Coincidentally, Lita joined us on loan around a month after we picked up that remarkable run of form from the shock 1-0 win at Bolton on Boxing Day, in which Mamady Sidibe, Stoke's forgotten man, scored his first goal for over three years, to the 2-0 win at home to Middlesborough on the final day of the season which sealed survival in the Championship. Statistically speaking, if the first half of the season was erased from the history books, then Wednesday, despite finishing 18th overall, would be sitting pretty in the play-off places, only behind league champions Cardiff on goal difference. This shows the difference in quality between the signings made in the summer, and the loan signings made throughout the season.
I suppose the inability to buy a goalscoring striker proven at Championship level led to the series of loan signings throughout the season made by the Wednesday hierarchy, which started off with former Sevilla and current Barcelona striker Rodri, who joined on loan way back in August. He is well regarded as a flop by the Wednesday faithful, who saw just one goal in 11 appearances from the Spaniard, before he was shipped off back to the Catalan club after 5 months in Yorkshire. On deadline day in August, Wednesday signed a striker who many expected to be a very good capture for the Owls, QPR's Jay Bothroyd, a former England international. Much like Rodri, Bothroyd was also a flop, netting just one goal (in a 1-1 draw with Leeds) in fourteen appearances for the club, before rejoining QPR at the end of his loan spell in January.
This is where the emergency loan signings started to come in. First up was Stoke City's Malian striker Mamady Sidibe, who joined the Owls for a couple of months from November 2012 to January 2013. Sidibe's only goal for the club came in the afore-mentioned win at Bolton Wanderers, although after nine appearances, Sidibe returned to Stoke-on-Trent, without too much of a fanfare from the Wednesdayites. In February 2013 (after Lita had been captured from Swansea), Wednesday announced the signing of Sunderland and England under-21 striker Connor Wickham on a one-month loan. Much like the other loan signings, Wickham only scored one goal (in a surprising 1-0 win away at play-off hopefuls Leicester City in March) in six appearances before rejoining his parent club up in the north-east.
So what makes Lita stand out from all these flops? I believe it's his goals, which is the boring, obvious answer. I didn't think he'd get many when he came in from south Wales, but boy was I wrong. His first game for the Owls came away to Charlton Athletic at the Valley in one of the day's late kick-offs. I'd been to watch Manchester City's win away at the Britannia the same day, so was already in a good mood after that, and then this game just completed the game. I knew we were 1-0 down to Charlton whilst we were driving back from Stoke, and we were still trailing going past the 80 minute mark. Suddenly, two quick-fire goals from Reda Johnson and Lita (on as a substitute) gave us a hard-fought 2-1 win, and my opinion on Lita was beginning to change.
His next game for the Owls was at home to Brighton, who had beaten us 3-0 at the Amex back in September. It was my first Wednesday game for a while, and I was understandably nervous, as Brighton were flying high in the table. Thankfully, a goal after just five minutes from Lita settled the nerves, and then further goals from loanee Danny Pugh and Michail Antonio sealed a 3-1 win for the Owls. After the game, I even managed to meet Leroy himself, as well as Wayne Bridge, who was on loan to Brighton at the time.
After a couple of games without scoring, Lita was starting to look less of a good signing, especially as we had won neither of these games. Next up was a tough home encounter with play-off chasing Crystal Palace, who had relegated us on this ground three years earlier. The only pre-match consolation was that star winger Wilfried Zaha was to miss the game injured, and it showed, as Palace showed little threat going forward. Wednesday capitalized on this with ten minutes of the match remaining, as a fantastic cross from Michail Antonio found the head of Lita, who bulleted a header past the Palace keeper to give Wednesday the shock win.
Next was to come a dry spell for Lita, in which he failed to score for the next six league games for Wednesday. This coincided with a loss of form at a vital time for the Owls, with just two wins out of those six games. Next up was a home game against struggling Blackburn Rovers, and it was a must-win fixture for both teams. Blackburn took the lead early on, before Jermaine Johnson equalised soon after. Ten minutes before half-time, the game took a real twist when Wednesday won a penalty, which Lita bravely stepped up to take, and stroke past Sandomierski in the Blackburn goal. Despite a Blackburn equaliser in the second half, a second goal for Johnson would seal a 3-2 win for Wednesday.
After this Blackburn game, there came five fixtures for the blue half of Sheffield which would decide their fate. Lita failed to score in the first two of these, but finally made the breakthrough in the third out of five, against Ipswich at Hillsborough. The Tractormen took the lead early on thanks to a goal from Jay Tabb, and this led to one of Wednesday's worst performances of the season. We couldn't get out of our half our string many decent passes together, and we were lucky to be only one down at the break. In the second half, we came out and started to play better, and somehow managed to find a goal with just under half an hour left, once again, from that man Leroy Lita. Somehow we were drawing, and had a chance to go on and win! However, the linesman took away this chance, when he disallowed Lita's second goal of the match for offside, which did appear to be onside. However, we somehow managed to hold on for the point.
Then came the decider. The game that would decide our fate, the league we'd play in for the 2013-14 season, against Middlesborough at home. We could have sealed survival the previous weekend away at relegation rivals Peterborough, but conspired to lose 1-0 and take it to the final day. When you're involved in final day drama like this, you're always tense, you're always nervous, and this conveys to the players. I was hoping for an early goal, to settle the nerves, and thankfully we got this thanks to veteran striker Steve Howard. The ground erupted with noise. Cue pandemonium. Then the focus changed to not throwing this away. Lita, however, had other ideas. When right-back Lewis Buxton whipped in a corner from the far side towards the front post, there was Lita to glance home a header in front of the Kop end, and send the Wednesday fans into sheer ecstasy once again. "We are staying up!" was the cheer reverberating around the ground, and Lita had helped make it happen. Wednesday were comfortable 2-0 in the lead at the break, although didn't score again in the second half, and finished as 2-0 victors to ensure survival and a second season of football in England's second tier.
I'll happily hold my hands up high and say that I didn't believe Lita was the right signing when he came in. I wasn't impressed by his goal tally at Swansea, and thought that he wouldn't be able to help us in our quest for survival. I can't believe how wrong I was! Without Lita's goals, we wouldn't have survived, and I would happily see him back in the blue and white of Wednesday. Wherever he ends up, I wish him the best of luck. Long Live Leroy.