SAFETY TOPS IT ALL FOR JONES
THOUSANDS of Sheffield Wednesday fans celebrated Championship survival on the Hillsborough pitch after a much-needed victory that manager Dave Jones claimed was a greater achievement than last season’s promotion.
Veteran striker Steve Howard’s first goal since his loan move from Hartlepool United in March put the Owls on their way to a comfortable victory which safeguarded their place in the second tier of English football.
Howard’s ninth minute opener, when he got beyond the Middlesbrough defence before unleashing an unstoppable left-foot strike beyond goalkeeper Jason Steele, vindicated Jones’ decision to save him from his League One nightmare at Hartlepool.
And, after Lewis Buxton’s corner went through a crowded box and in off Leroy Lita to increase the lead just after half an hour, the impact of the 36-yearold front-man should not be under-estimated.
Jones said: “It’s what he is all about. When we brought him here a lot of people said he hasn’t got the legs. He has never had the legs. He certainly had good legs when he was in that position to score.
“From the day he came to this football club he has been a sheer delight to work with.
“I really thanked him in a big way because this is a far greater achievement than last year’s promotion.”
Against a Middlesbrough team who finished the season with just three wins from their last 21 league games, Sheffield Wednesday always looked hungrier from the moment the first whistle was blown.
With wingers Jeremy Helan and Jermaine Johnson tormenting Boro, who started without out-and-out fullbacks, causing havoc, Wednesday soon took control to the delight of the 31,000plus crowd. By the end of the game the scoreline could have been wider and Howard could have had a second had Rhys Williams not cleared off the line.
Jones added: “People were talking as if we were down, or we were in a situation, at no time did I think we were in danger. Last week I was annoyed. People were talking as if we had dropped in to the bottom three but at no time has there been talk of that.”
After Howard – whose only other three goals this season were against Sheffield United for Hartlepool – got on the end of Miguel Llera’s long pass, Tony Mowbray’s side never looked like equalising.
There was a touch of fortune about the second. When Buxton’s corner curled towards goal, a number of bodies tried to get on the end of it with a hint of a touch from ex-Boro striker Lita.
And while the situation meant the Wednesday supporters could party at the prospect of Championship football next season, Middlesbrough were left to think about what might have been. Claiming just 12 points from the last 63 available has seen Boro drop to 16th having spent the first half of the season challenging for automatic promotion.
Mowbray said: “We’ve finished in the bottom half and it’s been a frustrating season. It’s disappointing. We could have gone top on New Year’s Day if we’d won at Derby.
“We lost and we’ve struggled since then and only won three in the league.We have to be stronger next season. So for 27 games we were as good as anybody in this league, for the rest we have struggled.
“We’ve won three of them so it should be no surprise to us we didn’t get a victory.”
HERE WE GO: Leroy Lita celebrates with team mates after scoring the second goal for Sheffield Wednesday
IT’S IN: Leroy Lita celebrates Sheffield Wednesday’s second goal