2011/12: Where did it all go right?

2011/12: Where did it all go right?

Wednesday sealed a memorable return to The Championship this weekend in front of 38,082 people at Hillsborough.

A straightforward 2-0 win over Wycombe secured second spot, 93 points and sparked an epic pitch invasion.

But it wasn’t all plain sailing for The Owls.

Less than three months ago Gary Megson’s Wednesday side found themselves five points behind bitter rivals Sheffield United having played two games more than the Blades.

It has been a real rollercoaster of a season on the road back to the second tier.

Here I take a look back at some of the key moments – ups and downs – which have made for an unforgettable 2011/12 as a Wednesdayite.

Boyhood Owl gets the job

Megson craved promotion

On Thursday 4 February 2011 Milan Mandaric sacked Alan Irvine. Two days earlier Wednesday had lost 5-3 at Peterborough leaving them 12th in the League One table. Irvine was a good man, an astute coach, but not the man to lead the club out of the doldrums. Mandaric believed Gary Megson was. “My target when I bought this club was promotion this season then the Premier League and that remains the case,” he said.

Megson, the lifelong Wednesdayite, had been out of the game since his tumultuous spell at Bolton. He admitted he wouldn’t have dropped to League One for anyone but Wednesday. Was he the man to get this ship back on the course?

An inauspicious start

Mandaric may have wanted instant promotion but two wins in Megson’s first twelve games in charge left the Owls just four points clear of an unthinkable drop to the bottom tier with eight games to go.

Four wins in April 2011 secured mid-table mediocrity and perhaps showed the first glimpse of a revival but a final day defeat to Exeter put the seal on a dire season. The only positive to come out of the game was an inspired performance from Jermaine Johnson, who perhaps earned himself a contract extension on the back of that performance. JJ would go on to score crucial goals in January 2012.

Time to rebuild

Nothing short of promotion would be enough in 2011/12. Megson’s most important task was assembling a squad capable of challenging for the title. The signatures of Lewis Buxton, Jermaine Johnson and James O’Connor were secured. Tough choices were made as Tommy Spurr, Darren Potter, Tommy Miller, Paul Heffernan and Gary Teale moved on.

The magic midfielder was a key signing

Rob Jones returned permanently and was later named club captain; David Prutton and Julian Bennett also joined up.

Then came the signings of the summer. On July 7 Megson managed to convince Charlton’s player of the year, Jose Semedo, that he should move to South Yorkshire.

Megson was aware how important he would be, saying at the time: “We have a way that we would like to play this season and having Jose is crucial to that.”

Then, a fortnight before the season resumed, Wolves centre-back Danny Batth returned on a six-month loan – which was extended in January.

The rebuilding had begun but was by no means over. A pre-season where goals were at a premium pointed to where Megson still had work to do.

Who needs scouts?

The final pieces of the jigsaw in terms of permanent signings weren’t put in place until August. On the opening day Wednesday ran out comfortable 2-0 winners against Rochdale. A certain Chris O’Grady came off the bench to boos, after reportedly turning down a move to The Owls but just three days later he put pen to paper on a three-year deal at Hillsborough.

Then it was Bristol Rovers midfielder Chris Lines who joined up having impressed against the Owls the previous season. Finally, Ryan Lowe was plucked from Bury after scoring against Wednesday in a 2-1 win for the Shakers a fortnight beforehand.

Strength in depth up front, a balanced central midfield. All we needed now was some width…

Working the loan market

Ben10 lit up Sheffield 6

Megson’s frustration at not being able to shell out on a winger was tempered when he secured the loan signing of Ben Marshall. Signed on a five-month deal the Stoke man was Wednesday’s danger man throughout the first half of the season.

Megson’s signings weren’t all masterstrokes though. Daniel Uchechi never looked like a footballer and I must be one of the few people to have ever seen David Kasnik strike a football, albeit on the training ground.

Nicky Weaver’s injury woes also resulted in the loan signing of Stephen Bywater in September. Capable of brilliance (and the odd miskick) Bywater brought his wackiness to the training ground, his discipline to the football field and his barmy quotes to the pre-match press conferences.

Stopping the rot

A flying start was the order of the day so successive away defeats to Bournemouth and Bury hardly raised expectations. Sides sent out to lose at Blackburn and Bradford did just that, much to the chagrin of travelling Wednesdayites, and a televised trip to high-flying Charlton had fifth straight defeat written all over it. Wednesday were poor but they battled away and Clinton Morrison popped up to rescue a vital point to stop the rot. But the away day blues weren’t over just yet…

That night at Stevenage

Fortunately I was on holiday when Wednesday travelled to Broadhall Way in September but those who did travel will never forget the 5-1 humiliation. If you’d have said that night Wednesday would end up getting promoted you’d have probably been laughed out of the country. Inevitable calls for Megson’s head were understandable but a battling Owls side went to Yeovil and battled to a massive 3-2 win. The lowest ebb reached and overcome. A springboard perhaps?

Home comforts

Despite the continued troubles on the road Megson did manage to end the Hillsborough hoodoo. For seasons Wednesday sides feared playing in front of an expectant home crowd but in 2011/12 it finally became a fortress. I remember sitting in the press box before the 3-0 win against Exeter seeing Megson take O’Grady and Lowe half way up the Kop and explain to them what it meant to play for this club. Whatever he said to all the players about Hillsborough obviously worked as the Owls lost just twice at home all season.

Fighting back

Bramall Lane.

October 16 2011.

With ten minutes left Wednesday trailed 2-0 and looked dead and buried. Sat at the beamback at Hillsborough I looked around at 11,000 fellow Wednesdayites and the belief simply wasn’t there. But this was a different Wednesday side than we had become used to.

On 82 minutes Chris O’Grady headed his first goal for the club to ignite that hope and minutes later Gary Madine got in ahead of a flapping Steve Simonsen to seal an incredible comeback. To this day I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated a goal so hard and for so long and what a moment in our season. It was Madine’s 11th goal in 12 league games – an incredible run of goalscoring and he ended up far and away our leading marksman.

Wednesday players celebrate a crucial point at Bramall Lane

Throwing away points

The turnaround at Sheffield United kick-started a great run, only punctuated by a dire night at Carlisle where Wednesday threw away three points and Gary Madine lost his head. Ryan Lowe missed a gilt-edged opportunity to score a late, late equaliser and it was late drama that was Wednesday’s undoing at Christmas.

First there was the unbelievable game against Huddersfield – possibly the best game I’ve ever seen at Hillsborough. To come back from 2-0 down was sensational, to throw away a 4-2 lead was unforgiveable. Jordan Rhodes’ late late equaliser was perhaps written in the stars but it ended a five-game winning streak. On Boxing Day that inability to hold on struck again, this time with Wednesday conceding two late goals to lose 2-1 after a poor performance.

A solid win at Preston ensured Wednesday were well in the hunt entering the New Year – but would points dropped cost us dear?

New Year, new woes

In January the cracks began to show. An impressive win against Championship West Ham in the FA Cup seemed the perfect set-up for a crunch game against Charlton. But Wednesday played as poorly as they had all season and surrendered their unbeaten home record in tame fashion to the well-organised Addicks.

Ben Marshall’s loan spell came to an end and a long drawn-out saga saw him end up joining Leicester. Megson’s clear frustration at not being backed was directed at Paul Aldridge – within weeks he was a dead man walking.

Milan makes the toughest decision

Megson bids farewell

An FA Cup humbling at the hands of Blackpool was followed by defeat at Exeter, a dire 1-0 defeat to Stevenage and then a third straight league reverse at Chesterfield. Fans were beginning to question the ‘Ginger Mourinho’ and seemingly Milan’s mind was made up that day at the B2Net.

In the build-up to derby day Megson knew his fate was sealed but he delivered in the way only a true Wednesdayite could.

Going into the game five points adrift of the Blades, nothing short of a win would do. Backed by a packed Hillsborough, Wednesday got the crucial win thanks to Chris O’Grady’s goal – which turned out to be our goal of the season.

Three days later – to the disbelief of many Wednesdayites – Megson was gone.

I was in a pub in London watching England-Holland when news filtered through that Megson had been sacked.

Disbelief soon turned to anger and when I returned two days later to see Dave Jones unveiled I was still angry at Milan Mandaric.

How could he do this to a man with Wednesday in his blood?

Megson was an ‘old school’ manager which didn’t earn him widespread praise but I found him engaging, determined and honest when I spoke to him. He gave off the aura of a man determined to do whatever it took to get Wednesday back in the Championship.

To be deprived of that chance struck me as unjust.

But Milan Mandaric hasn’t got where he is today without making toughdecisions.

The press conference welcoming Jones instead turned into a post-mortem concerning Mandaric’s crazy decision. But Mandaric was animated and completely sure he had made the right decision.

He gave as good as he got, just days after the court case which had caused him so much personal hurt.

This wasn’t the decision of a man who had lost his mind.

This was the decision of a man who had to make his move to save Wednesday from falling short again.

The Jones effect

Unbeaten in twelve

Sat at that press conference Dave Jones played the role of uninterested observer. He watched the soap opera play out in front of him, completely unmoved by the emotion and ready to make his mark. Two months later Jones remains something of an outsider – someone who doesn’t try to get too emotionally involved but someone who comes in and does his job. And what a job he has done.

Three straight wins and nine goals for starters had the Hillsborough faithful purring. But a dismal performance against Walsall nearly put paid to all the hard work. Gary Madine’s late late equaliser not only preserved Jones’ unbeaten run but also kept the slim automatic promotion hopes alive.

An unforgettable run-in

No matter how hard Wednesday tried it seemed the Blades couldn’t be caught. Three games running the Owls kicked off before their city rivals and won but each time the Blades responded. The second of those was a resounding win at Huddersfield. The demons of the 4-4 game were well and truly exorcised and the biggest away test of the season that remained was passed with flying colours.

A draw at Colchester once again seemed to hand the automatic spot to United and many Wednesday fans accepted defeat. But an unbelievable win against Carlisle a week later, while United lost at MK Dons, put it right back in the balance again.

A season of twists and turns saw its most decisive moment yet on Saturday 28 April.

Dave Jones had persuaded Burnley’s Keith Treacy to join up and, having reached full fitness, he scored a cheeky free-kick to put The Owls in front at Brentford. The inspirational Miguel Llera later grabbed a priceless winner – his fourth goal in five games – while in the late kick-off United buckled again, drawing 2-2 with Stevenage.

Finally Wednesday’s fate was in their own hands.

An unforgettable day as the Owls sealed promotion

Never in doubt

Wednesday have had a few final day showdowns in recent years but surely none as comfortable as this one.

Wycombe tried their best but Wednesday, roared on by 38,000 home fans on all four sides, weren’t to be denied. Michail Antonio got the first -Megson’s parting gift when he was signed on loan from Reading before the derby. Nile Ranger – Dave Jones’ only other addition – then completed the victory and a Championship return.

A season to remember

It wouldn’t be Wednesday without a few ups and downs along the way. But 93 points, 28 league wins (17 at home) and most importantly 2nd spot show what an unbelievable season it was.

Cardiff 2005 was a special day for a young Owl but seeing all four sides of Hillsborough bouncing will live even longer in the memory.

Wednesday are back.

Roll on August.

Owls Alive
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