Where did it all go wrong? Review part 2 of Sheffield Wednesday's shocking season
Initial improvement under Irvine proves to be short lived With the Brian Laws era at an end the Owls were stuck in a rut but time was still on their side with 25 league games still remaining. Unfortunately the change of manager didn’t result in an instant upturn in results as Wednesday, led by caretaker boss Sean McAuley slumped to a 2-0 home defeat to Swansea. McAuley picked the same 11 that had performed so poorly at Leicester in the previous game and they produced an equally inept display at Hillsborough. Interestingly, the team managed to produce a spirited showing that had been lacking for the previous six weeks when the TV cameras turned up for the Boxing Day clash with high-flying Newcastle. A 2-2 draw gave fans hope for the second half of the season but the following week saw the inconsistencies return as the club were dumped out of the F.A. Cup on home soil at the first attempt by Crystal Palace. It appeared as though Wednesday were in some sort of limbo as they only managed to appoint Alan Irvine as manager on January 8th, almost 4 weeks after the departure of Laws. Thankfully due to the F.A. Cup and the poor weather during this period Wednesday only fulfilled two league fixtures and so the new boss still had exactly half a season to turn things around. Irvine managed to make an instant impact as a dogged display by the team in his first game in charge resulted in a 2-1 win at local rivals Barnsley. The Scot steered the Owls to 5 wins from his first seven games including a double over promotion hopefuls Blackpool and although defeat at fellow strugglers Scunthorpe in that spell was disappointing it looked as though the club would have enough to stave off the dreaded drop. The Owls were then comprehensively beaten at home by Doncaster Rovers and the Irvine honeymoon period was well and truly at an end when this was followed by a 1-0 Hillsborough reverse against Ipswich and another crushing loss at Reading, this time 5-0. The home win over Blackpool had moved Wednesday up to 18th and within three points of 13th place however, the three straight defeats plunged the Owls back into the relegation zone and worse was to follow. In 12 games throughout March and April the club managed just two wins and picked up only 11 points. The brand of football the Owls played during this spell was far from attractive to say the least and whilst it is fair to state that the style of play was far from being a priority the direct approach that the team appeared to adopt was simply not producing the required results. The poor away that epitomised the end of Brian Laws tenure had returned and Wednesday were far too cautious at home resulting in valuable points dropped against Derby, Bristol and Sheffield United. The goals had dried up with just 9 scored in 14 games prior to the 3-2 defeat at Cardiff on the penultimate weekend and the team managed just 2 clean sheets during that spell. The Cardiff defeat meant that the Owls would be relegated should Crystal Palace manage to beat already promoted WBA in a Monday night game but a 1-1 draw meant Wednesday had a late reprieve and a final chance to save themselves, needing victory against Palace in the last day showdown at Hillsborough. Leon Clarke’s late first-half equaliser gave renewed hope on the back of what had been a largely lacklustre first 45 and though the Owls dominated the early exchanges in the 2nd half they failed to find a way through and were punished by Darren Ambrose. Darren Purse’s late leveller gave the Owls 5 more minutes of hope of finding a winner but in truth it just prolonged the agony of what for many had looked like it was on the cards for large spells of the season. Victory in Cardiff in 2005 should have acted as a major stepping stone to gradual improvement for the club and having had a few seasons to establish themselves as a Championship club a return to the third tier seemed almost inconceivable. Now, on the pitch at least, Wednesday have slumped back to where they were prior to that memorable play-off success.
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