The Thursday Preview: Coventry City Vs. Sheffield Wednesday
Luke Varney’s late burst to vanquish Watford in a trademark relegation six pointer last night will have temporarily lessened the pressure on a battling Owls side. After a honeymoon period punctuated by a trio of January wins, Alan Irvine’s February was less enjoyable with back to back home defeats against Ipswich and Doncaster providing a particularly horrid memory. Varney is a crowd satisfier: his industrious style contrasting sharply with that of onetime £10 million man Francis Jeffers; the former’s slow rise up the divisions has made him a more endearing, maybe better professional whereas Jeffers’ descent to that same level has left the vulpine one somehow bruised.
Irvine’s chequered beginnings at Hillsborough have led to a revival in fortunes for the latest Wednesday boo boy, Leon Clarke (a successor to Wim Jonk and Adam Proudlock in that regard) and Darren Purse, whose mid season form had led to mentions of the glue factory; but the Owlerton operation’s proud history and magnificent arena leads one to forget how penurious they have become. Apart from Purse and Mark Beevers at either extreme, their XI seems remarkably moderate and average in age terms. Without the pace of Jermaine Johnson, currently injured, they look little more than a hard-working team: James O’Connor and Lewis Buxton, fall into the category of players who are yearned for when absent, but there is a tendency to perhaps undervalue their efforts otherwise.
Wednesday’s exploitation of the loan system has also been cautious: Eddie Nolan has had some good reviews, and Tom Soares has shown glimpses of Premiership mettle, but these have been fleeting. In the absence of the sort of pipeline that leads from Old Trafford to Deepdale, the club have lately struggled a bit with players on loan, Varney notwithstanding. As our regular Wednesday correspondent John Leigh says, Owls could do with Gabby Agbonlahor and Kenwyne Jones back for the run-in.
As for Coventry, missed opportunities for Jonathan Stead and Clinton Morrison denied them a point at the Hawthorns yesterday evening and therein lies their problem in a nutshell. The front duo, despite early career highlights, are the kind of players who make your heart sink a little if linked with your club and it isn’t as if former lower league hero Freddie Eastwood is any more reliable. Coventry’s comeback at Leicester on Sunday was thrilling, but an objective view would urge them to cease collaboration with medium sized names of the past and look to hungrier youngsters. Aron Gunnarsson hasn’t perhaps pushed on after last season, but the real heroes of the Sky Blues’ unlikely play off challenge are the agriculturally minded defensive duo James McPake and Richard Wood (an ex-Owl of course) as well as midfield battlers Gary Deegan and Carl Baker.
On a final note, relations between Cov and Wednesday have been a bit different, a bit special, since a fatal car accident claimed the lives of 2 owls fans coming back from there a few years back. These bonds tend to be forgotten when people moan about all the money and bad behaviour in football.