Sheffield Wednesday: Owls boss makes rivals think

Leroy Lita against Crystal Palace.
Leroy Lita against Crystal Palace.

DAVE Jones cannot have expected to find himself in the same boat as Sir Alex Ferguson this week, writes Paul Thompson.

Controversial refereeing led to 2-1 defeats for both managers.

They had something else in common: they each left out a star striker.

Jones’s switching of Leroy Lita to the bench was a bold decision, as was Ferguson’s omission of Wayne Rooney.

I did not see the Man Utd v Real Madrid game as I was, of course, watching the Owls at Watford, but, like Wednesday, United were in front when controversy struck and it seems that they too might well have won if the referee had acted differently.

In leaving Rooney out, Ferguson was adopting tactics that he thought would benefit the team.

Jones did the same and was proved right.

It would have been simple for him to stick with 4-4-2 and keep Lita and Connor Wickham up front.

Instead, he sought to combat a top side who had won well at Hillsborough. To occupy the Hornets’ three central defenders, he put Wickham down the middle, supported on the flanks by Michail Antonio and Jeremy Helan.

Kieran Lee’s inclusion in a three-man central midfield helped to outdo Watford’s strength in that area.

Wednesday’s system also reduced the chance of the Hornets’ wing-backs raiding forward.

Jones reflected: “We had a right go at them. They play three at the back. We played three up against them. We were in Watford’s faces all the time. We never allowed them to settle.”

Tactical variation shows that Wednesday are capable of going “horses for courses” and getting some joy.

Lita is probably best when he is playing off a big man.

Jones will no doubt have preferred Wickham for the lone, central role because in that position it can pay to have someone who has physical presence, works hard and holds the ball up.

You also need pace on the flanks in that system, ie Antonio and Helan.

So no place for Lita.

Wickham was unlucky not to score his first goal for the club: he forced two good saves, and went close with a header - so did Lita after going on as a sub, with a header that was saved in injury time.

Hang on a bit, Wednesday lost, so it can’t all have been that successful, I can hear some people saying.

But if they had gone 2-0 up, as they should have done, then I think they would have come away with at least a richly deserved point, and perhaps more.

If Jones had started with 4-4-2 and the team had been outplayed by Watford like they were at Hillsborough, then I doubt if anyone would have batted an eyelid.

The changes and the performance on Tuesday should make folk sit up and take notice, and keep future opposition guessing.

But don’t be surprised if Lita returns for a different sort of stiff challenge, at Leicester.

The Foxes usually play 4-4-2. However, will Wednesday, instead of matching them up, play 4-5-1, as some visiting sides have done at the King Power Stadium? There’s something for Nigel Pearson to think about!