IF SHEFFIELD Wednesday are to avoid a quick return to League One, it is imperative Dave Jones side continue to shore things up at the back.
The truth is Owls goalkeeper Chris Kirkland, a former England international, has been left horribly exposed far too many times during the 2012/13 season by his team-mates.
Jones, a defender by trade in his playing days, has chopped and changed the personnel in front of Kirkland and tinkered with their formation to try and give the 31-year-old more protection. But despite the tactical alterations, Wednesday have continued to concede soft, sloppy goals.
However, the team produced a much improved defensive showing at Oakwell on Saturday as they claimed a vital three points in the battle for survival courtesy of Chris O’Grady’s controversial strike. Kirkland made a couple of smart stops either side of half-time to deny Barnsley but, as a unit, Wednesday looked much more organised and harder to break down.
Nonetheless, it was just Kirkland’s second shut out since moving to Hillsborough in the summer. On average, the former Wigan Athletic shot-stopper has conceded nearly two goals a match - 42 in 23 appearances - but O’Grady has leapt to the defence of Wednesday’s No 1.
“Chris has been really good this season,” said the striker. “I looked at the programme before the game and he had only one clean sheet which isn’t really a fair reflection of him so it was pleasing to get one for him.”
He added: “He pulled off a couple of vital saves and I think everyone was keeping the ball out of the net by the end!
Nottingham-born O’Grady, a £350,000 acquisition from Rochdale, believes Dave Jones men possess the quality to haul themselves out of the drop zone.
Six-goal O’Grady said: “You have to believe, even when you go through the bad times, that you are good enough to stay up. If you don’t, you are doomed before you have already started. You have to believe in yourself and be committed for the cause and that’s what we all are.”
There was no shortage of passion or pride in the Owls performance at Barnsley. They might have lacked a bit of composure and confidence following a run of seven successive defeats but Jones charges produced a spirited rearguard action in the second half to go level on points with their South Yorkshire rivals.
O’Grady admitted: “You don’t expect to be top of one league in one season and at the bottom of the next. To get results is tough. But I feel comfortable in the Championship. I feel confident that I can contribute in helping the team get out of this position.”
Gary Madine, meanwhile, is expected to spearhead the Owls attack for the visit of Charlton Athletic on Saturday despite picking up a knee injury at Oakwell after a late tackle from Stephen Foster.