Richard Hercock: Quinn and Mellis take plaudits but Owls need time to integrate

SO with a free weekend for the Premier League and Championship, it’s been a good time for managers to take stock of their start to the new season.

It’s already approaching the quarter mark of the 2012-13 campaign such has been the incredible fixture list which has seen a hectic few months.

And not just for the players. Journalists, like myself, have too been whizzing around the grounds taking in the best of Yorkshire football and it’s been a season of mixed fortunes so far.

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Starting in the Championship, it has been a rollercoaster ride at Hillsborough as Sheffield Wednesday find new ways to take fans to the highs of promotion and a 19-match unbeaten run, before plunging straight into an eight-match winless streak which has seen Dave Jones’s side pick up just a single point.

That run has left them floundering in the bottom three of the Championship, in what has been a tough baptism to life after promotion last season.

The obvious question is what’s gone wrong? There is no obvious answer. I think they are obviously missing the coaching skills of Terry Burton, who was lured to Arsenal by Arsene Wenger in the summer to be part of the Gunners’ coaching set-up. A defensive record which shows over two goals a game conceded, three home losses on the bounce – they only lost twice at Hillsborough all last season – and confidence at a low ebb means Jones faces the biggest challenge of his Owls career since taking over from Gary Megson earlier this year.

One of the problems, at least looking in from the outside, seems to have been the sudden influx of new players at the expense of those who actually got Wednesday promoted.

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The team that came second after their terrific unbeaten sprint to the finish line was largely inherited by Jones, its core being players which Megson had moulded together.

There is no doubt Jones squeezed out the maximum from an under-performing squad, but it was always inevitable that he would bring in his own players over the summer as Wednesday prepared for life at a higher level.

The trouble is new high-profile signings like Martin Taylor and Jay Bothroyd have struggled so far, leaving Owls fans pandering for players left on the sidelines (Miguel Llera and Chris O’Grady to name but two, although this pair have grasped their chance in recent games).

Llera in particular, is unfortunate. His critics will say the Spaniard is not the best defender and Wednesday concede goals when he plays. I would say yes, they do concede goals, but like against Millwall this season, his two goals can help out at the other end. Plus, with Chris Lines out injured, Llera is the best set-ball specialist in my opinion.

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If the current defence were keeping clean sheets, fine, but as they are not I find it hard to understand why Llera – who has scored six goals in 18 starts for the Owls – does not play.

Another player left on the sidelines is Stephen Bywater. Former England goalkeeper Chris Kirkland has come in and done well, but Bywater has rarely let Wednesday down – he was in goal when the Owls kept their only clean sheet of the season against Premier League Fulham in the League Cup – and probably wonders if he will be able to dislodge Kirkland.

It all adds up to two distinct groups of players, the promotion team of 2012 and Jones’s new recruits. For Wednesday to avoid relegation, the manager’s big task now is to integrate both groups into a united, winning team.

A player who I think would have done a fantastic job at Hillsborough and was available in the summer, was former Sheffield United midfielder Stephen Quinn.

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The Irishman finally joined Hull City in August and whenever I have seen the Tigers he has always been one of their best players. He has a terrific appetite for the game, runs his heart out and chips in with a few goals.

Steve Bruce hasn’t been creating many headlines at the KC Stadium so far this season, but has gone about his job in a steady manner. Losing Matt Fryatt with a bad injury was always going to be a difficult man to replace, but Jay Simpson is quality and when you can bring a player like Aaron Mclean off the bench – as they did to grab the winner at Hillsborough last weekend – then Bruce certainly has striker options.

I expect the Tigers to be pushing with Leeds for the play-offs come May next year.

Neil Warnock is a wily operator, and is a manager who I love to see in action. I wondered what his reaction would have been had that ridiculous penalty decision against Barnsley last weekend gone the other way.

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Not even the United Nations would have been able to calm Warnock down.

I have yet to see Huddersfield Town this term so far, but they seem to be coping well without £8m striker Jordan Rhodes and I expect Jermaine Beckford to ably fill his boots.

Special mention, though has to go to the player who has impressed me most this season, Jacob Mellis at Barnsley. The former Sheffield United and Chelsea youngster finally looks like the player he was tipped to be from a young age and he can be the catalyst for a good season at Oakwell.

One team who I think are a banker to join the Championship next term are Danny Wilson’s Blades.

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After the disappointment of missing out on promotion last season, and the exit of Ched Evans, I expected the Blades to struggle at the start of this campaign.

But Nick Blackman is an astute signing, and the arrival of Dave Kitson another piece of shrewd business.

Wilson already had the backbone of a good team, but you wondered where the goals would come from. These two guys can help United climb out of League One, and with a quarter of the season gone would be my tip for success when the dust settles on the 2012-13 season next summer. Doncaster’s home form has to improve if they are to challenge for promotion. As for the rest, Bradford City look best equipped to challenge in League Two ahead of York and Rotherham.

and another thing...

I have been lucky enough to watch some great sports in England, but some of my favourite sporting memories have come on my regular travels to America.

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Now colleagues on the YP sports desk will jibe me about my love for all things USA but the Yanks really do put on some great sporting occasions. Whether it be the NBA basketball, MLB baseball or even MLS soccer (football in our vocabulary) then I have to say I am a fan.

I remember going on holiday to Boston and picking up last-minute tickets to see the Celtics play. Tickets cost less than £10 – the parking was more expensive – and I was hooked. The basketball was of such a high standard, but the atmosphere was superb too.

Baseball on the other hand, was much more like cricket. Plenty of time meanders by with little or no visible action, but then bang, someone hits a home run and the crowd – sat out on blankets having a picnic – go wild.

As for the soccer, the MLS may not get massive crowds, but these guys know how to enjoy themselves. Parking up in the car park, bbq out of the car boot, then off to watch Chicago Fire. Felt like a non-league team in Wembley, but what fans lacked for in numbers they made up for in gusto and chanting.