The 25-year anniversary of Sheffield Wednesday’s famous League Cup success at the old Wembley Stadium is fast approaching.
For helping the Owls beat Manchester United in the final and regain promotion to English football’s top division, the likes of Roland Nilsson, Nigel Pearson, John Harkes, John Sheridan, Paul Williams and David Hirst will always be regarded as club legends.
Swede Nilsson, arguably the best right-back to ever don a Wednesday shirt, and Williams, who dovetailed so effectively with Hirst in attack, saw the Owls’ current side in action on Saturday.
The Class of 2016 put in a hard-working, enterprising performance against an Ipswich outfit knowing they had to pick up maximum points to keep their faint hopes alive of gatecrashing the top six.
Fernando Forestieri’s 42nd-minute strike handed the Owls the initiative, but they failed to press home their advantage.
A plethora of chances were created. All squandered.
Three points were there for the taking. Two went begging.
Sixteen-year-old Andre Dozzell, the son of Ipswich great Jason, stepped off the bench to score on his senior debut and salvage the visitors a point. It should have been all over by that point.
But the Owls’ free-flowing, slick, one-touch football will no doubt have impressed Nilsson, Williams and company. Carlos Carvalhal’s men looked for long spells the more confident, accomplished side. The only missing piece in the jigsaw was a cutting edge in the final third.
As Carvalhal stated post-match, there were more positives than negatives. For the colourful Portuguese head coach, the scoreline was the only disappointment.
Had Wednesday’s players brought their shooting boots, they could quite easily have secured a third successive Hillsborough victory and put further distance between themselves and Cardiff City in the battle to secure a top-six finish.
If the Owls had triumphed, the gap would have widened to seven points as the seventh-placed Bluebirds were held to a goalless home draw with Queens Park Rangers.
The key thing is that a play-off spot remains in Wednesday’s hands.
Carvalhal said: “This week is crucial. We know what can happen if we lose our concentration, like the last game (Bristol City).
“I know this competition, it is very hard. This week there are nine points to fight for.
“We are in a good position. We have four games to finish the Championship, and five points to the team that are below us.
“We have two home games left, one of them against Cardiff, and we are in a good position.
“If you ask me what position I want to be in, I want to be first. It’s why we fight all the time to get there.
“We must focus, starting in our next game, on Tuesday against MK Dons.
“It will be a tough game, they are fighting for their lives. We don’t expect an easy game, and we are here to fight.”
In Carvalhal’s eyes, Ipswich goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski was the man of the match. The Poland shot-stopper produced fine saves to deny Lucas Joao, twice, and Ross Wallace, twice, either side of half-time.
“We drew because we missed a lot of chances,” he said. “Our level of play, this game was in the top six or seven games where we have played excellently.”
It is worth acknowledging that Ipswich came close to taking the lead early on following yet another sluggish start by the hosts. Freddie Sears beat the offside trap and forced a smart near-post save from Wednesday shot-stopper Keiren Westwood from an acute angle.
As the half wore on, the Owls grew stronger and stronger. Daniel Pudil headed over a Ross Wallace corner from inside the six-yard box, Joao dragged a shot narrowly wide, Tom Lees nodded inches off target and Barry Bannan also fluffed his lines from distance. You thought it might be one of those days.
Three minutes before the interval, Wednesday finally made their dominance count.
Forestieri rifled in his 15th goal of the campaign after Joao’s heavy-looking touch from Wallace’s low delivery broke kindly to him in the penalty area. Hirsty would have enjoyed that.
When Forestieri gets a chance, he is deadly in front of goal. It is imperative he stays clear of injuries and maintains his fine form for the run-in.
Forestieri’s third goal in his last five outings was no more than Wednesday deserved. Now the question was whether they could kick on and grab a second to kill off Ipswich’s promotion hopes.
The turning point probably came in the 65th minute when Forestieri and Joao combined neatly to send Bannan through on goal. It appeared the Scotland midfielder lost his footing when it mattered the most and he fired weakly at Bialkowski.
Carvalhal’s troops didn’t go for the jugular in the second half and, six minutes after Bannan’s miss, teen starlet Dozzell made them pay, ghosting in to nod home Liam Feeney’s great centre.
Dozzell’s leveller set up a frantic, grand-tand finish.
Joao underlined his neat, silky footwork, cutting inside on to his favoured right foot before unleashing a rasping drive which was smartly turned away by Bialkowski. It certainly wasn’t in the same class as Chris Turner foiling Brian McClair at the national headquarters, but was nevertheless important.
Wallace was also twice denied in the closing stages by Bialkowski.
After referee Robert Madley had blown the final whistle, you could see the frustration and disappointment in the body language of Wednesday’s squad.
Maximum points would have eased some of the pressure and tension going into the final four fixtures. All this group of players are currently focused on is extending their season by an extra three matches and writing themselves into Wednesday folklore.
wednesday: Westwood 7; Hunt 7, Lees 6, Loovens 7, Pudil 7; Wallace 6, Lee 6, Lopez 7 (Hooper 76) Bannan 7; Forestieri 8, Joao 7 (Nuhiu 83). Substitutes: Matias, McGugan, Bennett, Sasso, Wildsmith.
ipswich: Bialkowski 8; Chambers 6, Smith 7, Berra 6, Knudsen 6; Foley 5 (Dozzell HT, 6), Bru 7 (Pitman 75), Douglas 6, Feeney 6; Sears 6, McGoldrick 6. Substitutes: Gerken, Pringle, McDonnell, Kenlock, Digby.
Referee: Robert Madley (West Yorkshire).