Sheffield Wednesday: Nicky Weaver interview

Nicky Weaver doesn't have to raid his memory bank for long before finding inspiration for his and Sheffield Wednesday's promotion dream.

And while that joyous episode arrived over a decade ago – the second half of the 1998-99 campaign to be precise with Manchester City – the memories are still clear as day for the reliable Owls custodian.

And just as his former club had plenty of graft to do 12 years ago to ensure that their embarrassing residence in the third tier of English football was only of the one-year "loan" variety, so have Weaver's current employers Wednesday.

Ahead of this weekend's action, Alan Irvine's troops – 10 points behind leaders Brighton and Hove Albion – were clinging onto a League One play-off spot by their fingertips in sixth place on the back of three losses in their past four matches, while being mindful that several well-placed rivals below them have a game in hand on them.

City's predicament at the start of 1999 was far more dire with the Mancunians perched in mid-table following defeats to the likes of York City and Lincoln City – but what went on after that was legendary.

A run of 13 victories from their last 22 matches and just two losses comfortably booked a play-off berth, with City using that considerable momentum to finish off the job, albeit in the most dramatic of penalty shoot-outs against Gillingham at Wembley, where a young Weaver was the hero, securing folklore status in the blue half of Manchester.

A near-identical run to that should nail down a top-two place for Wednesday and avoid the dreaded end-of-season lottery, which remains the mission for all and sundry at Hillsborough, according to Weaver, who kept a club record 26 clean sheets for City that season.

Eyeing spring glory with Wednesday, 12 months on from the club copping tears for souvenirs after final-day relegation last May following a draw with Crystal Palace in front of a jam-packed Hillsborough, Weaver said: "We need to get some points because we can't afford to lose too many games now.

"There's a lot of teams involved in the title race and I think we're 10 points behind Brighton now and if we've any ambitions to catch them, we've got to kick on.

"We know what we're capable of and it's a case of just putting it all together.

"I was in the same situation when I was at Manchester City. We were 12th at Christmas but had a really decent run and only just missed out on automatic promotion.

"There's that many teams involved this season, whoever can put the best second half of the season together will be promoted.

"If you can keep your home form going and pick things up away then you are going to be there or thereabouts.

"We've got the players and hopefully the manager can add a few more to give us more strength in depth.

"Hopefully, what has happened recently is a blip and I'm sure there will be a new player or two coming in January and then we can kick on and start getting our season back on track."

After pledging to bring several players in to bolster his squad in the January transfer window, boss Irvine has proved as good as his word and has already landed Plymouth Argyle centre-half Reda Johnson, pictured above, with the hope of more additions to come.

It has helped to re-invigorate Wednesdayites following three consecutive away-day defeats, the latest coming at Tykes rivals Huddersfield Town on Bank Holiday Monday when the Owls – inactive for 16 day –- lost 1-0.

A wonder strike from Anthony Pilkington, who netted in the reverse fixture at Hillsborough at the start of November, helped to secure a White Rose double for Town, leaving Wednesday still seeking their first win in Huddersfield since 1984.

More importantly, the victory galvanised Town's automatic promotion hopes after a largely lacklustre festive season and put some daylight between themselves and their big Yorkshire rivals.

While by common consent, it was a goal from Pilkington fit to grace any occasion and win any game, Weaver admits the Owls – watched by a massive following in West Yorkshire – weren't totally happy with their part in the build-up to the 27th-minute winner.

Weaver, in impressive form between the sticks for Wednesday this term, said: "It was a great strike, but disappointing defensively.

"They knew they had got two wide players who like to cut in.

"He (Pilkington) cut in, but even from that sort of range, you are almost happy for him to shoot as it was going to be something out of this world to beat you.

"But it proved to be that and was a wonder strike. It was certainly the best goal that has gone past me this season.

"The game could have gone either way, to be honest, as there wasn't a great deal in it.

"We were disappointed to lose 2-0 to Huddersfield at home and with it being a derby against a team who are challenging for promotion with us, we felt that we owed them one.

"Unfortunately, we couldn't get the goal we needed and they scored a wonder goal from their point of view, one worthy of winning any game.

"We were disappointed for ourselves, but disappointed for the fans as well as they are the ones who spend their time travelling and their money watching us.

"They would have been eager to get back into action after Christmas but unfortunately, we couldn't give them anything to shout about.

"The away end at Huddersfield was packed and I'm sure if they had given us more tickets, we would have sold even more."

After this weekend's FA Cup interlude, the Owls return to action at home to promotion rivals Charlton Athletic next Saturday for their first home game in over a month with their festive clashes against Yeovil Town and Peterborough United called off due to frozen pipes at Hillsborough.

It's a big game to start 2011 on home soil, with a win against his former club of paramount importance to Weaver.

He said: "We've got to isolate the bad results and make them a one-off and try and put a good run together. If we've any ambitions, we've got to beat teams like Charlton and other teams around us.

"Our record has been okay against the bottom teams, but it has not been too good against the teams around us.

"Defensively, we're quite happy. Up until the Exeter game, I think we'd conceded the least in the league. Yes, the last few games have been disappointing, but the good thing about football is that you've always got the chance to put things right in a few days."

While there were a few glum faces after defeat at the Galpharm Stadium, Wednesday were grateful for small mercies in that at least they were back doing their day job of playing professional football after three successive postponements.

And while the impromptu Christmas break enabled players to spend a little more valuable time with their families over the festive season than usual, plenty of work was still on the agenda, according to

Weaver, with Yuletide excesses firmly off the menu.

The keeper added: "We still trained hard under difficult circumstances because the training ground was out of action because of the weather.

"So it was no excuse as we went to Huddersfield with some good training behind us. We were disappointed that the things we worked on didn't get us a result on the day.

"We had a day off on Christmas Day, but trained on Boxing Day. So it wasn't a case of the players having a bit of a jolly-up or anything like that.

"It was difficult not playing at all (over Christmas) and it does mean that we have a few games to catch up on.

"But it's nice to be back playing after a couple of weeks without a game. When you are sat at home watching all the results from the other matches, you want to be amongst it.

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