After the abject performance witnessed down at the John Smith’s a fortnight ago, the victory in Yorkshire derby over Sheffield Wednesday was a key one and, without worrying about relegation too early on, a result that could possibly define our season.
The stats were there for all to see pre-game and Simon Thomas and his gang repeatedly pointed them out on Sky (Poor fan I know but why pay £27 when you can go to the pub?). One win in eight, only three points from an available 15 and perhaps the most telling of all – six of our last nine goals conceded have come from set pieces.
Realistically only the last stat scares me, as in the last few games we have played sides you would expect to be in the top six (and Birmingham) come the business end of the season, Peter Clarke let the world ‘ultimately’ know. Of course, you also forget in those eight games when we have only beaten Leeds, there was a penalty miss by the now stand in captain James Vaughan against Blackpool that cost Town two points.
Thankfully the fixture list gods gave the players a perfect opportunity to redeem themselves after one of the worst performance I have seen from a Town team, taking into context where we are and where we have come from, in recent times. Sheffield Wednesday are quite simply struggling, with one win all season and a side that haven’t managed to keep a clean sheet there wasn’t a better fixture to get Town’s season back on track.
A change in tact yesterday helped Town look stronger at the back after recent performances. The return to 3-5-2 makes Town a harder side to break down, reinforces the height and ability of defending set pieces and helps play a more attractive style of football. Sadly it meant sacrificing the attacking flair of Sean Scannell and the inform Danny Ward.
Also we saw the return of Martin Paterson and Adam Clayton after they were dropped prior to the Leeds game. Any Town fan will tell you that they were involved in an altercation, but without any clarification from Mark Robins or the club, the rumour mill went into action. I think it’s fair to say the situation wasn’t handled well by the manager as all that needed saying was both players had been dropped for disciplinary reasons.
Anyway, the extra man in central midfield told in a first half that Town dominated from start to end. The recalled Clayton and Oliver Norwood impressed and Sheffield Wednesday huffed and puffed without ever looking like any sort of threat.
It was the recalled duo who came together once again, this time in a different sense, to give Town the lead. Wednesday offered Clayton far too much space as he worked a clever ball into Paterson who finished well past debutant ‘keeper Damien Martinez.
Yes Paterson was slightly offside, as the Sky commentators consistently reminded the viewers throughout the game but after Helan’s two yellow cards last season and somehow managing to stay on the field, it was the luck we were owed and we deserved the lead. It was just a shame that for all that Town controlled the first half; they failed to create any more meaningful chances.
The second half was a different prospect as the control of possession Town had in the first half dwindled as Dave Jones’ substitutions managed to give Wednesday the shape they had lacked in the first half.
However, the game should have been put to bed when a Paul Dixon cross somehow found its way to Vaughan who contrived to miss from 6 yards, slicing an easy opportunity against the post, you couldn’t but help but think that Town were going to let this match slip away.
Thankfully they wouldn’t, as just when you felt the momentum swinging towards Wednesday, Clayton got the important second that gave Town a valuable buffer. It was a well worked corner as Norwood shot from 30 yards out with not one Wednesday player within ten yards of the midfielder, the shot was blocked but fell to Clayton who hit a wonderful half-volley into the bottom corner.
From then on Town sat back a bit and appeared to play on the counter, Robins also switched to a 4-5-1 to ensure that the wing-backs wouldn’t get over-run in the 3-5-2 formation. Saying that when Wednesday ran at pace they looked to be dangerous and Alex Smithies made numerous quality saves, including a lovely full stretch save tipping a Jermaine Johnson curing shot around the post.
Sadly Smithies wouldn’t get that all important clean sheet he so richly deserved. Substitute Jazz Richards stupidly gave a free-kick away on the edge of the area that allowed the once-described ‘future of English football’ Connor Wickham a chance on goal. His low drive took a deflection off Jonathan Hogg and just beat Smithies, yet had debutant Tom Smith not pointlessly jumped in the wall Town would have got a deserved clean sheet. It was the only blemish on a positive debut for Smith.
It was a result Town richly deserved as the best team won. The performance was a huge improvement on the last two games and the football we played in the first half was a joy to behold. The same worries are still there, for all the possession and nice football we play we struggle to create many chance. Along with that we still look weak from set pieces, although playing three at the back and the return of Vaughan benefits us in defending those.
As for Paterson and Clayton, the goal celebration for the first was hilarious showing that their pervious spat is behind them and the post-match interviews had some great comedy value. Hopefully now everyone can move on, pull together and continue getting vital results to maintain our position in this division.