One game at a time, says stopper Kirkland

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It is one of the oldest sayings in football’s well-worn book of clichés.

But Chris Kirkland insists that ‘taking one game at a time’ is the key to Sheffield Wednesday’s Championship survival hopes this season.

“The key for us is not to build any game up and make it too big,” the Wednesday goalkeeper, speaking ahead of Saturday’s game against relegation rivals Barnsley, said.

“It goes without saying that this game is important, because of where the two teams are in the table.

“But at the same time, we can’t look at it as crucial as this game won’t define our season. It’s just another 90 minutes of football.”

But what a 90 minutes it promises to be. Over 30,000 fans are expected to flock to Hillsborough on Saturday for the clash against David Flitcroft’s Barnsley - who are Wednesday’s close rivals, both in terms of standings and geography.

The Owls go into the game just one point and one place above the Championship’s relegation trapdoor, but just one place - and one point - behind their neighbours from Oakwell in 20th spot.

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a local derby and we want to go out there and win it for the fans,” Kirkland, a one-cap England international, told the Telegraph in midweek.

“They’ve been great this season, superb even. There’s not many better around, apart from maybe Liverpool’s.

“So we realise how important it is for them. We’ll prepare well, and the gaffer [Dave Jones] will have us in the right frame of mind.

“Hopefully we’ll get that little bit of luck we need on the day, and get the three points that we need.”

A keen student of the game, Kirkland described Barnsley as “one of the division’s form teams” and, indeed, they make the short journey to Hillsborough having tasted defeat just twice in their last eleven league games.

“They’re doing well under Flicker [manager David Flitcroft], but we have to try and put the fact that it’s a derby out of our minds and concentrate on the task in hand - which is winning the game.

“It’ll be a tough game, of course, but they all are when you’re in our situation.

“I’m expecting an end-to-end, fast and furious 90 minutes, as both sides want a result. But there’s nine games left of the season now, and they’re all equally important.”

Kirkland remembers fondly the last time his Wednesday side locked horns with Barnsley, at Oakwell on December 15.

A 1-0 Wednesday win, courtesy of a Chris O’Grady strike in front of the Sky TV cameras, ended a miserable run of seven straight defeats - and was, remarkably, only Kirkland’s second clean sheet of the season.

“That game kick-started our good run,” Kirkland said. “It was a great team performance from back to front. It was backs to the wall at times, and we had to defend a lot of crosses, but we stood firm.

“That result gave us belief that we could compete at that level.”

Indeed, Wednesday have conceded just 12 goals in the 15 matches since that Barnsley game.

They remain solidly in the relegation mire - but in a remarkably compact division, they are still only six points away from Birmingham City in 12th, having played a game less.

“It’s such a tight league,” Kirkland said, “and anyone can beat anyone, as we’ve seen. We were written off before going to places like Hull and Leicester, but we came away with results. We’ve been in great form - which is just as well, I guess, because everyone else has been winning too!

“Because it’s so crucial, two games in such a short space of time could be crucial,” Kirkland added.

“If you lose them both it could drag you down, but hopefully it’ll go the other way for us and it can drag us out of trouble.”

Wednesday’s two-week Championship break will come to an abrupt end with two games in three days, as they travel to Bristol City - who have won five of their last six games at Ashton Gate - on Easter Monday.

“The lads have all had a good rest, and one or two who have had niggles have had time to recover, and we’re all raring to go,” Kirkland said.

“Our form has sucked a few teams into trouble, and there are a lot of teams above us who we can still overtake. Bristol are bottom of the table, but even they aren’t down and out just yet and they’re in some good form at home.

“So there are no easy games, because we’re in a tough situation.

“But there remains a brilliant mood in the camp, and the staff won’t let it drop. The camaraderie and team spirit amongst the boys is first class.”

Wednesday, meanwhile, are confident that the Hillsborough pitch will allow Saturday’s game against Barnsley to go ahead.

The Owls have seen their Middlewood training ground covered under a blanket of thick snow, and have instead trained on the Hillsborough pitch as Jones puts his side through their final pre-match preparations.

“We knew we would lose the training ground to the weather and that being the case, the players train at Hillsborough when possible,” Wednesday’s head groundsman Steve Kiddy said.

“Obviously, the manager needs somewhere for the players to train outdoors and we’ve had the undersoil heating on, which has proved vital.

“The snow is an inconvenience but something that we are prepared for.”

Bolton striker Kevin Davies, a reported Wednesday loan target, has been informed that he will not be offered a new contract at the Reebok Stadium.

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