As the dew turns to mist across the land and the milky low winter sun rises across the Steel city to welcome the dawn of a fresh new year full of hope it's only right we look back at and put to bed the memories of the last 12 months. To clear out the memories... and what a year it has been. Highs, lows, frozen outs and thawed outs. Manager in and manager out. Number ones and number twos-"
"Sir, what's this?"
"This poster stuck over the window. Of that tree, the lawn in the morning. I thought I was seeing things. It's the middle of the night "
"Put that back at once Stubbs, I'm trying to create atmosphere."
"It's pitch black outside."
"Just put the bloody picture back. And go and fetch me a pot of tea. I'm doing the match day thread for Birmingham"
"Very good Sir. Hang on Sir. You're a day early."
"I know. We're recording it early , like Jools Holland. You don't really think he's playing boogie woogie in a sodding TV studio at midnight on new years eve do you?! I mean I can hardly do this at 11:30 on the last night of the year can I!?"
"Sorry Sir. I'll fetch the tea."
"Where the hell was I? Ah yes...."
Last year. No wins in November and December and Carlos was on his way by mutual consent on Christmas eve. A date which Wednesday seem to have a thing about when it comes to making changes . Mutual consent ..hmm... though one has to wonder with previous approaches knocked back and Swansea heading into the festivities without a manager once more how much of it was one way or the other or whether it was a genuine 50/50 agreement.
Either way, it doesn't really matter that much now. We headed into the new year with the most crippling injury record that I can ever remember in all my years following the club with at one stage 16 players all unavailable to play. Most of whom would have been considered match day squad regulars.
In comes Jos Lahukay. Somebody who, if everyone is honest no one had never bloody heard of. But you take it as it comes. What choice do you have? No one had heard of Wenger when he rocked up at Highbury. You just have to hope. So in comes this diminutive little chap with a 'tash' and within days the players are praising him making them do proper training. Which starts to prompt more questions online about the previous regime...
Luhukays first job is a trip to darkest Morder and Bramall Lane. Crikey I can remember that week, barely had I been more worried going into a new Year. I ordered Stubbs to keep the Christmas lights up a bit longer to try and keep a bit of a warm glow about the place a bit longer so gloom laden was my mood.
The blunts at their place.
And us down to the bare bones. The absolute bare bones and with a home pummelling by them still fresh , nay , seared in the memory! The trepidation was palpable. I remember doing the match day thread and the early pages were all full of people of the same view- Just hoping that it wouldn't be a pummelling.
Well he goes and shocks us all, we go there and match them up 3-5-2. Well that caught old Mardiola on the hop. Literally he was hopping about in the technical area having obviously thought they'd steam roller through us in our standard 4-4-2. We'd got the rookie Wildsmith in net. David Jones in midfield playing , what to me is still his best game for us. And wee Ross Wallace charging about kicking folks for fun in central midfield!! I've never seen the like!
Then, the skipper Glenn Loovens, who's powers were waning anyway gets sent off. A bit harshly in my book, his stud catches in the ground and propels....but anyway. 64 minutes on the clock and we're down to ten men. With odds and sods in the side in an alien formation. And they still can't beat us. Blimey we even nearly win it at the end.
Oh yes the blunts mocked that we were celebrating that 0-0 but make no bones about it, that draw hurt them more than any of them would ever EVER care to admit because in the build up, with our incredible injury crisis and terrible form... (1 win in 11) they genuinely, and don't ever let them tell you otherwise thought they were going to 'properly' avenge the Boxing day massacre. They'd built that game up in their hearts. This was it. And they didn't. Mardiola had looked at himself in the mirror that morning and said to himself that it would be he that would be remembered , out of all their managers, Bassett, Warnock, Harris, Haslam....it would be he Wilder who avenged it. Oh how he rubbed his trotters together with glee.
But then this little bloke from Holland had quietly come in and stolen a point with kids and fillers.
Venancio who had been keeping himself fit at Ponds Forge because he'd never had a sniff coming into the side and heading crosses away for fun.
Yes, this little Dutchman bought some credits that day. And he needed them, because most people after the Carlos project were wanting something else. Someone English, someone who knew this league.
He'd got them in for double training. Everyone gets giddy. It's the way things are isn't it. When one man goes you all want someone who's his opposite. Carlos was easy going. So we want someone who's going to make the buggers work. Especially after those photos that surface with most of the players looking like they have a spare tyre under the shirts!
We then go and keep two more clean sheets, against much fancied Middlesborough and Warnocks Cardiff City. Games that , along with the blunts we were expecting to take nothing from.
We then go and take a point at Oakwell, and then go and beat Derby. We suddenly look more unified. Far from a finished article of course, we're still crippled by injury but he's doing things simple- like playing combinations up front. Joao and Nuhiu are in from the cold and actually looking like a bit of a pairing.
But then...then he does something that you only usually see on the International stage... we go to Millwall and play with no recognised strikers. There is outrage, and you can see why ...it's a Tuesday night game 190 miles away. Already the fan base is splitting and he's only been here a month!
He says the crippling injuries in the club means he's not going to take chances on players who aren't fit and risk them being out longer. It's common sense stuff and as new drips from the dressing room about the holiday camp session under Carvalhal many people nod that they can see method in the new mans madness.
George Boyd agreed saying that he backed the new manager and that the players fitness was lower than it should have been and that Carvalhal’s training sessions lacked intensity and left them ill-equipped for the rigours of the Championship!
Despite four drawers , a win and two narrow defeats the 0-0 at the lane was losing its sparkle. The Millwall thing still fresh in peoples minds.
The visit of Steve Bruces Villa will be etched in the memory of any who was there. For it was simply the first time in my entire life that I genuinely felt a referee was on the take and not simply terrible. Ironically it was probably , footballing wise the best team performance under Luhukay to date. But it was all over shadowed by the play acting of Robert Snodgrass and the man in the middle. George Boyd tripped in the box- nothing. Snodgrass....eurggh! I can't even talk about it now a year on!
That referee. I have never been so incensed and nothing will ever persuade me otherwise that there was something afoot.
Swarbrick retired at the end of the season. Which is just as well as the thought of him coming to Hillsborough again...he'd have been lynched. I'd have genuinely worried for the mans safety. I mean those stats. They will stand out like a sore thumb till the end of time!
Two more defeats followed. The good performance against Villa boiled down to nothing more than a loss of points. A heavy defeat at Ashton Gate courtesy of a Bobby Reid hat-trick brought the ire of the fanbase and a home defeat to Ipswich had some fans murmuring about why we hadn't opted for an English manger like Johnson or McCarthy.
By this stage things were ramping up though in the negativity stakes, what had promised to be a season where many thought it would be third time lucky had nearly turned into a free fall. The new man had come in and given us some manager bounce and had done something which Carvalhal admitted that he had failed to do which was get performances out of his squad players when his best XI were out injured. But still there was huge dissatisfaction. The manager wasn't a 'character' and whilst that shouldn't really matter- to fans it can do. Fans do like a character in the hot seat. They like someone with a quip or a one liner. Whilst Carlos and his endless food analogies started to grate when things weren't going well on the pitch he was certainly value for money most of his time here for the soundbites.
As the season started reaching its end the conspiracy theories really started to ramp up not not helped when a clip of a Carlos press conference from earlier in the season reared it's head when he said there were things happening and that he'd "Tell us at the end of the season" suddenly with nothing much else to get excited about and a mid table finish likely on the cards the gossip mongering hit overdrive- for fans love chatting and with little to talk about of note on the pitch it meant that it was time to look for other things to remark on and that thing was the injury crisis.
Social media soon exploded with theories that the injured sixteen weren't actually injured at all. Even though many of the players had gone down injured on the park. Now theories started that the injuries were all fake.
That the club was forcing players to miss games to save money, to save bonus clauses, to save on auto contract renewals and..."
"Your tea Sir"
"Ahh, thank you Stubbs."
"How's it going, Sir?"
"Ok I think. Just looking back, last season really was one to forget wasn't it. So many bad things. I was hoping to put some positives in but..."
"Ahh yes. Butterfield"
"Bloody hell Stubbs I'd forgotten about him!"
"Well perhaps you should mention him"
"No. No, I don't want it to be all doom and gloom. I'll leave that to The Star"
"Will that be all Sir. I was hoping to get down the Nuns for a quick slurp"
"Steady on Stubbs, you'll be getting the post deleted with that sort of talk. Have you forgotten deletageddon in last weeks match thread?"
"Yes, anyway. Get yourself off."
"Thank you, Sir"
Ahh yes. Contract renewals. There were all sorts of theories doing the rounds.
Luhukay who had done well in steadying the ship with mainly bench warmers and squad players with a sprinkling of the kids thrown in was now also getting dragged into the conspiracy theories regarding injuries. The quiet Dutchman was now having the finger pointed at him as having been given the job because he was a 'yes-man' who would agree to having players pretending to be injured. It was all quite farfetched but it was gaining more and more followers and questions. In the end Barry Bannan one of the players who had yet to make an appearance under the new manager after sustaining a hip injury at Norwich before Christmas broke under questioning from a social media detective..
But it wasn't enough to stop the rumours persisting.
A fortnight later Bannan was back in action as Wednesday took apart Preston at Hillsborough, a game remembered for an Atdhe Nuhiu double and one of the best goals seen at Hillsborough in many a year. Also a game I remember because a chap in front on me had been giving him pelters all afternoon. I looked for him when that magnificent third goal went in and saw his seat was empty. Gutted. Still. When Forestieri came from the bench to bend home the fourth it put a gloss on things.
Defeats to QPR and Fulham were sandwiched inbetween wins over Sunderland and Hull. Reading were put to the sword and the season was wrapped up with a smashing of Norwich with a Nuhiu hat-trick.
The summer ,people hoped, would be one of rebuilding. He'd come in and been unspectacular but his remit had been to stop the slide, which he did, with mainly fringe players and kids. He'd already got his critics, the Millwall game or Striker-gate as it shall be known was still needling many. But as the summer sun brought some relief most supporters were prepared to see what the man could do after the break when he had a full squad to pick from.
The Club revealed we'd be having a new kit and that last years would be getting sold off. Though many fans were disappointing at the high prices for something which was about to become out of date.
As the season approached bad news dripped out that Hooper and Lee looked unlikely to be ready for the start of the new season. Ross Wallace and Glenn Loovens were released. Fans started to get wondering who would replace them. Two experienced campaigners and as free transfers two chaps who had provided some of our best business in years.
Frederico Venancio it was presumed would come in and help bolster the back line having stood in for Tom Lees whilst the future skipper was injured and many were shocked when he announced to the media that he loved it here and was desperate to stay but then flew back to Portugal with any talk of signing him vanishing with him.
Suddenly alarm bells were ringing. There was talk that we might not have been able to afford the affable centre half, yet his asking price was being touted as low as £750,000 an absolute snip compared to similarly talented English centre halves who were moving for four and five times that figure.
Jack Hunt was the next out of the door transferred to Bristol City for £1.6m. A decent fee it was thought for a player who had also had some injury problems and had to be subbed off struggling in many of the 28 games he did start the previous season. But again...was he going to be replaced?
Rhodes was set up with a loan move to Norwich City, presumably with a view to a permanent move.
Also on the move was his father Andy, the Wednesday goalkeeping coach and someone who had been credited with doing much to help Wednesdays two highly promising young custodians Wildsmith and Dawson. Gone to become the assistant manager at Oldham a club where he played 69 games during one of their finest spells in the late eighties and early nineties.
There is some good news at this stage though as George Boyd tells the press that the players are going to be much fitter this season and that they have done a lot of quality work in pre season.
“As a player, you need that fitness,” he said. If you don’t do a proper pre-season and don’t build up that base of fitness, you can’t do it during the season, especially with the amount of games you play in the Championship. You can’t get fitness sessions during the week so you need to do it now and that sets you up for the rest of the year.”
(Amazingly though this interview is one of the few times we see George for 5 months until Bully brings him back in.)
So there were tiny threads of positivity. However this was tempered when he announced that he would be having young Cameron Dawson as his number one. Several times he stated it in the press conference. But he kept referring to a "situation" Dawson knew what the "Situation" was. As did Westwood and Wildsmith. But the thing is, the fans didn't know what the "Situation" was...and it was something which was to become a constant talking point throughout the season.
As the season approached the rumour mill went into overdrive with people throwing the names of all sorts of possible transfer targets out there. Hundreds were touted and rumoured. But none came in. The manager was given nothing to spend.
The club then revealed the new kit
(Though the stripes were only on the front it was a step in the right direction. If we get the shorts and socks right next season under Bruce then maybe , just maybe the glory days will come again!)
Wednesday were away to momentum powered Wigan on the opening day of the season and fell to a 3-2 defeat, young Van Aken back in the side at the centre of a 3 man defence where he struggled with the physical side of the game whilst over on his right flank Tom Lees ,the best defensive header of the ball in the club, was struggling to get to grips with being charged with pulling wide and starting moves off.
The fans , after a poor previous season were worried a bad start could cost us and even Luhukays most vociferous critics were demanding to know why the Dutchman hadn't been given any money to spend, with his only signing to date being Joey Pelupessy, for a meagre £420,000.
To be given any chance the man, even his doubters agreed, had to be given something to spend.
It was in this early week of the season that the Chairman announced at a fans forum that the club had been under a temporary embargo since April!
On the park Wednesday got their first point on the board with a 1-1 draw with Hull City. Sam Hutchinson replacing the shell shocked Van Aken in the back line. Though Hutchinson was used in the centre of the back three, with Lees again on the right side and charged with getting the moves going. So many people wondered why Hutchinson -so much more comfortable on the ball wasn't put in the RCB role and Lees in the central one.
A week later against Brentford Hutchinson was back in midfield against Brentford. On paper this was a solid looking Wednesday side. Lees back in his comfortable position as the right sided centre half position in a back four had Pudil alongside him. However left fullbacks Penney and Fox were overlooked for the left back spot by natural centre half Thorniley.
A midfield 3 of Hutchinson, Bannan and Pelupessy was on paper a good balance of fitness, finesse , stamina, ticking, tackling. However somewhat bizarrely rather than Hutchinson and Pelupessy sitting, or even just Hutchinson sitting and Pelupessy playing higher up alongside Bannan...Wednesdays ball winning tackler played in what can only be described in a sort of attacking, deep, inside right position. He looked lost, but that could be little excuse for a barmy penalty he gave away. He'll have been as gutted as the next man. However...it would be the last we'd see of Hutchinson in the League for 5 months.
Three wins on the spin pushed us right up the table into the top ten and Lucas Joao was in good goalscoring form and showing flashes of the player he always had the potential to be. We've stuck with a back four for a few games and while not pulling any tree up we're at the right end of the table.
Josh Onomah and Michael Hector come in on loan to bolster the numbers. There's no sign though of George Boyd or David Jones though and the contract and payment rumours of last season start to flair like embers in the great until the conspiracies become a raging fire once more. When asked why they aren't involved the manager plays it with a straight bat and says he's looking long term and has some kids who are the future of the club and he wants to give them game time and experience. Which is all fair enough. But with the shadow of embargo hanging still over the club many just outright call him a liar. In that situation, whatever you think of him as a manager it has to be said that he and to an extent the club, can't win.
On the pitch after some really good results the signing of Hector actually seems to make the manager wobble even more, the recent run of wins and draws (with a defeat to Forest in there) comes to a halt as he then goes back to a back three, almost to squeeze Hector in. It means Lees moving back to right centre back and almost instantly the skipper starts to look wobbly again.
Leeds United with Bielsa at the helm (The man I wanted when Gray got the boot and everyone told me would never come to England!!) give us a right old game at Hillsborough raining in an astonishing 25 shots in on young Cameron Dawsons goal, which he manages to keep at bay. It's like the Alamo at the back there, but Wednesday are clinging on to their lead from Reachs wonder goal at the break.
Ten minutes after the break though they are back in it when Mateusz Kitch scores as good a strike as you'll see at this level.
With changes now happening every week no one has any idea what team will be playing week by week.
Pudil, Thorniley and Hector all seem to be rotated.
We take a two goal lead against West Bromich Albion at home but squander it all too easily... players start getting some hammer from the fans who seem to be arguing with each other about which players to blame even down to arguing which players should be fouling the opposition!
The players are starting to lose the fans, the club is starting to lose the fans. There is no clarity about what it happening with the embargo. The manager is a quiet bloke , and though it makes little difference in real terms, the Sheffield public are getting agitated and they want to see their manager looking agitated in the dugout and getting annoyed like they are. It's all a bizarre thing but it's tribal, they want to know the man in the hot seat is as stressed as them.
The skipper had a nightmare against Middleborough and the airwaves were crackling with voices saying he was too quite to be a captain and that he needed Loovens along side him. One or two with a bit of nous wanted him to be stuck back in a two man central defence. As it was he found himself dropped for the following match at QPR...
...along with four others. We get pumped 3-0. Then we're on to Birmingham, but we're back to a back four now and a very narrow midfield, some would say diamond, which is almost completely devoid of width.
A week afterwards Jos decides to put the width issue right by going 4-4-2 and making sure we have player in wide areas!
Nuhiu and Fletcher start up front and one or two old fashioned types start to have hopes of seeing crosses and headed goals like the good old days.
We do actually create a couple of decent chances and Onomah should probably have us 2-0 up going into the break but lines are fluffed.
Cameron Dawson saves a penalty which earns him warm applause.
However.... after half time Wednesday capitulate and amazingly find themselves 3-0 down in just 11 crazy minutes, and sections of the crowd start chanting Kieran Westwoods name, scuffles and arguments break out in the stand. A fourth near the end and the murmurs and groans around Hillsborough grow.
Fans are arguing on-line and Football heaven is full of callers all with a different take on the situation some livid and many quoting what is rapidly becoming 2018's buzzword "Toxic".
Wednesday have conceded 28 goals in 16 outings and fans are all agreeing at this stage, whatever their views on the manager, conspiracies and anything else- the opposition aren't having to work for their goals. So many of them are gifts.
Though..... "The opposition are going to get gifts," said Radio summariser Brian Laws "if you are allowing teams 15 to 20 free hits at goal every week. One of them will get lucky"
In goal, Laws' statement is backed up by the fact young Dawson has faced more shots than any other goalkeeper in the entire division. He's made the most saves, say SKY TV, but it's an accolade he'd rather not have as the reason for it is the fact he's being shelled every week.
"This Luhukay," opines one chap on my Twitter feed "I heard he was reight defensive, but I don't know where they've got that from we couldn't get a clean sheet in a Chinese launderatte"
We then go to the place where it all first started for Luhukay Bramall Lane.
And oh! King-Grunter Wilder is loving it , his team are flying high and Wednesday are struggling and are the only team in the division yet to keep a clean sheet.
Mardiola is revelling in the build up all week and The Star can't give him enough column inches!
Their reporter also tries to crank the pressure up by claiming that Wednesday are favourites for the clash.. despite Wednesday having just 3 wins in 3 months.
Wilder, in his Bristolian, Bedfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Wiltshire accent goes on to say how he understands how big the game is on account of him being so Northern...
Luhukay says "It is the biggest game of the season, the derby match, you play for pride, honour and respect. You play to win a derby , you have to do it for the fans, so the players must also understand that."
But the press ignore that totally and concentrate all their efforts on pointing out one tiny part of the 15 minute conference when he said he'd managed big derbies before and so of course he knew what they were about.
As it is Wednesday go there and put in one of the best defensive displays of this or any season .
Dawson saves a penalty and keeps a clean sheet having faced 19 shots. Wednesday get a point, the United fans make fun of Wednesday fans for celebrating the result and Mardiola can barely hide his upset that once more ,with all the chips stacked in his sides favour he has failed to bring home a double or revenge for the BDM!
He resorts to saying how proud he is of his players and finds himself barely able to open his mouth without trying to shoe horn in that he thinks every player in Wednesdays squad is on £40,000 per week. (God knows what he'd make of the £100,000 a week that David Jones is on!)
Wednesday fans still bicker though and despite the clean sheet the debate about why Dawson is playing instead of Westwood rages on. The manager says it's down to him, which many fans think is lunacy, some fans claim Westwood is a bad egg, some claim it's to do with a contract clause which means we'll have to extend his deal and one or two of the more fringe lunatics actually think that Chansiri is picking the side and texting it to the manager every week!
No one has any idea what the truth is!
The chairman when asked outright at a fans forum backs the manager by admitting it is purely the managers decision. But still some don't believe him claiming he's throwing the manager under the bus to cover for an FFP fiasco. There's about 8 factions of fans all with different views on the matter and no one has any idea what the hell is going on. Though all fans from every side of the equation are agreed on one thing...the situation won't be doing the young lad in the net any good.
Wednesday go to Blackburn and get demolished by an average Blackburn side. Going with a two man central midfield we don't have anyone to pick up Bradley Dack who is afforded the freedom of the pitch and goes on the rampage. The fans start chanting for Jos out.
This is the Winter of our discontent!
Ahh the forum. The Clubs fans forum. Fair play to the Chairman. I wouldn't do them, I wouldn't honest. But he did. Booked at the University octagon centre to allow more people to attend ....until the Universities security manager had the event cancelled with worries about fans kicking off. It all seems a bit rich from a venue that has previously held boxing nights and cage fighting all with an open bar. But cancel it they do. Releasing a statement via their Vice chancellors office. But even this is dismissed as rubbish by some fans who are now at mouth-frothing levels of anger and accuse the University of colluding with the club to get it cancelled so not as many people can attend.
Funny the effect football can have on people!
The Chairman leaves the meeting knowing that most fans aren't happy with the manager and within 14 hours the manager was gone.
Lee Bullen is suddenly giving the keys an told to look after the house until a new man can be found.
Bullen steps up to the plate with little fuss. He talks common sense in his first press conference. Just as he did when given the same task almost a year before.
He's true to his word. Sets us up simply with round pegs in round holes. We go to a traditional and solid back four with the skipper back in his best position as a right sided centre back in a partnership. He plays a formation and system which means we won't be overrun in central midfield by having a holding player behind to shuttlers and frees Bannan and Reach, Onomah and Pelupessy to do their best work further forward.
Showing signs he's shrewder than many would give him credit he also recalls two fan favourites from the wilderness in Westwood and Hutchinson. It's a master-stroke not just in terms of tactics but in terms of creating a positive atmosphere at Hillsborough. The fans, for the first time in months are positive before a ball has been kicked. Westwood was barking out his orders to the defence and even people still debating the rights and wrongs of both keepers treatment agreed the benefit of having another experienced head back there in a team struggling for confidence and form.
The Preston game isn't a classic but Wednesday are in control, even before dirty get Pearsons inevitable sending off.
It's a 4-3-3 when attacking and becomes a 4-1-4-1 when we lose possession. We're compact and we reduce the number of shots at our goal to 4. The lowest of the entire season. Against Middlesborough we again allow them only 4 shots and even against West Brom the top scorers in the entire division we keep them down to just 9 shots . 6 less than we allowed against lowly Rotherham. It's simple stuff. But football is a simple game. It works!
Rumours are abound that Bruce is incoming once he's finished his holiday in Barbados. Though some are questioning his eagerness to get here. Well, I don't say I blame him. The Caribbean or a Sheffield winter. Which would you find more appealing. His assistants have already been to watch us and have no doubt been sending back detailed notes from what they have seen and...
"Stubbs, what are you doing here?"
"The Nuns is shut Sir and I've never much fancied the Black Horse since Teds lad took over as tenant."
"A wise choice Stubbs. A wise choice"
"I did bump into Hargreaves in the village though Sir"
"Oh yes. What did he have to say?"
"He asked me to give you this Sir. It's a Fortnum and Masons hamper, he said he can't believe he isn't paying you considering the quality of your content on this site , especially when he looks at the wedge that's being thrown at proper journalists down the road"
"Well he's quite right. But he needn't have bought me this. Listen Stubbs, grab yourself a glass we'll pop open the bubbly and see in the new year"
"Hang on a minute Stubbs, the bloody hamper; it's empty!"
"Ahh, yes Sir. He was dropping it off. But then he stopped for a breather by the village Green and sat on the bench there and..well he, well, he drank the lot Sir. But he did tell me to tell you that it's the thought that counts."
"Have you finished the Match day thread Sir?"
"Just about Stubbs. Just about."
"I can't see anything about Birmingham in there Sir.."
"Oh Bolllocks. I'd forgot about them lot. Look it's too late now. We'll just have to add a bit on the morning of the game."
HAPPY NEW YEAR
COME ON WEDNESDAY