Owls match report: Sheffield Wednesday 2 Middlesbrough 0

Sheffield Wednesday v Middlesborough.....Goal......Owls 2nd goal Leroy Lita
Sheffield Wednesday v Middlesborough.....Goal......Owls 2nd goal Leroy Lita

Some may wonder what the fuss was all about.

Wednesday finished only 10 points off the play-offs, in the end.

Today Dave Jones will begin an analysis of their season and ponder ways of how they might bridge that gap and where they could have done better.

Never, he revealed after a convincing victory made sure of Championship safety, did he think the Owls were in danger of going down.

Nor was their survival in much doubt once Steve Howard had smashed them into an early lead with one of the best goals of their campaign.

One of the most confusing goals of the season made it 2-0, chances could have made the margin much wider, and it was a game to be enjoyed rather than one to raise worry among Hillsborough’s biggest crowd of 2012-13.

Compared to the drama that was going on at Huddersfield and Crystal Palace, it was a straightforward day for the Owls, and the pitch invasion at the end, and lap of thanks from the players, were more the sort seen at the end of a normal season than comparable to the scenes of jubilation that followed the promotion-clinching win against Wycombe a year ago.

Now there is work to do. Ten points may not sound a lot, but it is substantial in such a competitive division. Wednesday, confident though they always were, had to wait until the final day before making safety certain, and Peterborough have gone down with only four points fewer than them.

Jones, regarding safety as a “massive step forward” for the Owls at the end of a gruelling season, has taken more satisfaction from keeping the club up than from taking them up and was determined to enjoy his weekend before resuming, today, plans for this summer

and next season.

“A lot of things are in place anyway; now we can crack on with them,” he said. But he also admitted: “Everything was in jeopardy. It affects everybody if a club go down. There’s cost-cutting. I made sure the players knew about that. It affects everybody’s

lives, not just theirs. That’s a responsibility they need to know.”

Any doubts were swiftly swept away by a sparkling start by the team in which Jermaine Johnson, on the right wing, showed what the team missed at Peterborough when he was out, and Jeremy Helan, on the left, showed he was back on song after being hampered by a bruised thigh a week earlier. Their pace and trickery terrorised Middlesbrough.

Jones dubbed the pair “unplayable” in that spell and thanked JJ for giving what he could though not 100 per cent fit after his hamstring problem. He lasted until half-time, by which time the Owls were firmly in control.

Steve Howard, put through by a great ball from Miguel Llera, slammed home his first goal for the club; the second goal has been widely credited to Leroy Lita, though TV replays do not really show whether he got touch to Lewis Buxton’s corner or not. “I think it was Leroy’s goal. Who cares? None of them is on a goal bonus,” said Jones.

Buxton, when asked after the game, was not sure whether a teammate connected or whether his cross went straight in. Lita was not around to be asked. He was taken to hospital after going off near the end with a facial injury suffered in an accidental collision with Boro sub Ben Gibson, in trying to head home a long ball by Danny Pugh.

What is not in doubt is that it was an excellent corner by Buxton, the club’s Player of the Year. Jones also suggested that Seyi Olofinjana got as touch with his head at the near post before the ball got as far as Lita in the middle.

The Owls really ought to have built a bigger winning margin in the first half.

Olofinjana - whose exit in the second half was down to a hamstring injury - volleyed an early chance over the bar after a Buxton corner was headed down by Anthony Gardner.

Howard had a double opportunity after great work from Helan, miskicking with his first attempt and then seeing his second cleared off the line. Two minutes after that Pugh struck an opportunity into the side netting.

Then, two minutes into the second half, Lita received the ball in front of goal via a stray pass from debut-making centre half Christian Burgess but failed to get it past the keeper.

Wednesday used the second half to tighten their grip on three points, in the main, rather than over-commit themselves going forward and leave gaps that the opposition could exploit. They remained rock solid; there were no scares, and the outcome never looked in doubt.

As it turned out, the Owls would have been safe even if they had lost. But victory moved them up two places, to 18th, and they have finished one point behind a Boro outfit who could have gone top on New Year’s Day.

So where do Wednesday go from here?

Jones was asked whether he was pleased for the chairman. He replied: “I’m always pleased for the chairman. He pays my wages!

“I’ve poured him a glass of wine and I hope he enjoys it, because he’s going to get an ear-bashing, because we’ve achieved what we set out.

“We got promoted; we have stabilised ourselves for another season, at least, in this division. The plan we have set out, you wouldn’t say it’s gone smoothly, but it’s there.

“Now, it’s what do we do now? Do we push on or do we stagnate? You don’t employ me if you want to stagnate. I just want to push.”