It did not feel like it as the home team slipped to a 2-1 defeat against Blackburn Rovers on a mud-bath pitch in front of a half-empty Hillsborough but a potentially bright new era dawned at Sheffield Wednesday this week.
Monday brought confirmation of a takeover by Dejphon Chansiri, the Thai who spent £37.5m buying out Milan Mandaric and declared his wish to see Wednesday back in the Premier League by 2017, the club’s 150th anniversary.
If that left extra weight on the shoulders of manager Stuart Gray, he was not showing it after that first match – preceded by a pitchside appearance from the new owner and his family – which delivered a reality check for a side who beat Middlesbrough in their previous home game.
“That is my ambition as well – I don’t want to stay in the Championship,” said Gray, who must hope Chansiri’s bold words are followed by the appropriate investment. “Hopefully it is going to allow me to look at a different market to what I was looking at before,” he told The Independent. “He is willing to invest in a new pitch, we are going to invest at the training ground as well but then I have to see him about bringing better players in as well.”
It is 15 years since the Yorkshire club exited the Premier League – the longest top-flight exile in their history – and the fact promotion is even a topic conversation at a club who have been no higher than ninth in the Championship since 2000 is testament to the work carried out by both Gray and Mandaric.
When the latter bought the Owls for £1 in December 2010, they were in the third tier and on the brink of administration with debts totalling £30m. Today they are debt-free and 11th in the Championship.
Gray suspects that the 76-year-old Mandaric may struggle to stay away from football – “he has got it in his blood”. He brought a sense of purpose and direction to a club guilty of lacking those qualities at different periods in the past owing to a lack of unity among shareholders. After last summer’s aborted sale to the Azeri Hafiz Mammadov, he eventually found his successor in Thailand, just as he had done at Leicester City.
Gray, promoted by Mandaric after Dave Jones’s dismissal in December 2013, praised the Serbian-American: “He is a football man. He has done it at Portsmouth, at Leicester and Sheffield Wednesday.
“He was very much hands-on and I was in daily contact with him. He was desperate for Sheffield Wednesday to do well.”
As for Chansiri – whose father Kraisorn made a fortune in seafood as founder of the Thai Union Frozen group – he has spoken of hiring a director of football and bringing in two Thai representatives to assist the chief executive Paul Aldridge.
Gray’s work in lifting Wednesday from 23rd in the Championship into the top half on a bottom-half budget suggests that he warrants the new regime’s continued support.
He has built a solid defensive base in which goalkeeper Keiren Westwood – recruited from Sunderland last summer – has excelled with 15 clean sheets already, two shy of the club record for a season.
Their problem is higher up the pitch, where they have managed only 11 goals in 18 home league games, winning just four.
“I think I know what is needed to get out of this Championship,” said Gray. “You need clean sheets but then you need a couple of forwards who are going to get 30 goals between them as well and hopefully we can strengthen on that side.”
It is the least they will need if that 2017 target is to be met.Reuse content