Play-offs guaranteed as Owls are in too good nick for Mick: Ipswich Town 0 Sheffield Wednesday 1

Play-offs in the bag for Barry Bannan and co. Pictures: Steve Ellis
Play-offs in the bag for Barry Bannan and co. Pictures: Steve Ellis

Another week, another hoodoo banished.

Wednesday, at long last, have beaten a Mick McCarthy side.

Carlos Carvalhal celebrates

Carlos Carvalhal celebrates

Kieran Lee’s deft 77th-minute strike at his favourite away ground helped the Owls record their first league victory over a McCarthy team at the 15th attempt.

Wednesday laid a few hoodoos to rest in April, winning at Loftus Road for the first time since 2000 and claiming a long-overdue victory over bogey side Derby County.

The three points at Portman Road secured the Owls’ place in the Championship play-offs with a match to spare for the second year running. Given the financial clout of some of the big boys in the division, it is a big achievement.

Carlos Carvalhal and his players deserve plenty of plaudits for putting a consistent run of results together when it matters most. While other clubs have run out of steam at a critical juncture, Wednesday look in fine fettle heading into the end-of-season extravaganza.

Delight after the final whistle

Delight after the final whistle

The travelling fans loved nothing more than chanting ‘Leeds, Leeds are falling apart again’ to the tune of Joy Division’s ‘Love Will Tear us Apart’.

Everything appears rosy for the Owls, who have racked up six straight wins, have an array of attacking talent and have midfielders Sam Hutchinson and David Jones set to return to the fold. They are going to take some stopping.

“I think we will be the team that people will want to avoid at the moment,” admitted match-winner Lee.

No wonder Carvalhal and his players were loving it at the final whistle in Suffolk.

Kieran Lee scores the winner

Kieran Lee scores the winner

It has been a challenging, topsy-turvy campaign for Carvalhal. Some criticised his decision-making and questioned whether he was the right man to take the club to the next level.

But the charismatic Portuguese chief has stuck to his beliefs and principles and remained confident the team would finish an up-and-down season strongly. He has been proven right.

Carvalhal looks a shoo-in for the April Manager of the Month award after leading the team up to fourth. He has turned around the Owls’ fortunes.

THE MATCH

Wednesday, who named an unchanged starting line-up for the first time since December, were not at their fluent best against an Ipswich side who are hard to beat on home soil. The Tractor Boys entered the contest having suffered just one defeat on their own turf since Boxing Day.

The first half was a bore-fest. Neither side showed any great urgency or intensity.

Despite a bright start, the Owls lacked penetration in the final third and Keiren Westwood had to be equal to efforts from Tom Lawrence and David McGoldrick.

The second period was a marginally better spectacle, with Ross Wallace cutting inside and seeing his rasping drive appear to go through the hands of Ipswich goalkeeper Bartoz Bialkowski but come back off the inside of the post. In-form striker Steven Fletcher was also denied by the giant Pole.

However, Lee delivered the knockout blow, neatly turning in Daniel Pudil’s delightful low cross following an exquisite through-ball by Barry Bannan. It was a fine, free-flowing attack and the only moment of genuine quality all afternoon.

Lee said: “I just made a last-minute dart into the box. A lot of my goals seem to come like that! It was a great pull-back and I just stuck my leg out.”

Lee has a phenomenal recent record at Portman Road, scoring three goals in his last four outings at the famous old ground.

“It popped into my head on Saturday that I had scored a couple here,” he said. “I don’t know what it is. It is just one of those things that happens.”

KIERAN LEE

2017 has been a difficult year for the 28-year-old. He spent over three months on the sidelines after undergoing hip surgery. It was feared after the op he would not play again this season and the team certainly missed his driving runs and scoring prowess from the middle of the park.

But Lee has defied the odds and is back ahead of schedule. Saturday’s clash was only his second appearance since returning from injury.

Lee said: “It is good to be involved and be back on the pitch. It took me a long time to recover from the injury but I feel better now. I’m still building up my fitness as I have not been back that long.

“It was a tough period but I had been playing with the injury for quite a while and it got to the point where I needed to stop because I wasn’t really helping the team like I could.

“I just worked hard in those three months to get back before the season finished. Luckily I am and hopefully I will stay fit.

“It is good to be playing again and it was nice to score against Ipswich.”

WHAT NOW?

The play-offs get under way in less than a fortnight so it will be interesting to see how Carvalhal approaches the Fulham duel. Will he choose to rest some of his senior players on Sunday with one eye on the first leg of the semi-finals or will he field his strongest line-up in an attempt to maintain their stellar run of form?

Lee said: “I think momentum is important going into the play-offs. The lads, the fans and the whole club are on a high.

“Confidence is high and going into the play-offs that is a massive thing. We know we have to carry on working hard and keep going.

“We will go into the play-offs with a lot of belief.”

Wednesday have, by and large, slipped under the radar this term.

A lot of the national media’s focus has been on their promotion rivals, Reading, Huddersfield Town and Fulham. It is true that those clubs have all enjoyed great seasons, but so have the Owls.

Wednesday, last season’s play-off finalists, are the form side in the league and the ones to watch.

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