Getting to know… Sheffield Wednesday

Who was at Hillsborough on the final day of the 2011/12 League One season? And who thought then, as we bidded farewell to the third tier – our relegation having been confirmed the week before – that we’d next come up against Wednesday in the division they’d just sealed promotion back to? No one – but it’s happened!

Quick facts

Founded: 1867
Ground: Hillsborough (since 1899, capacity 34,854)
Second tier seasons: 43 (+66 top flight)
Major honours: First Division (1902/03, 1903/04, 1928/29, 1929/30), FA Cup (1895/96, 1906/07, 1934/35), League Cup (1990/91)
Last season: 16th in Championship

2019/20 recap

Wednesday are lucky to still be in the Championship. Had their 12-point deduction for breaching the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules been applied to last season’s final standings – as the EFL wanted but were prevented from doing – they would have finished bottom. As it was, they survived the drop by eight points.

On the whole, Wednesday’s 2019/20 was very much one of two halves. Third at Christmas having won 11 of their first 23 games, they fell away badly and recorded just four more wins, losing 13 times between then and the end of the campaign. Three years on from the second of back-to-back play-off defeats, the promised land looks further away than it has in some time.

The gaffer: Garry Monk

Age: 41
Appointed: September 2019
Previously managed: Birmingham, Middlesbrough, Leeds, Swansea
Played for: Swansea, Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday, Oxford, Stockport, Torquay, Southampton
Sheffield Wednesday league record: P41, W12, D11, L18

Following Steve Bruce’s sudden resignation in July last year, Wednesday took their time over appointing his successor. Monk didn’t come in until five games into the new season – meaning he didn’t have any transfer window to play with. Still, he had his new team sitting pretty at the midway point – before the collapse happened. The jury’s still out on the man who turned out 15 times on loan for Wednesday back in 2002-03 – but then I guess the pressure’s always going to be on when you’re in the hotseat at one of the biggest clubs in the division, if not the country.

Fan thoughts (with War of the Monster Trucks)

After successive play-off finishes in 2016 and 2017, Wednesday have regressed to mid-table these last few seasons. What have been the overriding factors in that? Recruitment of expensive older players and misfits who have simply not worked. A poor injury record for certain key players. Two managers have identified certain players as not being positive forces in the dressing room and have tried to side-ine them, which has maybe caused ructions in the camp. [Former manager] Jos Luhukay was thrown into his first job in the Championship and found it very difficult to cope [and lasted less than a year] – not sure his hands-off style worked with a ‘needy’ squad. Strikers who don’t score, too much reliance on [playmaker] Barry Bannan, and loss of leaders from the dressing room. And just when things started to look like they were stabilising, Steve Bruce walked out just before last season began.

You’ll start this season -12 points, of course. How big a mountain do you have to climb to stay up? It’s not Everest, but it’s probably Ben Nevis on a stormy winter day! The second half of last season saw disastrous form and had it been there all season, we would have been relegated. There are some painful memories from that, both in the squad and amongst the fans, so there is a big confidence-building exercise to complete. And we are having to rebuild the squad and cut costs significantly. That said, on paper at least, it won’t be the weakest squad in the Championship despite all that. We have to obtain 62 points to stay up and the squad proved in the first half of last season that results can be strung together. Everyone needs to put their shoulders to the wheel.

What does the need to sell the stadium say about the financial state of the club? Not that the Championship is a bastion of sustainability, but you rank second in terms of wage bill relative to non-matchday income – so could the capacity restrictions be a big problem? We threw money at it for two seasons and it didn’t work, and we didn’t start to adjust early enough to comply with FFP. Whilst the owner is prepared to underwrite losses, we won’t go bust, but we need to find a better way of living within the FFP restrictions and by using a different model. We have executed a big bite into reducing the wage bill and that will go further next year when the last of the expensive contracts expire. Hopefully the EFL will relax the FFP rules a bit to allow owners to cover COVID-related losses driven by lack of gate receipts. The Championship is a financial madhouse, though, and it’s very hard to compete with ex-Premier League clubs who have parachute payments and are allowed [to make] higher losses under FFP. Championship clubs have got to get to grips with that.

Who will be your most important players in 2020/21 and where do you still most need to strengthen/add depth this transfer window? Dominic Iorfa at the back, Barry Bannan in midfield, and a striker (TBC!) need to lead our efforts next season, but given how the games are going to come thick and fast in a compressed season, the whole squad are going to have to step up. We have strengthened central defence, central midfield and up front with younger players, which is a big positive. We still need a right wing-back and a striker who can lead the line. The last two bits of recruitment may have to wait until Premuer League clubs are loaning more players out later in September.

Last of all, what are fans’ feeling about Garry Monk in general? There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of positivity towards him after a year in the job… I think fans are split, to be honest. There are clearly some fans who believe anything less than Guardiola is not good enough; those who believe that Monk’s decision to sideline [goalkeeper] Kieren Westwood and [defensive midfielder] Sam Hutchinson indicates a major flaw in his character and undermines the team; and then those like me who believe he stepped into a very difficult situation after Steve Bruce walked out and had to work with the coaches and squad he inherited. This summer, he has been able to bring in his own coaching team and sign players he wants. Therefore, he will be under pressure to start well, particularly given the deduction. A poor start and there will be early and loud calls for his head. We all hope he can deliver improvement and safety this season.

Previous meetings

Wycombe and Wednesday have faced each other in two third tier campaigns: 2003/04 and 2012/13, as mentioned at the top. We’ve lost three of the four meetings, with our solitary point coming courtesy of Ian Simpemba‘s diving header – one of only two goals he scored for the Chairboys – in front of the Sky Sports cameras at Hillsborough in January 2004. Here’s hoping 2020/21 doesn’t end for us the same way as those previous two seasons sharing a division!

Did you know…?

Wednesday were the last team from outside the top flight to win a major trophy, defeating Man United in the 1991 League Cup final while still in the Second Division, thanks to a screamer from John Sheridan (yes, that John Sheridan).

Header photo: Kivo via Wikimedia Commons

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