“Chris is not only a good player now, he also has a lot of potential for the future and will become an even better player. He’s a talented lad, he works hard, he runs the lines really well and he’s a team player. I’m looking forward to working with him.”
These are the words of former Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones shortly after bringing Chris Maguire to Hillsborough. Maguire joined the Owls from Derby County in the summer of 2012, for an undisclosed fee believed to be around £250,000 – in terms of Sheffield Wednesday’s recent purchases, this makes him one of the club’s more costly buys.
These facts make his almost immediate ostracism from the side, under the very manager who bought him and offered such a glowing critique of his attributes all the more astonishing. They also make Maguire’s re-emergence under the Owl’s newly appointed head coach, Stuart Gray, all the more frustrating. It is impossible not to wonder whether Maguire might not have made a difference, during the periods of struggle that the club have endured since the signing of Maguire, which coincided with the Wednesday’s 2012 promotion back to the Championship.
In the entire 2012/13 season, under Jones, Maguire appeared in just ten of Wednesday’s games, nine of the appearances from the bench. It should not be forgotten that in spite of his chances for first team action having proven so sparse, Maguire still had a decisive part to play in the Owls season, in which their second tier survival went to the very last match. At the end of April, away at Millwall, Maguire lashed home from a tight angle, from a Danny Pugh corner. The goal came in injury time to turn a creditable draw into a much needed win.
The current season began every bit as badly for Wednesday as did the previous season and again Maguire found himself not being viewed by Jones as having any part to play in trying to reverse the club’s ailing fortunes. Indeed in Jones’ last days as Wednesday boss, Maguire was allowed to leave the Owls to join Coventry City in League One. Maguire joined the Sky Blues on 28th November and Jones was axed by Wednesday following their 2-0 defeat at Blackpool on 30th November, having won just once to that point. Stuart Gray, then caretaker manager – now head coach in his own right, recalled Maguire before Christmas. The versatile forward had turned out twice for Coventry scoring two goals and contributing two assists, which cannot have gone unnoticed by Gray.
Both of Maguire’s Coventry goals came in a storming 25 minute debut for the Sky Blues away at MK Dons. The game had appeared to be heading for a draw when Maguire capped off his first appearance for the club scoring two stunning free kicks in the 86 and 90th minutes. Having been introduced in the 65th minute Maguire might have had a hat-trick but for, home keeper, Ian McLoughlin who stood up bravely to the Scot’s fierce shot from the right, before his late goals.
Wednesday are now unbeaten in ten matches, in all competitions, and have dragged themselves up to 17th in the Championship table, which is a remarkable feat given the fact that they went into December having won just once. There are of course multiple factors in this change of fortunes. Stuart Gray must take a large share of the credit. Wednesday fans initially met the prospect of him being appointed with a degree of suspicion, many preferring a manager who was more of a household name, with loftier achievements on his CV. However the players, when interviewed, repeated a common theme, in hoping that Gray would be appointed. His achievements during his caretaker spell left most doubters conceding that the caretaker had earned his chance.
It is also impossible to overlook the contribution of loan hero Connor Wickham, since recalled by Sunderland. The striker rattled in eight goals in 11 appearances during his games for Wednesday this season. Wickham’s form was a real catalyst to the South Yorkshire side’s on field improvements. Kieran Lee, who was another Jones signing that struggled to get games for the man who signed him, has made an impressive transition from right back, or defensive right sided midfielder, to central midfield. In truth Lee has looked Wednesday’s most complete and natural midfielder. His tenacious defensive qualities are complemented by an ability to pick a pass – not least in Wednesday’s 6-0 rout over Leeds United, above that which might have been expected. The difference in Lee’s case is that he did have an opportunity to make an impression last season, and did so during Wednesday’s survival winning run-in.
Maguire on the other hand has been well and truly frozen out making just one start, making it even harder for supporters to believe the quality of the player that has been unearthed within their own squad. The forward could not get a game while, one of Wednesday’s most potent attacking threats, winger Michail Antonio was deployed out of position as a striker – a move that seemed to have a marked, detrimental impact on Antonio’s form and confidence.
Yet since being brought in from the cold, by Gray who also worked with the player at Portsmouth, a revived Maguire has displayed guile, craft, creativity, vision and an eye for goal. In fact Maguire has displayed all the attributes that Jones spoke of upon signing the player. In this time he has made ten Championship and FA Cup appearances, making one goal and scoring four, including last Saturday’s 97th minute winner against Barnsley.
Owls’ boss, Gray is clearly appreciates Maguire: “Chris just keeps going and going, all game. He only had one thing on his mind, which was going for goal. He doesn’t hide. Him and Liam Palmer down the right hand side complement each other very well.”
Speaking after the Barnsley match, Maguire said those wanting to know why he was not involved under the previous manager would need to speak directly to Dave Jones, because Maguire himself did not know. Given the player’s appearances under Stuart Gray I suspect many Wednesday fans would relish the opportunity. Whatever the reason behind his omission, a rejuvenated Maguire is one of the principal catalysts behind Wednesday’s recent form as they seek to continue the rejuvenation of their season. Maguire is making a mockery of Jones’ decision to leave him out of the Wednesday team with such stubborn regularity, and both Owls fans and their ex-manager himself must surely be wondering as to what might have been.
Article by Richard Brook