Sheffield Wednesday: Owls happy to be outsiders as lights are left on at Hillsborough

Tom Lees and Keiren Westwood at the final whistle
Tom Lees and Keiren Westwood at the final whistle

Defender Tom Lees is more than happy for Wednesday’s doubters to continue writing off their promotion prospects.

The majority of bookmakers and pundits expected the Owls’ Premier League challenge to grind to a shuddering halt in the Championship play-offs.

Magnificent support

Magnificent support

After all, Brighton and Hove Albion, Wednesday’s opponents, finished 15 points ahead of them in the regular season and headed into Friday’s first leg full of confidence on the back of a 14-match unbeaten run.

But the Owls defied the odds, recording their first win over a top-five side of the campaign, courtesy of goals either side of half-time from Ross Wallace and Kieran Lee at a raucous Hillsborough.

Lees told The Star: “Nobody has even mentioned us all the way through. I can’t think of any pundits who have said we will go up and I don’t think that will change because 2-0 is not a massive scoreline.

“Maybe if it had been three or four people would have taken notice.”

The lights go on at Hillsborough

The lights go on at Hillsborough

Lees believes it has suited Wednesday flying in under the radar.

He said: “It has helped that people haven’t talked about us. We have got no pressure on us. Nobody is really expecting us to go up. We have got a lot of belief in our dressing room that we have got a good team, so that’s all that really matters.”

For Lees, it was always a matter of time before Wednesday beat one of their main rivals.

“People keep going on about it but we haven’t lost to any of the teams in the play-offs,” he said. “All the games have been tight.

Ross Wallace celebrates the opening goal

Ross Wallace celebrates the opening goal

“Nobody has battered us. We have drawn them all.

“It was always going to be tight, but everyone raised their game (against Brighton). We have got a lot of players playing to their maximum, which is pleasing.”

As head coach Carlos Carvalhal pointed out post-match, Friday night will live long in the memory for Wednesdayites.

The atmosphere was rocking at a sold-out Hillsborough. The noise, at times, was deafening.

Kieran Lee scores the second

Kieran Lee scores the second

Towards the end of the contest, the fans were bouncing so much that the South Stand was shaking. It was an unforgettable occasion.

“It was absolutely unreal,” commented Lees. “It was the best atmosphere I’ve played in by a country mile.

“A few of the lads were saying afterwards when all the lights went on on the fans’ phones all around the stadium, it gave us goosebumps.

“At one point when one side was bouncing, I could see on the pitch that the floodlights were actually moving. I thought: ‘Jesus, the stand’s going to come down in a minute!’

“That shows how much noise and how much passion there was.”

The fans cranked up the noise and it clearly inspired the team, with Carvalhal’s charges producing one of their best displays.

Lees, who was rock-solid alongside skipper Glenn Loovens at the heart of their rearguard, said: “It was brilliant. Obviously we know it’s not done. It’s only half-time. 2-0 is quite a dangerous scoreline so we can’t get carried away.

“But before the game if you had offered us that result, we would probably have taken it. We played well even before they had the injuries. We had quite a few chances.

“When they had to make changes, it probably unsettled them a bit and I thought we dominated it.

“We would have liked a couple more goals but that probably would have been a bit greedy.”

While he concedes the Owls are in a “good position” in the tie, Lees has rejected claims that they are “red-hot favourites” to progress.

“If Brighton get one goal, they will get a sniff and it can be quite dangerous,” he stated. “It can give them a real sense of hope.”

So how do the Owls approach tonight’s second leg?

Ex-Leeds centre-back Lees said: “We can’t allow Brighton to stamp their authority on the game. It will be a long 90 minutes if we try and defend.

“We can’t afford to sit back as 2-0 is a dangerous scoreline. We can’t get carried away thinking we have done all the work. It’s only half-time.

“We will go away now. The manager likes to analyse stuff. I’m sure he will come up with a game-plan for us for Monday.”

Lees added: “It’s not really in this team’s nature to sit back but I think sometimes you can get lulled into that sense of dropping deeper. I’m sure the manager will come up with a game-plan to make sure that doesn’t happen and we will just have to execute it.”

The 25-year-old has hailed the job Carvalhal has done in turning the Owls into serious promotion contenders.

“Carlos is very enthusiastic,” he said. “He studies the game. All the time, he’s watching football, and that is one of his main strengths. He’s so organised and prepared. Tactically, he’s very good.

“His enthusiasm and passion for the game makes you want to play well for him.”

There is a real buzz and optimism around S6. The Owls are potentially two matches away from a Premier League return, but Lees has urged caution, stating there is still “a long way” to go.

For Brighton boss Chris Hughton’s view of tonight’s second leg, click here