Second rate in the second city

Roger Johnson on his Owls debut.
Roger Johnson on his Owls debut.

These truly are worrying times for Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones.

We are seven matches into the new Championship campaign and his Owls side are still searching for their first win of the 2013/14 season.

Their defensive frailties were brutally exposed by Jesse Lingard in Saturday’s humiliating 4-1 defeat to Birmingham City, a result which leaves them fourth from bottom, having collected just four points from a possible 21.

Lingard’s finishing was of the highest order but it was easy to see why the Owls have so far failed to keep a clean sheet.

This was the joint heaviest defeat of Jones’ reign - they were beaten 4-1 at home to Watford last November. As a matter of urgency, Wednesday have got tighten up at the back to get out of the precarious situation they find themselves in.

They actually started quite well in the Second City, with Michail Antonio testing the reflexes of Darren Randolph in the fifth minute and then Liam Palmer dragging a shot wide when well placed after good build-up play between Antonio and Jacques Maghoma.

But as soon as the first goal went in, heads started to drop and confidence drained out of the team. Wednesday sorely missed the leadership qualities and organisational skills of injured defensive duo Anthony Gardner and Lewis Buxton.

There was a lack of pride and passion in the performance, prompting a deflated, slightly shell-shocked Jones to apologise to the fans in his post-match press conference. The Wednesday chief admitted it was “probably the worst performance” of his tenure.

All four of Lingard’s goals could have been avoided.

For the first, Reda Johnson allowed Chris Burke, a constant thorn in the Owls side, to cut inside on to his left foot and have a pop at goal. Chris Kirkland palmed Burke’s drive straight to Lingard, who could not miss from close range.

If Kirkland was partially to blame for Lingard’s opener, he quickly redeemed himself by making a fine save to keep out Tom Adeyemi’s rasping half-volley.

But before Jones could make a tactical change and bring on Atdhe Nuhiu, Lingard increased Birmingham’s advantage. The England under-21 international, on his debut, having signed on loan from Manchester United last week, side-footed a shot past Kirkland after being fed by Wade Elliott. Birmingham bypassed the centre of Wednesday’s midfield with ease.

Wednesday struggled throughout to retain possession in the final third despite the introduction of Nuhiu. Young Lingard completed his hat-trick just after the half-hour mark. He received Paul Robinson’s pass and had time to turn and pick his spot from just outside the area. Game over.

Seven minutes after the break, Lingard grabbed his fourth after more sloppy defending, this time from Jeremy Helan, who was outmuscled on the right flank by the diminutive Burke.

Although Kamil Zayatte netted a consolation with 24 minutes remaining of the contest, glancing in Stephen McPhail’s free-kick, it could not disguise Wednesday’s defensive inadequacies.

Apart from one crunching challenge in the early stages by Zayatte on Wade Elliott, there was a lack of fight in Wednesday’s display. Birmingham wanted the three points more. They were the hungrier side and that’s what will hurt Jones and the club’s supporters.

Jones said: “I can only apologise to the fans for the performance they put in. The goals we gave away are so hard to swallow.

“There were too many wrong decisions and too many people not at their game.

“It is not like us. It is probably the poorest performance I have seen from us in a long time.

“We began brightly but we then switched off. In a matter of a few minutes the game was all over.”

An exhausted Lingard was taken off because of cramp with 18 minutes to go to spare Wednesday more pain.

The youngster, cradling a bottle of champagne and a signed matchball, said: “I enjoyed it. Everything seemed to click.

“It was a dream come true. I couldn’t carry on because I got cramp in the second half. To score four goals and get three points is massive.

“After I got the first, I just wanted to get more and more.”

Jones felt Wednesday allowed Lingard to impress and that they didn’t “stop him from playing”.

“You cannot allow him to get on the ball, turn and run at us,” he said. “We spoke about it. For some reason they allowed him too much scope.

“We didn’t hold it up, our passing wasn’t there. Our decision-making was poor and of course when the second and third goals go in people start to clam up a bit.

“We said at half-time to go out there and get back into it because we were capable of doing that but make sure we don’t concede and then the smallest man on the pitch pushes people off the ball and that shouldn’t happen.”

At the final whistle, it was the Owls supporters you had to feel sorry for. More than 1,500 fans travelled to St Andrews and they kept loudly cheering on the team even when the scoreline was 4-0.

Jones said: “They [the fans] were absolutely magnificent and I feel for every single one of them.

“They have paid their money, they have travelled again to see us and in their thousands. We have let them down. That should hurt the players. They kept going and we should have done.

“I thought they let them off lightly. I really do. There were too many today who did not perform to what we expect and it is a long time since I have seen that. That just isn’t us.

“We didn’t dig in. We looked milky.

“We gave too many silly free kicks away. We gave them the opportunity to get the ball down and turn us. It was as if they wanted to do the opposite of what we told them. That’s when you sit back and do your basics. Pass it, move it, spin the opposition around. I lost count of the number of times the ball went forward and it just came straight back.”

The pressure is mounting on Jones to arrest the Owls’ slide. He has got a mighty job on his hands this week to try to pick his squad up after this abject showing.

Roger Johnson and McPhail, who made their Owls debuts in the Midlands, must be wondering what they have let themselves in for.