SHEFFIELD Wednesday’s hopes of landing top targets Neil Mellor and Chris O’Grady appear to be on the point of collapse.
The Owls have been in summer-long negotiations for both strikers in the widespread expectation that at least one would join the club.
But manager Gary Megson today admits suffering a severe double blow to his hopes of strengthening the squad.
Megson refused to identify the players concerned but, when pressed on the issue, told the Telegraph: “We’re out of the running for two players. We can’t agree terms.
“I won’t name them because that would be unfair, although both are with clubs in League One.”
Preston’s Mellor and Rochdale’s O’Grady are almost certainly the men at the centre of the impasse. And there is little sign of the deadlock being broken.
Megson now seems resigned to looking elsewhere for diminishing options on forward recruits - while also concentrating his efforts on landing Huddersfield winger Gary Roberts and Wolves defender Danny Batth, wanted back after a successful loan spell.
Urgency is mounting with the new season little more than a fortnight away. Wages are apparently the main issue, with Wednesday having set a ceiling thought to be around £5,000 a week.
A fee was agreed with Preston for Mellor, last season’s Hillsborough loan star, while Wednesday have evidently bid close to Rochdale’s £250,000 valuation of former Rotherham striker O’Grady.
Now the Owls are bidding for Huddersfield wideman Roberts, encouraged by rumours that he has had a fall-out with boss Lee Clark. Ordinarily, Roberts would be priced at around £700,000 with a year to go on his contract, but the political backdrop has offered Wednesday some encouragement.
Clearly, the events of the next fortnight will decide whether Megson has confidence or otherwise in the ability of his squad - down to 20 players including three goalkeepers - to escape League One.
He will want his destiny to ride on a strong nucleus of his own players after inheriting the fall-out of an ill-fated recruitment spree at the start of chairman Milan Mandaric’s reign.
So far - after the departure of five - he has signed four in Rob Jones, David Prutton, Julian Bennett and Jose Semedo. It means Wednesday have a solid enough look in defence and midfield, but attacking potency and penetration down the flanks remain pressing needs. There is a strong case for investing in areas which could make all the difference.
Megson is unlikely to have given up on Mellor and O’Grady if the stumbling blocks are suddenly removed. But he is also having to face some stark realities at a time when most clubs, even those who are solvent with wealthy ownership, are operating tight curbs on spending.
Mandaric is determined not to recreate the dire problems of the past after spending £12m on making the Owls debt-free. For him to “put his hand in his pocket”, as many fans are urging, would build up loans.
But there is a fine line between speculating and over-committing. Striking a balance on this tricky equation could determine Wednesday’s immediate ambitions at a time when Megson has openly expressed his frustration on transfers.