much of the dying stages playing out time in the corners, much to the disgust of their purist followers, who, however, will not be complaining if their side can dislodge Tranmere or Luton or even table-toppers Hull by May.
The demand for success is the one thing which could hamper them, believes Swindon chief Andy King. "We came to frustrate and then play our football," he confessed. "Sheffield Wednesday is a fantastic club to come to – the best in the division by a mile – but we knew that if we did not let them have chances early on the crowd would become frustrated and that would carry on to the field. However, we gave them two stupid goals and it became a different ball game then."
Sheffield Wednesday: Lucas, Bullen, Lee, Wood, Heckingbottom; McGovern, Whelan, O'Brien, Hamshaw (Blunt 55); MacLean, Jones.
Swindon Town: Evans, Garrard, Heywood, Reeves, Duke; Igoe, O'Hanlon (Nicholas 79), Howard (Fallon 81), Smith, Holmes; Parkin.
Referee: P Robinson (East Yorks).
Owls man of the match: MacLean.