Yorkshire Football Weekends

Stoking the pre-season flames at Hillsborough

For most people life is full of little moments that make everything worthwhile. It could be a homemade Sunday dinner with the family. Maybe it’s a cold pint after long day at work but for me its going to watch live football on a sunny Saturday afternoon, you just can’t be beat.

The main goal of Yorkshire Football Weekends was always to visit as many of the different grounds around the Yorkshire area as possible. During the week I was offered the chance to visit Hillsborough again to watch Sheffield Wednesday v Stoke City in the comforts of the press box. It would just be rude to say no wouldn’t it?

Arriving at the reception in Hillsborough for the second week in a row didn’t fill me with the same daunting feeling last week. I knew where I was going this time, no chance of getting lost in the mazy corridors in the South stand. In fact there may even have been a bit of a swagger as I walked up to the main doors.

I was greeted by the same lovely steward as last week, giving my name, she knew who I was and we had a wee chat about living in Walkley and the new impressive press box. Asked if I would be coming next week I think I played it cool. “Not sure where I’m going yet, the season kicks off in France too.” This may give the impression I am off to Paris or to Marseille for the new season, whereas most of you will know I will likely be sat at home with the headphones on watching Ligue 1 on bet365……jealous?….didn’t think so!

Once in the ground there was the slight problem of the door to the press area being locked and no one knew why. Quickly Press liaison Paul Webster saved the day and opened the extremely small door and we were in. Tragedy averted.

Last week there was the surprise inclusion of a delicious chicken and ham pie, with chips, peas and gravy. The bar had been set pretty high. Breakfast had been skipped in inticipation of what was to come, and boy was it worth it. The pie of choice today was Steak, complimented with potatoes, peas, gravy and this time a dash of Sheffield’s finest Henderson’s Relish. This is what football is all about. Well football in Yorkshire anyway.

Unfortunately the excitement of the pie was over and there was some football to be played. With one week before the start of the new season this was Wednesday’s last chance to pick up some pre-season experience and fine tune to team for the opening game.

The visitors for the day were Premier League side Stoke City, Tony Pulis’ boys still on a high after the 1-0 home win over Croatian side Hajduk Split arrived at Hillsborough looking for a tough test ahead of their Europa League 2nd leg in Split. It was an ideal fixture for the Potters as some parts of Hillsborough do look at times like downtown Zagreb.

Once the embarrassment of having to watch the players come out to 2 Unlimited’s 1991 #2 hit “Get Ready For This” the game was underway. The only cliché to described the first half would be “midfield scrap” with Jose Semedo and David Prutton getting the better of Glenn Whelan and Dean Whitehead and the marauding runs of full back Lewis Buxton giving Robert Huth a hard time it was Wednesday who had the better of the first half and again bossed a side from a higher division.

Referee Craig Pawson called the first half to an end with the teams dead-locked at 0-0. The only plus side being that each team had crafted at least one chance each. Rory Delap’s little deft touch to Kenwyne Jones after 8 minutes put the Trinidad & Tobago striker through on goal, shrugging off the attention of Rob Jones has was clear through. Luckily Nicky Weaver was sharp and rushed out to block the left footed shot.

Gary Megson had decided to give German trialist Juvhel Tsoumou a start and it nearly paid off half way through the half. Johnathan Woodgate lost the ball out on the left, Chris Sedgwick picked it up fired in a lovely cross. Ryan Shawcross tried to control the ball with his mid-rift, making an absolute hash of the clearance, the ball fell to Tsoumou only three yards out but Begovic was on-hand to smother the shot.

As with most pre-season games the second half faded away. Stoke made wholesale changes includidng Jermaine Pennant and Diego Arismendi. And it was the Uruguyuan midfielder that came closest to giving the fans at least one highlight but his thunderous shot cannoned off the crossbar and away to safety. In the end it was an excellent run out for both sides. The Owls gained another valuable 90 minutes against Premier League opposition and Stoke were given a tough test ahead of Thursdays match against Hajduk Split.

Wednesday start their League One campaign next weekend at home against Rochdale. Over the past two weeks I have been impressed with the side Gary Megson has put together. Midfield duo Semedo and Prutton have been excellent and look to have quickly gelled into a commanding partnership. The rampaging runs of Lewis Buxton paired up with Chris Sedgwick down the right flank caused both Leeds and Stoke problems, and on the left Jermaine Johnson is a constant threat. If they continue to press forward Wednesday will find some joy down the flanks this season.

One problem Megson will face, is scoring goals. It seems this is something he is aware of, but there doesn’t seem to be a solution on the horizon. Gary Madine and trialist Padraig Amond failed to deliver last weekend and today the pairing of trialist Juvhel Tsoumou and Clinton Morrison looked toothless for most of the game.

Last season the three teams that won promotion to the Championship each had a goal-scorer. Brighton won the division with 22 goals from Glenn Murray. Southampton finished runners-up behind Rickie Lamberts 21 goal season and then Peterborough fought through the play-offs behing Craig Makail-Smith’s impressive haul of 27 goals. Unfortunately for Wednesday, stats like that don’t lie.

It is an absolute pleasure to watch the games through the press hospitality, the facilities are top-notch. The new higher-up press box gives a fantastic view of the action but the everyday fans don’t care about the hospitality given to cooperate and members of the press. All they are interested in is success on the pitch. The current playing squad is very good, possibly one of the best in League One. Megson’s jigsaw however seems to be missing one vital piece.

 


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