When I look back on this season, the only phrase I can think of is ‘a long and winding road’, not unlike the Snake Pass I guess…
As we left the ground on Saturday, you could feel a sense of dejection amongst Wednesdayites. There was a sense on hearing other results had gone against us, that for all the hard work over the past few months, the final destination may well be another season in League One. And this time probably without the novelty of visiting all those quirky oldschool grounds and the drama of a race to the finish against our neighbours. Certainly talking to my Dad, a lifelong Blade, after the match over a cup of tea didn’t fill me with optimism as he spoke in disbelief about their battering at the hands of Stevenage – a team he noted were non-league when they were last in the Premiership. It was hard to gloat too much what with our 5-1 defeat to the same team still a vivid memory.
On the way through Hillsborough Park, listening in to various conversations on the walk from the ground, there was also a feeling that relegation to League One would somehow not be deserved for us this time around. Certainly it’s a feeling I can’t escape this time around.
After all, when facing teams like Watford, Leicester, Forest and Cardiff – teams that have spent well beyond their week-to-week means – it is hard not to feel it isn’t a level playing field. It’s like we are on two different race tracks heading to the same finish line, one going steeply uphill and the other going steeply downhill. Hopefully the Financial Fair Play rules will even things out a bit more in future seasons.
On top of that the refereeing we’ve experienced this season - the refereeing at our most recent home again Cardiff City being a classic example - feels like it has constantly ran against us. Not so much the major decisions (although there have been a few of those) but seemingly endlessly poor minor decisions which constantly take the wind out of our sails. I do think the standard of refereeing needs looking at by the FA with a focus on increased accountability. Referees facing a televised interview - albeit short and fairly controlled - a day or so after the match where they field fan questions about their decisions would help. After all, we the paying fans are leaving games on far too many occasions feeling like the referee had an unhealthy influence on the outcome and yet remains untouchable – if you think about it, we are in fact paying for the referee, so why shouldn’t we have some kind of voice?
But having said all of that, perhaps as we look ahead to possible relegation, there is just a simple feeling of why does it have to be us again? Why can’t we be the club on the up for once? And without a change of colours either…
I suppose the only real answer to this is we – the players, the manager, the club hierarchy, the fans - have to take responsibility in our own ways for where the road ahead now takes us. We can stay dejected, we can feel hard done by – or we can resolve to keep plodding on.
We have to remind ourselves the journey hasn’t ended yet. Yes, we are reaching the final definitive stage, but we could potentially have a storming end if we all muck in. The visit of Barnsley, historically more their cup final than ours, is looking increasingly like a do-or-die run-in. A bit like the game against Sheffield United last season, this could be the game we look back on and say, ‘that’s where it all really started.’
Certainly the current Wednesday side have looked both organised and potentially formidable at times over the past few games, with the solid performance against Crystal Palace and the second-half onslaught against Derby County springing immediately to mind. The problem at the moment appears to be our lack of a killer touch, an over-reliance of Leroy Lita, and the tendency to slip into hoofball at times. But you can see the current squad has the potential, if physically fit and mentally in the right place, to take the fight to any of the teams in this league. And although the injury to Michail Antonio is a huge blow (both for the team and for him personally), now could be high time for Rhys McCabe and Chris Maguire to be given chances to prove themselves, as their hunger to make their mark (that’s assuming they do have the hunger) might provide the spark the team needs.
And then there’s the home crowd, which on their day, can turn the Old Lady into Fortress Hillsborough. If we think back to last season’s 2-1 victory over Carlisle United, or even our more recent fightback against Derby County, this is proof that we can be the mythical ‘twelfth man’.
I still fondly remember the 4 – 1 victory over Norwich in 2008 that ensured survival, in front of a sold-out, energetic Hillsborough. My only hope is that this year we see a similar end to this season’s long arduous journey before the last game. Ultimately, fate is still in our hands – despite the odds at times feeling set against us – and it will pay for us all to stay positive.
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