Hughton sits tight on top of the table
Sheffield Wednesday 2 Newcastle United 2: Magpies' new lease of life means manager has no need to speculate in transfer window while Wednesday make do and mend to try to halt slide, writes Jeremy Cross
Monday 28 December 2009
The stark contrast in recent fortunes of these two clubs was in evidence at the final whistle as Sheffield Wednesday celebrated this point like their lives depended on it, while Newcastle United looked like they'd just been told to make the return journey to Tyneside on foot.
For once, Newcastle were denied another unspectacular victory courtesy of James O'Connor's second-half equaliser, yet their manager, Chris Hughton, was right to hide his disappointment and focus on the fact that life looks pretty rosy at the moment.
Newcastle are sitting proudly at the top of the Championship courtesy of a 10-match unbeaten run and their owner, Mike Ashley, has taken the club off the market in the hope that promotion could double its value, while the players have displayed an unexpected appetite for the challenge of helping themselves to make an instant return to the Premier League. Hughton is so satisfied with the players at his disposal he has told Ashley to keep his chequebook in his pocket during the transfer window. With the exception of possibly extending Marlon Harewood's loan deal from Aston Villa and making a £500,000 bid for Sheffield United's Matthew Kilgallon, Hughton believes his current squad can achieve the immediate goal of promotion. Joey Barton is to return from injury, while senior players such as Steve Harper, Kevin Nolan, Alan Smith and Nicky Butt have learnt to relish life in the Championship.
Hughton is working on the principle of maintaining the status quo and he said: "This was Marlon's last game, so for the time being at least, he's reverted to being an Aston Villa player. We now have to make a decision with regard to Marlon's future. We're in the process of weighing up all the options we have.
"We have quite a tight squad. We're fortunate that we don't have too many injuries. We can use the loan system if we want, but I don't see a lot of movement next month."
What would Wednesday give to find themselves with such a luxury? Perversely, they are desperate to make significant signings but don't have the funds to make this happen. Though they are managerless and seemingly rudderless following Brian Laws' sacking two weeks ago, this result was a testament to their spirit and determination and could be a springboard towards better results. They remain in the relegation zone ahead of today's trip to Blackpool, but at least they halted a depressing run of five straight defeats.
Luke Varney put them ahead only for Kevin Nolan and Shola Ameobi to make it 2-1 before the interval. The Owls raised their game in the second half, though, and O'Connor's equaliser on the hour was richly deserved.
The Wednesday chairman, Lee Strafford, continues his search for a new manager but caretaker Sean McAuley is focused only on the next game. "We have to trust the players," he said. "Irrespective of this result and what might happen at Blackpool, there is still a big job to do through January, February, March and April.
"Sheffield people like to say it as it is, so we've told the players what is happening, they listen and we get on with it. I have not got time to even think about anything other than this game, reflect on it, then I'll start thinking about the next one."
Sheffield Wednesday (4-5-1): Grant; Simek, Purse, Beevers, Spurr; Soares, Potter, O'Connor, Johnson (Esajas, 61), Varney (Clarke, 68); Tudgay. Substitutes not used: O'Donnell (gk), Buxton, Hinds, Jeffers, Gray.
Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Simpson, Coloccini, S Taylor, Enrique; Guthrie, Nolan, Butt, Gutierrez (Pancrate, 63); Ameobi (Carroll, 73), Harewood (Lovenkrands, 83). Substitutes not used: Krul (gk), R Taylor, Kadar, Ranger.
Referee: S Attwell (Warwickshire).
Booked: Sheffield Wednesday Tudgay, Varney.
Man of the match: O'Connor.
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