|When I was a kid I hated the summer. Week after football-less week dragged by for what seemed like forever. As I grew up I forced myself to watch other sports. Mum loved tennis and her Dad was a huge (Yorkshire) cricket fan so those were the most approachable. When I finally had disposable income I worked with a guy who was big on motor racing and he got me a pit lane pass at Brands Hatch on GP weekend. I was hooked and saw GPs in both the UK and at Monza, Hockenheim, Graz and Spa. I also worked for a guy who was mates with Chris and Robin Smith who always got Drew and me tickets for the first Lord's test every summer. 2012 piqued my interest in track and field so now I struggle to watch all the sport.
Meanwhile, football grew as the World's game and most years there is now plenty of Summer football to watch. I've never wanted to watch international football abroad but have seen league games in Holland, Italy and Spain (Valencia lost them both FFS!) I did organise a football binge at Euro 96 where we saw 11 games from the opener to the final. My lousy knees mean going to games is currently a no-no so I'm watching all sports on TV these days. I'm so pleased that the Women's World Cup has been such a great competition this year that I've barely missed Saints.
Relegation was overdue as we have been toying with it for a while. Of the relegated clubs we are in the best position to bounce back as Leeds and Leicester have battled with FFP issues and have got rid of their stars. Ours on the other hand are on long contracts and, whilst we will sell, we need not leap at derisory offers from other clubs.
Consequently, many of our better players (and some rubbish ones) are available for selection as we kick off the new season at Hillsboro'. I've seen 4 matches there (Pele's Santos and Burnley when I was at Uni, Denmark v Portugal in 96 and a home defeat by Huddersfield when we last did Hospitality in Yorkshire).
Still holding onto that warm glow of their play-off win, the Owls are a proud club and their fans hate playing second fiddle to the Blades. There is real hostility between Sheffield's Reds and Blues. At least we won't anger them by turning up in R&W stripes!
Friday's paper had an interesting interview with Kevin Friend who is the PGMOL's top man for the EFL. Basically, referees are outlawing time-wasting, back chat and technical area bullshit. Friend will be at Hillsboro' to see his top man Bobby Madeley lay down the law. Expect more time added and more yellow and red cards.
|Bednarek's pre-season has been hampered by injury so new boy Shea Charles has filled in alongside Stephens. Given all our best midfielders are still around, the ex-City lad may begin the season there too. Lavia, JWP and Charley should all start and a front 3 of Armstrong with Tella and Edozie in the wide positions.
With Tino accepting the Blood Money, KWP stepped back to his favoured position and Bednarek is back alongside Stephens. Manning makes his first competitive start. Lavia and Shea are on the bench with JWP, Charley and Smallbone across the middle. AA gets the nod over Che to start. Wednesday has Xisco Munoz picking his first Owls side. They are a mixture of old stagers and new signings with Gregory, Windass and Captain Bannan still strutting their stuff.
Saints to wear the red and white striped home kit, with black shorts and white socks.
Che Adams celebrates after scoring the winning goal in the 87th minute
|Three thousand Scummers packed the away end making plenty of noise. It is a good turnout for a Friday night - but Sheffield is a great city to stay over in! Former Scummer David Prutton has been Sky's EFL anchor for a while and with Frannie punditing we are well represented. Sky interviewed several fans outside the ground and one of ours confessed to loving this league and "glad we were relegated".
Both teams wore their "Home" kit and EFL stalwarts Don Goodman and Gary Weaver were describing the action. Before k.o. there was a minute's applause for Wednesday legends Trevor Francis and Chris Bart-Williams who died, on the SAME day, last month.
The Home fans then sang "Hi Ho Sheffield Wednesday" (the same tune as "Hi Ho Milton Aggro!) before Saints kicked off the brand new season. In the early exchanges, Bednarek went down heavily after tangling with Gregory. The Pole was OK to continue.
Although we kept the ball well and pinged it about the first goalmouth action was up our end. Bannan got them upfield and the ball pin-balled about our box. You knew that in the Prem we'd have conceded but, with greater tolerances in this tier, we managed to get it away. Wednesday's following attempted cross soared high into the Saints fans.
The Saints domination of the ball carried on. It was easy on the eye but unproductive until Edozie attempted to run his man as was floored. JWP could create nothing from that but a minute later, in the right side of their box, he rolled the ball to Tella. The winger took one touch before curling a shot which beat the keeper and hit the net just inside the back post. 0-1 and Here We Go!
Replays showed the ball took a slight nick off Adam Armstrong which put it beyond Dawson's dive and OPTA gave the #9 the goal. So far, so good…
From that point, Saints stepped up their possession in line with the Mantra of Russ. The ball went sideways, backwards, sideways, forwards, sideways, etc. etc. This is how we will play under the new regime and it was noticeable that the only time we broke sweat was when we lost the ball. At that point, red shirts surrounded the ball carrier and won it back. While this was going on their players were running around like mad buggers, chasing the ball which was doing most of our movement.
We sometimes crossed the ball or shot from a distance but did not cause Dawson further problems. He held shots from JWP and Manning but was happy to see Charley's fierce drive go close by his post. The commentary team were making comparisons with "Burnley last season" who had utterly dominated Huddersfield this time last year.
Edozie had the beating of whoever he was up against but they weren't slow to foul our guy if fair means didn't work. Edozie's frustration was demonstrated by taking shots from range - and missing. Further back, Windass was not slow to bring KWP down as he moved the ball forwards.
On 27m we saw the new PGMOL rules applied. AA brought down Ihiekwe and kicked the ball away: yellow card. Within a minute Gregory fouled Tella and then kicked the ball out: another yellow card. Have they got the message yet?
On the half-hour, Paterson was finally carded for another foul on Edozie. JWP got his free-kick over the wall but Dawson grabbed it by his near post. It was not all one-way traffic and Bannan in particular worked hard to move his team forward. On 34m he instigated a move ending with Bakinson firing wide of the post. Their next attack saw Gregory flagged offside.
On 37m Manning earned his first Saints booking for a foul on Delgado. The game was littered with fouls which, one assumes, were all noted by the officials and further time added on before halftime. Windass' umpteenth foul on KWP deserved a yellow but it wasn't shown.
On 43m Charley found Tella who cut in to shoot. This time Vaulks got in the way and the ball spun out for a corner. The ball was played to Edozie whose low cross into the box caused panic. In the free-for-all, Jack Stephens prodded the ball goalwards, beat the keeper but not the guy on the line who booted it away.
In 6 added minutes Edozie was again upended, this time by Delgado. Again JWP got his shot on target but Dawson was well prepared and clutched it under his bar. In all, 8 minutes were added but Saints went in still 1-0 up. All that possession had limited what Wednesday were able to do but had not created a lot of decent chances for our forwards. At least Baz had not had to make a save.
Neither side made changes but whatever was said in the home dressing room had Wednesday's players reinvigorated. They were quicker to move the ball and not shy to hit it long and turn our defenders to face our goal. Their first attack saw KWP heading out for a corner which we cleared. Baz's first real challenge saw him rushed into booting the ball away from Gregory when Jack's back pass was under-hit.
On 49m Charley again set up Tella but his effort was blocked. Our next attack saw Smallbone stand one up at the back post. Patterson got it away but went down after a clash of heads with Edozie. The big guy was able to carry on with the Owls given a free kick.
Wednesday were doing more with the ball this half but Bannan's next cross was calmly chested back to Baz to clear. Another Delgado foul on Edozie saw JWP crossing the free kick but the defence got it away.
On 53m Windass got a run at our defence but Bednarek got it behind for a corner. This time Bannan put it long and Iorfa won it at the back post. His header dropped perfectly for Gregory to volley low into the corner. 1-1 and Wednesday were right back in it.
It was their first shot on target but Baz had no chance of saving it. Once we failed to win the header it all depended on who got to it next. Gregory has been putting those away for over a decade.
Saints stepped it up again and pushed forward. Tella and AA both had shots blocked: Wednesday now had a point to protect and were determined to keep it. Bakinson was hurt blocking AA's effort and he and Charley (clattered in the build-up) both needed treatment before the game resumed.
Saints continued to dominate the ball but our finishing was rushed. Both Edozie and Tella sent shots way off target before the latter was booked. It wasn't the foul on Famewo that got him carded but a petulant reaction to the whistle being punished.
We continued passing the ball and I found myself becoming frustrated at the lack of end product. Russ may have asked for patience but he should know Saints fans have little of that left…
KWP won a corner off Famewo and the captain rolled the ball to Edozie. His cross was too close to and easily claimed by the keeper. Soon after, Wednesday made their first change by bringing on Dutch winger Anthony Musaba for his debut. Gregory, having earned his money, made way.
Edozie was still carrying the ball well and his next run and cross found Tella who set up KWP to put the ball just the wrong side of the post. On 73m Russ brought on Stu in place of Charley but our domination of possession carried on. Stu and Edozie worked an opening for Adam to set up JWP but his shot was charged down. Soon after Stu was played in by Manning but shot over.
The Owls made 2 more changes with Palmer and Fletcher replacing Delgado and Vaulks and the new intolerance of time-wasting was then demonstrated when Dawson was booked for taking too long to restart the game. At the next break in play AA was withdrawn and Che sent on. The Wednesday faithful greeted him with boos and catcalls for the 2 years he spent with the Blades earlier in his career.
Stu Armstrong has had a tough Summer, missing Scotland games and slow to get going again after injury. It was good to see him getting stuck in again and looking lively on the ball. On 80m he collected the ball from Edozie and forced a good diving save from Dawson at the foot of his post.
Wednesday were no longer getting forward as they had earlier in the half and it became a question of holding out as we tried to find a way past them. KWP was regularly getting forward and he was next to shoot but Famewo got in the way: corner, Saints. This time Jack got his head to it, missed and then went down in a crumpled heap. Looked like a clash of heads but no one was hurt so play resumed. Jack's next involvement was to pursue Ashley Fletcher on Wednesday's right and get booked for bringing him down. Bannan sent over a free kick which we dealt with.
Josh Windass was then replaced by Reece James - no, not Lauren's brother - but a lad who spent last season on loan at Hillsboro' from Blackpool and has now joined permanently. Saints then moved forward and, at last, stitched together a smart passing move that cut open the stubborn home defence.
As usual, it began with Edozie on the left who squared the ball to Will Smallbone. He saw JWP breaking into the box and sent a low pass into his stride. The skipper seemed to know exactly where Che was and cut the ball in that direction. It was turned in past Dawson and we were 2-1 up with minutes left.
Ché cupped his hands behind his ears to listen for more booing but heard only the excited celebrations of the R&W horde. It was a super goal and warranted given our record-breaking number of passes and the huge proportion of possession Saints enjoyed.
Edozie was brought off in the dying minutes with Aribo coming on and Tella going wide left. Baz needed to get outside his box to head away a ball that would not otherwise have reached him and from the resulting throw-in, Bannan won a corner from JWP's block. Famewo got on the end of the cross but stuck his header wide. We were now playing for 9 more minutes.
Whereas I'd been pissed off with wall-to-wall passing at 1-1, in time added and 2-1 up I loved it. We kept the ball perfectly, running down the clock and Wednesday not getting a kick. Indeed, the only things they did kick were Will Smallbone and Joe Aribo as Wednesday's hopes were completely snuffed out.
Full time: a 2-1 away win, 80% possession, an EFL record number of passes and (for one night at least) Top of the League. Good job SFC!
|There were a number of decent performances. Edozie and Tella looked lively up front but both need to find a better end product. Tella was devastating last season; if he can rekindle that form it will be fun.
Thought Charley and Will had good games too. Will is able to sit and allow others to get forwards and it was his decisive pass to an advancing Ward-Prowse that helped us garner 3 points tonight.
I don't always agree with Don Goodman but this once I will. He chose James Ward-Prowse as his MoM largely for his fantastic attitude. Everyone knows he'll be off if the right money is bid yet tonight he put it all on the line, again, for the club he joined as a nipper.
At this level, he had more license to get forward and showed what he might have achieved had he played for us a decade ago when we were decent. Too often in recent seasons, he has been the one shining star among the turds.
He is not the best midfielder I have ever watched but he is a trier, honest, and keeps himself in tip-top condition to play. At Saints, he has given his all till his 29th year and deserves the chance to return to the top flight - if only a year before the rest of us!