Monday, May 21, 2018

Owls Blog - On The Road To The New Season

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Okay, so the anticipation for this season could never match the anticipation we all had last time out. This time last year we were still flying high on the good vibes from our incredible, last-gasp promotion to the Championship, and had the wind behind us in the form of 13 matches without defeat. This time around we're coming off the back of a last-day survival scrap and a very quiet off-season. But I've got a feeling the wind is changing...

Yeah, so it hasn't exactly been a whirlwind ride since the boys did the business against Boro and saw themselves safe on the last day. In contrast to the almost-constant excitement coming out of Hillsborough in June 2012, with new signings coming out of our ears and the buzz around the new home and away kits culminating in 12,000 fans showing up for the first Owls In The Park. And at the same time, there's been a sense of serenity - that despite the radio silence, Dave Jones and the team at SWFC have been calmly going about their business, staying in control of everything that needs dealing with without the need to panic.

And in recent days, it's all started to pick up pace a bit. First the excitement about this year's Owls In The Park and the unveiling of the new 2013/14 away kit. Then the welcome news that David Prutton had signed the offered contract extension. Then the same news about Giles Coke, and the exciting signing of exciting winger Jacques Maghoma (hey, even if he can't make the step up the divisions, he sure seems a fun guy on Twitter!). Then the news that I personally was hoping for - that Miguel Llera was also coming back to S6 for another crack at the job. And most recently, the club announced (finally) the sponsor for the new away kit, which is handy since Wednesday fans were already lining up to buy it at Owls In The Park. It's only going to build from here - the next stage will be the start of the friendly matches. I've got Scunny and Rangers firmly inked in the calendar - they'll give us a good idea of who's likely to feature come the start of August - and if rumours are to be believed (and aren't they always?), then we might see Helan and Lita lining up alongside Kirkland and Gardner again this time out.

So what will the new campaign bring? Well, few Wednesday fans would want a repeat of last season - even if we were only three points off the top ten when all was said and done in that crazy season just gone. Likewise, without a couple of signings of real quality, I don't think many are expecting us to be challenging at the top end of the table. But why not? Let's face it - if we can ensure we've got a team starting 2013/14 as strong as the one that ended last term, then why wouldn't we expect them to be a) extremely hard to beat and b) having enough up front to scramble enough wins to maintain a serious charge for the playoff spots?

The GardfatherUndoubtedly our strongest suit is defence. Last season's back five were absolutely immense for the most part - although annoyingly prone to individual errors that stuck in the memories far more than the 99% of the time that they were resolute and able to mix it with the best in the division. In Chris Kirkland, we've got the best keeper in the division bar none. Gardner leads his troops manfully and is demonstrably a top Championship player. Lewis Buxton never puts a foot wrong and can deal with anything at this level. Miguel Llera compensates for a lack of pace with truly sublime vision as a ball-playing centre-half, and what can we say about Reda Johnson - who remains as big a goal threat as we've got, especially at set pieces.

Likewise we have a midfield unit that is more than up to the task ahead of it. The return of Michail Antonio will be welcome - I'm sure he can pick up where he left off as our most influential attacking force. Jermaine Johnson is yet to sign his contract offer, but again has stepped up when it matters and looks as good a player now as he ever has been in the blue and white stripes. The engine room of the team is solid rather than spectacular, with Prutton and Coke in the box seats - but the impact that Olafinjana had on loan at the back end of last season shows that a truly dominant box to box midfielder would push us from 'workmanlike' to 'a force to be reckoned with' in this regard. Add in an entire troupe of solid squad players and the potential return of Jeremy Helan, not to mention the unknown quantity of Maghoma and we certainly have enough heads for Dave Jones to fancy his chances at forming a really consistent partnership in the middle of the park.

Gary MadineIn common with most Owls, it's up front where I see us desperately short of firepower. It's a shame that - with the division being so tight last year - our strikers struggled to find the net, because ten more goals would probably have meant five more wins and would have seen us deservedly in the playoffs. The Chris O'Grady saga is done now (and to be honest, i'm in the camp that is satisfied to see him go despite his slight upturn in goalscoring form at Oakwell), and we still have the mercurial Gary Madine, who struggled at times last season, but was also unfairly singled out by some fans for criticism when he simply wasn't getting either a run in the team or the service he needed. This season really is make or break for Gary - and sadly, I feel that the patience of the manager is probably running out to the extent that he's looking to other options even before the season begins. Chris Maguire is a classy player with a nice touch, but he's not a twenty goal a season man even in his dreams. And the truth is that those two are the only strikers currently on our books. So if we kick off against QPR without new faces in the team, I fear that we can only go so far towards our aim of a top half finish.

One thing that will be guaranteed to be bigger and better this season is the noise, numbers and passion of the Wednesday fans. I can't wait for the Leeds away game early on in the season - not to mention our visit to Toytown to take on the Millers in the League Cup in the first week. The Wednesday faithful really outdid themselves last year, and I talk to so many who have got the bug for travelling away with the Owls that we will continue to take huge followings to every corner of the country. I can't wait to resume the growth of "Ole Ole We're All Wednesday Aren't We?" as the new chant for the season - and I'm sure the home crowds will also continue to grow as the Owls progress up the division.

I can't wait for the new season already. I really hope that Wednesdayite and our services will be part of yours too!




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