RAMBLE | Wednesday 1-1 QPR

RAMBLE | Wednesday 1-1 QPR

Everyone loves the first home game of the season.

The anticipation. The return to your second home.

Kids see their heroes in the flesh again. New signings on show. Everyone gets to wear their new kit with pride. And this, our 150 year anniversary, is destined to be something special… right?

Then why did I not feel this today?

Maybe it was because we’d already had a disappointing loss in our first game of the season, maybe it was because this wasn’t actually our first home game either, what with the cup tie in midweek, but I didn’t go to that – I had the pleasure of following that game by phone notifications at the top of the Shard.

In truth I think it’s the negativity surrounding the club at the moment that killed that unique curtain raiser feeling.

We’ve had it all summer.

A monster born out of playoff disappointment and fed on scraps of a lack of signings, late kit release, more rising prices, a silent PR team, an awful away match at Hillsborough against Rangers, more rumours of petulance and infighting in the squad.

Even the ground improvements this year have been the equivalent of chucking a throw over that tired and threadbare settee.

This is a monster in danger of swallowing up a sleeping giant. It’s all a bit embarrassing.

I tried to snap myself out of it by reading a few game previews and articles.

An excellent one from a QPR website on the relative strengths and weaknesses of our “3 to watch” – Loovens, Forestieri and Boyd – which highlights Glen’s lack of pace, Fernando’s temperament and Georgie boy’s composure as our weaknesses.

Old news to us Wednesday fans, but further proof if you needed it that we are not an unknown quantity in this division.

Another article, or rather a discussion on a forum, was around superstitions, whether you had any and whether you’d be trying to change them this season.

Got me thinking. I have routines, yes, but I’ve never really been a superstitious person.

I suppose the closest I come to it is not wearing anything red on match day.

Oh, and I like to wear my “Wednesday” socks, regardless of the day… sorry OCD sufferers.

Oh, and I like to have my morning coffee in my old owls mug. Apart from that, no superstitions whatsoever.

 

PRE-MATCH

 

So, wearing blue pants and Wednesday’s socks, me and the boy dropped the wife and the girl down town for lunch and shopping, whilst we embarked on our routine.

There was a music and beer festival on at the Horse and Jockey and I had to resist the urge to try all the ales on offer that I hadn’t had before.

The good news was that they had Stancil’s OWLS on draught.

Owls about that

Surely drinking this will help us win… it would be bad luck to drink anything else.

It was just me and Tom today… nobody meeting up for a drink, and as there was also a bouncy castle I was basically alone with my thoughts, and my pint, in the build up to the game.

Before the team was even announced, news broke of a notable omission from the squad.

It seems that Forestieri’s training ground indiscretion had to be punished, and being punished seemingly meant not having to do your job.

This is an incident which seems to have firmly split opinion.

One side of the fence calling for Fessi the snake to be sold immediately; that there’s no player bigger than the club; that his heart isn’t in it any more.

The other side arguing that he has a talent like no other player at the club and you simply cannot just get rid of that because of things that go on behind (what should be) closed doors.

I’m on this side of the fence, but to me this has a lot to do with man management.

Look back to the Sheffield Wednesday we had at the turn of the millennium. We lost two of our finest players because an inexperienced Danny Wilson did not know how to manage them.

Across the Pennines, Alex Ferguson was managing to keep a certain kung-fu-kicking Frenchman happy.

Now I don’t imagine for a minute that Sir Alex condoned the behaviour of Cantona, but whatever he had to say to him, he did so in private. Publicly he defended him.

This is what worries me. For all Fernando’s antics, he is not receiving the Sir Alex treatment.

Carlos has publicly revealed his refusal to travel to Norwich last season, his refusal to play a certain position, his behaviour in a private training session.

This has only served to stoke the fire of animosity against the best player we’ve had in a generation, and Wednesday fans are all too quick to try and hound him out.

Why? Yes he’s temperamental, but a happy and in form Forestieri is widely regarded as one of the best players in the league, not just our squad.

Time for a different approach?

Anyway, back to the players involved.

I have to say I was disappointed not to see Fletcher in the line up. For all the talent we have up top, I just feel that it has a better shape to it when it’s Fletcher plus one of Fessi, Rhodes, or my preference, Hooper.

It was pleasing to see that the defence was made up of defenders playing in their natural positions.

I supped up early and had a walk down to the ground… I always like to get there earlier for the opening game, one to soak up the atmosphere, and two because I don’t quite trust a brand new season ticket and I’d need a bit of time to sort it out if the bar codes didn’t blip me in.

It turned out this mistrust is not just born out of pessimism as the guy in front of us in the queue was turned away chuntering “I always use this turn style”. I handed our cards over…. Blip…. Blip… We’re in.

The new tarpaulin over the West stand rippled gently in the breeze. I wonder how long it will last. We made our way on to the North stand concourse.

Nothing had changed. Not so much as a lick of paint… but the tellies were back up.

We didn’t stop to sample the delights of the kiosk but made our way to our seats early. Grandad was already there, and delighted in pointing out what he believed to be an 8 year old version of himself stood at the front of the kop.

When a fire starts to burn…

As the stadium filled, a few new season ticket holders began to occupy the seats around us. Thankfully none of them proving as annoying as the guy who has sat behind us for the past 3 seasons… He’s still there though.

The teams emerged from the tunnel to the good old thumping heartbeat of Simple Minds, with a little added drama of flame cannons.

The temporary LCD advertising screens simultaneously reminding us of our 150th birthday. 24000 voices belted out “Hi-Ho Sheffield Wednesday”.

 

THE MATCH

 

On paper, the team looked like a straight forward 4-4-2, but on the pitch looked slightly different with Reach pushing well forward, creating almost a 4-3-3.

In fact, as the front 3 interchanged positions young Adam occasionally found himself as the central striker with Rhodes and Hooper flanking him. The game started brightly but without any real chances.

After about 5 minutes Hutch went unpunished as he tried to decapitate someone with a very high boot, and must have been in the mood for it as he tried it again two minutes later, inevitably injuring himself in the process. Jones replaced him in a like for like swap.

Hutch: lasted less than ten minutes

There were signs of some kind of reaction following the opening day disaster.

Hooper running the line really well and trying to make things happen. Pudil met a corner with a free header, only to see his downward effort bounce over the bar.

The game’s first attempt on target came after about 20 minutes, with Hooper finding space down the right and after receiving a dinked through ball from Wallace, looped a first time cross on to the head of Rhodes who couldn’t quite get enough on it to loop it back in the same direction into the keepers top left corner.

It was a comfortable save for Smithies. QPR then had their first on-target attempt almost immediately. A crisp drive from the edge of the box held easily by Westwood.

They didn’t have to wait long for their next chance though, with Mackie set free with a defence splitting through ball. Loovens couldn’t keep up and the outrushing Westwood couldn’t get there in time allowing the forward to slide the ball into the net from the angle, clattering Loovens as he did so.

Our captain fell awkwardly and injured his back.

So, without a like for like replacement available, and Hutch already in the physio room, Winnall replaced Loovens.

Half an hour in to our first home game of the season, a goal down, two men off injured and our game changer sat in the stands.

Our lack of defensive recruitment laid bare as our left back moves into central defence and our winger drops back to replace him.

Wednesday’s forward line, and indeed the fans, were getting increasingly annoyed with assistant ref Sian Massey, who was quite rightly following the rules of the game and not raising her flag for offside until our offending forward got close to the ball.

Annoying because you think it’s onside until the last second, but the powers that be will make up these rules won’t they?

We were definitely playing a 4-3-3 now, and as Winnall looked to make an immediate impact with his energy and running, our haphazard defence was all at sea.

At this point I felt we just needed to get to half time without conceding again. QPR were understandably the better side in this latter period of the second half although Wednesday did push for an equaliser.

Bannan looks to dictate play

Firstly a deep freekick from Jones was headed back across goal and Hooper claimed to be impeded by his marker. Massey was having none of it; this only added to the ill feeling towards her from the crowd.

I was quite proud though that, up to now, our fans hadn’t resorted to sexism in their criticism of her.

The half ended with a chance of a goal, but Winnall miscued a good opportunity from the middle of the area and the ball sliced harmlessly wide.

 

HT: Wednesday 0-1 QPR

 

No boos at half time… No booze either, with the kiosk running out of John Smiths just as I finally got to the front of the queue (cash free kiosks having zero effect on the waiting time).

Unsurprising and disappointing in equal measure that the close season hasn’t seen any improvement in “the match day experience”.

I quickly drank the Fosters that I opted for instead – eugh – and headed back to my seat just in time for kick off. Carlos must have delivered one of his half time inspirational team talks as we were quick out of the blocks, and had equalised before many people had even been served their half time pie.

A clipped ball into the box fell just behind the on rushing Rhodes and Hooper.

Fortunately though, they’d taken Rangers’ centre backs with them and the ball fell to an unmarked Winnall who had all the time in the world to steady himself before lashing the ball past Smithies.

Dodgy celebration?

It should have been a joyous moment but Sam’s celebration left a sour taste in my mouth. Our first league goal of the season at home. An equaliser.

This should be about the fans shouldn’t it? Sam should have skid on his knees, pumping his fists in front of the kop shouldn’t he?

No. Instead, an arrogant posturing towards the three forwards left out of the squad today and sat watching from the stands. If there is a growing division in the dressing room, Winnall just drove another wedge right in to the middle of it.

He was soon mobbed by team mates and the chorus of Nah na na na nah Sammy Winnall rang around the ground, eventually simmering down and giving way to the Kop band’s attempt at joining in, which sounded like John Peel had put the record on at the wrong speed given how much slower and deeper they were playing it.

Our fifteen minute flurry was in full flow, Bannan again the architect skipping through and finding Jordan Rhodes with a pinpint cross, only for our record signing to somehow direct his header in to the ground and wide from all of two yards out in the centre of goal.

Hooper then met a cross at the back post, and further claims for a penalty were made as it appeared to be cleared off the line by a defender’s arm.

You felt that if we were going to win this game we had to do it now.

Lack of ideas?

But we didn’t. Our team soon worryingly ran out of legs. The gap between our deep midfield and three isolated forwards was beginning to widen as Bannan, Jones and Wallace didn’t have it in the locker to go box to box for the full 45 minutes.

Rangers crept back into the game and a couple of off side breaks in to our box went unnoticed by Massey, who this time, unfortunately, was subjected to chants of “Get your **** out for the lads” and was ironically cheered when she finally raised her flag.

In to the last ten minutes and Rangers nearly nicked it, Lualua firing wide after being slipped through one on one with Westwood following a poor pass by Pudil.

The keeper needing a bit of treatment after diving in and doing enough to put the forward off.

Fletcher replaced the knackered Rhodes for the last five minutes, but by now there was no other result coming. Wednesday were shattered. Rangers were killing time and seemed pleased with the point.

 

FULL TIME: Wednesday 1-1 QPR

 

People filtered out of the ground quietly as the match day announcer thanked us for our support and reminded us to come again on Wednesday night.

I only hope that by then we’ve signed a defender, restocked the bar, and that there’s been some kissing and making up in the dressing room.

I hate being negative. It really isn’t in my nature.

But following this summer, and the displays so far, I’m finding it really hard to be optimistic about this season.

Hope I’m proven wrong… sooner rather than later.

 

Joe
Owls Alive
EMAIL: admin@owlsalive.com
TWITTER: @Owlsalive and @GrenoOwl

Images: SWFC; not including ‘stancill’ and ‘fire’ – author.


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