It is very doubtful that Michail Antonio will look back on 2013 with any great fondness.
Although the forward found the back of the net seven times, a string of injuries severely hampered his progress. His form has been patchy at best this season but former Wednesday boss Dave Jones did Antonio no favours by regularly deploying him as a striker when he is better suited to playing in the wide positions.
Nonetheless, it was good to see Antonio return to the fold in the victory over Blackpool on New Year’s Day following a lengthy lay-off due to a knee problem. That was his first outing since their Yorkshire derby defeat to Huddersfield Town on November 23.
Stuart Gray, the Owls caretaker boss, told me yesterday that Antonio only trained once with the rest of his squad prior to the Blackpool clash. But Gray conceded: “It was a great boost for himself to be out of the treatment room. We just have to be careful with him. He needs to get back up to sharpness again.”
It is thought Wednesday spent in the region of £750,000 to capture Antonio on a permanent basis from Reading in the summer of 2012. Despite missing the final two months of last term due to injury, Antonio still topped the Owls goal-scoring charts with nine. It is goals which will keep Wednesday up this timearound, regardless of who is in charge of first-team affairs, and Antonio certainly possesses the pace and power to unlock stubborn defences. It is up to the manager to coax the best out of Antonio as the Londoner is capable of playing an instrumental part in their survival tilt.
As Gray readily admits, Antonio must improve his decision making in the final third. “What Michail has got to realise is that teams last year would leave him one v one whereas this year they are doubling up on him,” claimed Gray. “He and Jeremy [Helan] have got to learn the game and gain a bit more football intelligence as in how to deal with situations.
“Teams are probably showing us a bit more respect by doubling up on them but they’ve got to adapt their games.”
With Connor Wickham not available for selection for tomorrow’s trip to Macclesfield Town, Antonio is expected to be given another run-out. If Gray can get Antonio consistently firing, it will significantly enhance Wednesday’s prospects of putting further daylight between themselves and the Championship’s bottom three.