Within minutes of Dave Jones’s first game in official charge of Wednesday, he showed what kind of a manager he was.
Stephen Bywater threw the ball out to Lewis Buxton and about 17,500 Wednesday fans gasped. Blimey, a manager who wants to play proper football! After the short regime of Gary Megson, aka Junior Wilko, and his 1980s throwback tactics, what a pleasant change this made.
The pure football style has been a little diluted recently as Jones realised that Wednesday were living a little too dangerously in attempting intricate passes near to their own goal – by players schooled under Megson methods – but still, if things go to plan, we can look forward to the ball consistently being played across the ground.
The bravery shown by Jones since his appointment has been nothing short of amazing. The very fact that an ex-Premier League manager was prepared to come to a club – albeit it one of Wednesday’s stature - in the third tier, whose previous manager’s sacking had been so unpopular speaks volumes for his mental courage. He really was on a hiding to nothing, given the goodwill that Megson had engendered, especially after beating Sheffield United.
And what changes he has made! He has boldly changed the general style of play, picked two wingers from the off and kept faith with players during games when they have received criticism from the fans – notably Gary Madine against Walsall and Nile Ranger against Huddersfield. Both vindicated Jones’s faith in them by scoring crucial goals.
Chris O’Grady, who did a fantastic job in the system that Megson favoured, was dropped and Jones showed that he wasn’t afraid to manage potentially challenging personalities by giving a chance to Ranger whose disciplinary problems have been well-documented.
By playing Madine and Ranger or Lowe upfront, none of whom are naturals at holding the ball up, Jones has proved that he wants a system where the ball is played through the midfield rather than hit at the strikers in the hope that they will retain it for others to play off them. The number of times that we saw the centre-halves chip a high ball up to Lowe and Clinton Morrison under Megson’s regime was ridiculous.
Whatever the outcome of this season, I hope that everyone realise what a wonderful job Jones has done. While Megson made some very good signings and was rightly popular because of his love for the club, Wednesday deserve to be playing a passing game as favoured by most progressive clubs in the modern era. In the 4-4 draw against Huddersfield at Hillsborough, it was embarrassing that as Wednesday clung on to a 4-3 lead, it seemed obvious that Stephen Bywater had been instructed to kick the ball into touch as Megson would have been confident about the team’s superior ability to defend set-pieces.
Megson also seemed to take an instant dislike to certain players which is of course a manager’s prerogative but when one of them happened to be Giles Coke, a potentially outstanding player, it does beg questions about the so-called Ginger Mourinho’s footballing principles. Playing Coke just in front of the back four in the league cup tie against Blackpool just seemed like a bizarre decision. I have an inkling that if we end up in the play-offs, Jones will use Coke and maximise his matchwinning ability by playing him in his correct position.
No one knows what would have happened if the Megson hadn’t been sacked but in Jones, Wednesday have a manager who has achieved success wherever he has been and achieved playing in an attractive, attacking style. If we can reach the Championship we will have an asset that most clubs cannot boast – a genuinely good manager.
Of course, the trouble is that if we don’t reach the Championship, some fans will get restless and the chairman may feel the need to make a change. It’s the catch-22 situation that everyone recognises the need for continuity and for Wednesday to finally have a manager who’s at Hillsborough for several years. But unless a club is one of the rare ones that achieves continued success, how do you know you have the right manager?
My view is that Wednesday definitely have. Dave Jones’s past record and the way he has completely changed the playing style and stuck to his footballing principles when it might have been easier just to retain Megson’s methods until the end of the season, show the measure of the man.
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