The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Joe Tait

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

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