"You Don't Miss Something Until it's Gone...
Last Monday, the news that all Wednesday fans were fearing came true...top goalscorer and creative spark Michail Antonio was ruled out for the rest of the season with a groin injury.
Antonio, with nine goals and eight assists to his name this season, had played in all 37 of Wednesday's league games.
Some fans had been unfairly critical of him this season, who labelled him as having a 'bad touch' or that he cannot cross the ball. People may critisize him, but the fact of the matter is, he is our top goalscorer and assister by a country mile.
What is also worrying is our next top goalscorer, Chris O'Grady (six goals), is out on loan at Barsnley and, with three assists, Anthony Gardner is 2nd to Antonio in the assist rankings.
Antonio will be missed more than some think.
Who will replace Michail? Will it be someone within the club already who can fill the void left or will Dave Jones delve into the loan market before it closes on Thursday?
If we look at the players on the fringes of the first team currently, the obvious replacement for Antonio is Jermaine Johnson. The inconsistent at best Jamaican is currently playing for his national side in their World Cup Qualifying Campaign, playing as a sub in the 1-1 draw vs Panama in Kingston. Reports say that he livened up the Reggae Boyz' attack with three customary runs spanning half the length of the pitch. This is what JJ is capable of, just not on a consistent basis. He can unlock any defence on his day in a split second with his blistering pace, his day is only a few times every season though... if that. JJ's contract is up at the end of the season and at 32 years of age, a new contract is unlikely. With 18 of his 33 appearances this season coming from the subs bench, he is unlikely to be burnt out. It could be time for JJ's last hurrah, a parting gift for the club that he obviously loves so much.
If Wednesday wanted to refer back to a more traditional 4-4-2 formation, Gary Madine could be the answer to our troubles. Many have already passed judgement on Madine... the general consensus saying that he is a great League One striker, just not good enough for the Championship. Many forget that he is only 22-years-old; in my eyes he can only get better. He has also only started nine league games this season; with more game time, Madine may have been able to adapt to the Championship better and the 'goal machine' may have been hitting the back of the net more like he did last season. 18 goals in 38 appearances was a great return what ever league it was in. Playing Madine up front could also take a lot of pressure off Leroy Lita. Agaisnt Cardiff, Lita was playing as a loan striker and was either having to come short for the ball or it was hoofed up to him. Too much is expected of Lita, especially if he's being asked to create something out of nothing. He isn't that kind of player, he is a natural born goalscorer with a poacher's instinct. When Madine came on against Cardiff, they linked up well... if Lita hadn't strayed off side unnecessarily after Madine's cheeky Cruyff flick through, Wednesday would have equalised, Madine nearly changed the game. I know 'nearly' isn't good enough, but the potential is there, Madine just needs to fulfil it.
Another potential replacement within the squad is striker Chris Maguire... anyone heard of him? Signed in the summer for an undisclosed fee from Derby County and given the number 10 shirt, it was thought Wednesday were getting a good young-ish striker who was yet to fulfil his potential. His chances at S6 have been limited at best though. Against Cardiff, it was a kind of 'I was there' moment when Maguire actually took to the field as a substitute for the injured Antonio. It was only his 2nd league appearance this season, the other coming against Birmingham in the 3-2 win at Hillsborough back in August. With this in mind, you were half-expecting him to be woefully bad, especially when players like Mamady Sidibe were previously starting ahead of him. For the 13 minutes that Maguire was on the pitch though, playing predominately left wing, Maguire had some nice little touches and passes (he looked like Messi compared to Sidibe in all honesty). He also took a couple of corners for Wednesday, both of which were driven in with real pace and caused havoc in the Cardiff penalty box. I feel a good set piece taker is something Wednesday desperately need at the moment and when you consider the aerial threat we have from players like Reda Johnson and Miguel Llera, we aren't utilising one of our main attacking strengths. Danny Pugh's set pieces aren't bad, they're just a bit floaty and don't cause any real danger (bar the free-kick he scored against Brighton) to the opposing team. It's getting so bad from free kicks from shooting positions that Lewis Buxton is having a go. If Maguire can offer us something different, then I feel he should be at least given a chance from the bench... that would be a major step forward for him from playing for the Under 21's. If you look at previous Maguire goals over the past couple of years (just type his name into YouTube to see two stunning goals for Portsmouth and Scotland Under 21's, one from the half way line), you will see he has a bit of magic about him, hopefully he can replicate said 'magic' at S6 to help us avoid the drop.
Does Jones believe that these or any other players in the squad have enough to step up and help the Wednesday cause? If not, then we may see him looking at the loan market before it closes on Thursday. I'm sure he would love to bring back Connor Wickham back to Hillsborough from Sunderland, but that will obviously be completely up to Martin O'Neill, and with the Black Cats currently in a relegation fight, it looks unlikely that he will return.
Bolton Wanderers striker Kevin Davies has also been linked to Wednesday with Jones refusing to comment on the rumours. Davies, who is from Sheffield and a blades fan, played under Jones at Southampton and has made 35 league appearances for Bolton this season whilst being Captain since 2008. Personally, I don't see how this would be a good replacement for Antonio or improve Wednesday as a whole. He has never been blessed with blistering nor has he scored more than 12 goals in a season. He is known for his more physical side than anything else and at 35, he's not getting any younger. Wednesday also already had a player like him earlier in the season and we let him go on loan to Barnsley. Personally I'd rather have O'Grady than him.
My suggestions if we were to go into the loan market would be Manchester City's attacking midfielder Marcos Lopes (previously linked with the club), young Manchester United midfield/striker Nick Powell (very unlikely) or Martyn Waghorn from Leicester City who has seen appearances limited at the King Power Stadium this season.
Who knows who Dave Jones will start agaisnt Barnsley on Saturday but one thing is for certain... this is our most important game of the season so far, and with games coming thick and fast over the next couple of weeks (five games) with two derby games, they're only going to get bigger."
Follow Ben on Twitter @benjaminwier
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