Sheffield Wednesday manager Gary Megson has issued a call to arms for a charge on League One’s top two - and ordered Gary Madine to hit the ground running when he returns from a six-week lay-off.
Describing Saturday’s visit of Russell Slade’s Leyton Orient as Wednesday’s “biggest game for a long time”, Megson wants to make up ground on Charlton and Huddersfield who meet on Monday.
His double salvo in a bid to keep Wednesday on track for promotion includes delivering a stern face-to-face warning to 11-goal Madine.
Megson, aiming for a third loan signing to cover for his top marksman, has told Madine he expects “proper, professional behaviour” off the pitch in order to keep his absence to a minimum.
By then the Owls boss hopes to have made inroads on the two leading clubs. And for that to happen, he feels it’s vital they end Orient’s nine match unbeaten run this weekend.
“It’s a chance to make up ground on the two teams above us,” Megson told the Telegraph with leaders Charlton hosting second-placed Huddersfield at the Valley on Monday.
Charlton can’t yet be caught on 43 points but Wednesday are only two behind Huddersfield. “That’s why this is our biggest game in a long, long time,” added Megson, hoping the fans help his side crank up the pressure.
There’s no respite for Madine, either, with his manager telling the high-spirited 21-year-old - whose off-field problems have been well documented - that his injury break is “not a holiday.”
“I’ve told Gary what’s expected of him and to behave properly,” declared Megson with the striker having broken a toe in last Saturday’s win at Tranmere.
“This will be a big test of his professionalism; how he goes about his work while he’s getting fit again. I want him to make sure he doesn’t lose his fitness in that time.
“Gary still needs to get on and learn in what is his first real season. He’s got to accept he has to behave properly in this period.
“Since the influx of foreign players, the way they conduct themselves has had a huge impact. This has to filter down to the younger players in our game.”
Megson is equally adamant about the need for defensive reinforcements that prompted him to take James Tavernier (Newcastle) and Miguel Llera (Blackpool) on loan this week. “I’m trying to cover that many things with so few players and I’ve not worked like this for ages,” he said.
“I keep having to move Reda Johnson across the back four, chopping and changing.”
Skipper Rob Jones’ suspension for Saturday and the hamstring injury ruling out right back Lewis Buxton - another centre back option - for four weeks brought matters to a head. With Jon Otsemobor also still sidelined, Tavernier, 20, is likely to take over from Buxton with the experienced Llera set for the Jones role.
Megson is further encouraged that his side “were brilliant in the second half at Tranmere” without both Madine and Buxton. Ryan Lowe, who grabbed the winner from the bench, will step up alongside Chris O’Grady while another temporary signing - which would be the sixth at the club - was being sought yesterday up to today’s 5pm deadline.
“It has to be the right person,” said Megson. “We’ve got three forwards and they are quite adaptable, meaning we can also play just one-up if necessary.
“Saturday is a massive game. We’re having a right good go at hanging on to the coat-tails of two really big spending clubs. Our squad is decent but not like either of theirs and there are others in the division with bigger wage bills.
“Sheffield Wednesday is a work in progress. It’s a crime what has gone on here in the past and there is no quick fix for long-term problems.”
One possible silver lining from the Madine injury cloud is that it could - depending on the timing and impact of his comeback - deter bids for his services in January.