Alan Biggs: Jones’ wide boys can be Owls route back to the big time

Jermaine Johnson takes on ex Owl Ritchie Humphreys in a pre-season friendly. Pic: Steve Ellis.
Jermaine Johnson takes on ex Owl Ritchie Humphreys in a pre-season friendly. Pic: Steve Ellis.

Can Sheffield Wednesday pull a flanker on the rest of the Championship? If they do... if... then the chances are it will be by that exact method.

Careful now. A few tipsters, including this column, got a bit carried away after the Owls’ intoxicating start to last season, only to see fanciful promotion talk turn into a battle against the drop.

The reason for confidence now is exactly the same as it was then - the exceptional pace in the side, particularly in wide positions. Only this time Wednesday are even stronger in that department, hence a more realistic sense of optimism.

Yes, it’s arguably more about goalscoring in the end and Dave Jones’ team may still be a work in progress when it comes to midfield composure and creativity, both lacking I felt last season, and real potency up front.

It may be that the eventual answer lies in the January window if there is a platform from which to take a gamble.

However, I’d back the Owls to show just about every other team in the Championship a clean pair of heels when it comes to speed on the break.

Michail Antonio and Jermaine Johnson, both of whom can lacerate defences through the middle as well as on the flanks, will again lead the charge. Crucially, Jones has added more of the same in securing loanee Jeremy Helan on a permanent deal and signing Jacques Maghoma from Burton. Former Preston wideman Danny Mayor also has the potential to contribute.

I felt Jones was a little quick last year to abandon a wing-based assault in an attempt to tighten a side leaking goals.

A mid-season loss of identity threatened a crisis that was eventually eradicated by the moulding of a more workmanlike approach.

Now it seems Jones has set a deliberate strategy to play to his strengths, acquiring cover in those wide areas for the sake of continuity.

If the Championship is as tight and competitive as last year and Wednesday’s largely unaltered defence stays strong, then pace could be the factor that gives the Owls a chance to push for the top six.

Weir impresses but new team still have to prove itself

People think pundits are too prone to fence-sitting... but have they considered that sometimes it’s because the tipster hasn’t got a clue?

It’s in this spirit that I declare here and now that I haven’t the foggiest whether Sheffield United will finally go up this season.

But I do believe the club’s switch to longer-term thinking is a definite forward step.

David Weir cuts an impressive figure, even as a novice manager, and the level of recruitment has surprised a few in both quality and quantity.

That said, anybody who reckons the mere name of a club dictates that they will be in the promotion reckoning is taking a dangerous leap of faith. It seems the bookies will always tip the Blades on that factor alone while ever they are below their station.

But this looks to be an ultra-competitive League One and the toughest to escape for years.

When I last checked United were fourth favourites to go up at around 7/2. Those, for my money, are pretty mean odds because I’d peg them as an outside bet - at this stage.

Only when the ball is rolling will we learn about the impact of new management. Only then can we gauge whether United’s youngsters can step up to the plate and whether their play-off heartbreak will affect them.

There can be very little certainty. Just look around. Wolves, shockingly relegated from the Championship, have an overflow of quality that should never have let that happen.

Likewise Bristol City can be expected to mount a strong challenge under Sean O’Driscoll and Peterborough have to be fancied for another return to the Championship.

Then what of Uwe Rosler’s Brentford who missed out so agonisingly to Doncaster last season and were then pipped by Yeovil in the play-offs?

A better team than the Blades on last season’s evidence.

Of the promoted sides, Gillingham are an unknown quantity but there is a strong force called momentum in the case of both Bradford City and Rotherham United.

Of the two, I have a feeling that the Millers will surprise a few.

Oh, and what about an ambitious Preston with Kevin Davies? So anything above a top six place in this league is a tall order for a club like United in a transitory phase.

Much as there is a dread of the play-offs after recent experiences, finishing there would be a real achievement for the new boss.