Sheffield Wednesday FanZoner Carl Mullooly looks ahead and believes January will be a key month in the Owls' bid for Championship survival.
The festive period has been and gone with plenty of football played. Overall it was a positive period for the Owls; creeping out of the Championship's bottom three. Despite this, the air of uncertainty remains and January could prove to be a key month in our battle to stave off a third relegation to League One in recent times.
Firstly our managerial situation remains unresolved. Stuart Gray is doing an ok job. He's had almost six weeks in charge yet we are still none the wiser as to whom the next permanent manager might be. Dave Jones took charge very quickly following Gary Megson's dismissal. This seems to confirm the theory that Jones was given every possible chance and there was no real desire to relieve him of his duties, whilst Megon's cards had been marked.
Milan Mandaric currently remains tight lipped. My own view is he is waiting for a strong candidate who is willing to take the job; in the meantime he will give Stuart Gray time to see if he can turn things around as it will save the club some money. Some people were disappointed when Ian Holloway took the vacant post at our relegation rivals Millwall. I don't think it was ever realistic to expect Mandaric to appoint Holloway.
For starters, he has family reasons for wanting to be in the London area which he has previously mentioned. More specifically, he also took Mandaric's Leicester City down from the Championship in similar circumstances back in 2008 which might put our chairman off. The longer it goes on, the more chance there is of Gray keeping the reigns until the end of the season, especially if we can stay out of the danger zone.
As well as managerial uncertainty, we have a number of short-term contract and loan players who have played a key role for us. It was important we secured the services of Glen Loovens until the end of the season. He has impressed during his short time at the club. His signature became even more important when Roger Johnson opted for Premier League West Ham rather than continuing his loan spell with us. It's no surprise that once the money of the top flight comes into play that a Championship club can't compete, especially ones that are struggling financially. It's a shame that we've resurrected Johnson's career and brought him back to the shop window, only to have him snatched from us. I wish him well in the future and just hope we can find a player of similar calibre to aid our cause. If his debut at the Etihad is anything to go by, he'll need more than luck!
The most important player in our team remains Connor Wickham. He could definitely prove to be the difference between staying up and going down. We've got him until the end of January, then who knows. If he plays well, other clubs will come sniffing around. He doesn't seem to be in Gus Poyet's immediate plans at Sunderland, and from his interviews he genuinely seems to enjoy it at Hillsborough. As with everything it will all come down to money, which is the thing that worries me and fellow Wednesdayites. We don't have much, and there are plenty of clubs around us that do.
A further indication of how much difference Wickham currently makes to our team was in our FA Cup trip to Macclesfield. We managed to avoid the upset at Moss Rose; however we still face a tricky game back at Hillsborough. I would like to give credit to the Silkmen who performed well in the second half. Granted, it wasn't a great showing from us, but it seems some people forget that league teams rarely walk over non-league teams. The Conference has some excellent players, many of whom are talented and failed to make it at big clubs. This only adds to their determination and desire in such games, whilst league players are on a hiding to nothing. I was disappointed to hear a well know podcast slating our performance and team. It's hard to make an assessment on a team from one game. We should be good enough to beat a team three divisions below us, but the love for the competition stems from the fact that anything can happen.
I would say that we have a good chance of making the fifth round. Macclesfield will be tough at home but we should have enough. Very few teams would have fancied at trip to Rochdale who conquered our next opponents Leeds, but we would be favourites. We are due a good cup run, and if we can make it through two tricky ties, there's a better chance we could pull one of the top teams, which is what we all want. For fans that go to games, the magic of the cup will always remain, with the hope of a glamour trip to a top team or bringing them to your patch. We all look forward to the draw; however in recent years it has tended to result in disappointment for The Owls.
We now face teams at the top end of the table. Leeds come to Hillsborough before a trip to Burnley, both of whom have aspirations of a return to the Premier League. Depending on our cup results, we could then face a home game against promotion favourites Queens Park Rangers, before we head to The Den in a classic relegation six pointer. Injury permitting we should have Connor Wickham for those games, and by that time we might have a permanent manager and a few signings to bolster our squad. I hope the Leeds game passes without incident after the problems around last season's fixture, and we can continue our unbeaten start to 2014.