Shouts of “Que sera sera, whatever will be, will be, we’re going to Wembley, Que sera sera” reverberated around Hillsborough just moments before Wednesday’s killer second goal against Cardiff City.
Talk of the Owls reaching the Championship Play-off Final is still a bit premature, but Carlos Carvalhal’s troops appear to be hitting top form when it matters most.
On Saturday, Wednesday needed only to avoid defeat to seal a top-six finish. They could have adopted a conservative approach and played for a draw. They didn’t need to go all out attack. The onus was on the Bluebirds to take the game to Wednesday as they required maximum points to keep alive their slender hopes of securing the one remaining play-off position.
But the Owls, who are guaranteed their highest-placed finish since exiting the Premier League in 2000, outclassed Cardiff in every single department. Wednesday’s aggressive, high-intensity, flamboyant brand of football ripped their Welsh counterparts to pieces.
In front of the biggest league crowd of the season, Cardiff felt the full force of the power of Hillsborough.
Carvalhal called on Wednesdayites to cheer the team on from the first minute to last and create a carnival atmosphere. They didn’t disappoint.
There were lots of inflatables flying around the Kop before kick-off, and the Bluebirds would have loved nothing more than to spoil the Owls’ party.
What the visitors probably didn’t bank on, however, was Wednesday, who are perennial slow starters, coming out of the traps so quickly.
Lucas Joao, brought in for Aiden McGeady, fluffed his lines twice following good approach play, skipper Glenn Loovens’ bullet header narrowly missed the target, Daniel Pudil blazed over when well placed and Gary Hooper’s rasping right-foot drive struck the left-hand upright inside the opening 21 minutes. Wednesday rose to the occasion.
Some how Cardiff managed to keep the attacking prowess of Barry Bannan, Hooper, Fernando Forestieri and Joao at bay for over an hour.
Wednesday dominated proceedings for long periods and the result was never in doubt once Hooper put them ahead in the 64th minute. It was a trademark Hooper goal. The £3 million forward slammed home from close range after David Marshall failed to hang on to Pudil’s fierce effort.
Hooper is a proven performer at this level. He is a high-quality poacher, but his all-round game is very underrated.
He looked sharp throughout the weekend’s contest and forced Marshall into a mistake in the 75th minute. Hooper, much fitter now than when he first arrived at S6, ran 40 yards to close down the Cardiff goalkeeper and rob him of possession near the byline. He kept his composure to whip in deflected cross which was turned in by Lee Peltier.
Hillsborough erupted. The noise was deafening. That was game set and match.
Hooper, Wednesday’s star man on the day, added extra gloss to the scoreline in the closing stages, neatly lobbing the ball over Marshall after a fine flick on by substitute Atdhe Nuhiu.
Given how classy Hooper’s strikes were, it is remarkable to think the 28-year-old had gone more than nine hours without finding the net.
“It was nice to get two and get back on the scoresheet,” he admitted. “The team behind me always makes chances and you’ve got to take them in the end.”
After finding first-team football hard to come by at Norwich City, Hooper is pleased to have got his career back on track with Wednesday.
“I’ve enjoyed every minute, even my loan spell,” said new dad Hooper. “I think from then we kicked on and we’ve not dropped out of the play-offs. I’m enjoying the club. It’s just nice to be playing football again and given the chance. Training is good, everyone is good basically and I think it shows on the pitch.
“The manager is good to work with. He just lets us play football, that is the main thing. He tells us how to press, but the main thing is to play football.”
Only Hull City can match Wednesday’s 42 home goals this season. All departments of their team have contributed in the final third.
And, at the other end, Wednesday have equalled a club-record 17 league clean sheets, a feat they achieved last term and in the late 70s.
Carvalhal said: “We have a lot of goals, one of the more offensive of the competition.
“We have the balance between the goals. The record of the clean sheets and the goals we are scoring. We appreciate that balance.
“We are not conceding goals and we are scoring goals at the same time. It is not that we don’t take goals because we are defensive. There is a balance.
“Also, the distribution of the goals, most of the players score the goals. Our midfielders and centre-halves, wingers, all of them score goals during the season.
“We don’t depend on one striker to score the goals, even Fernando and Gary who score more than others.”
After a year of progress, Wednesday’s players, backroom staff and chairman Dejphon Chansiri deserved their lap of honour to mark the achievement after the final whistle. They all deserved their moment with the fans.
In Carvalhal’s eyes, Wednesday will go into the end of season shoot-out as underdogs. It is debatable claim based on current form.
What is abundantly clear is that the Owls have more than earned their shot at the big time. There’s still plenty of work to do, but a potential trip to Wembley is in sight.
Eleven years ago on the final day of April, Wednesday confirmed their place in the League One play-offs with a match to spare, beating Hull City 2-1. The result paved the way for a glorious day out in Cardiff.
Who knows, it might be a good omen.
sheffield wednesday: Westwood 7; Hunt 7, Lees 7, Loovens 7, Pudil8 (Helan 81); Bannan 8, Lee 7, Lopez 8, Forestieri 8 (Nuhiu 70); Joao 7 (Matias 86), Hooper 9. Substitutes: Wildsmith, Palmer, Turner, Hutchinson.
Cardiff city: Marshall 5; Peltier 6, Morrison 6 (Ecuele Manga 62, 5), Connolly 6, Malone 5; Noone 6, Dikgacoi 5, (Harris 72), O’Keefe 5, Whittingham 6; Pilkington 5 (Ameobi 20, 5), Zohore 5. Substitutes: Moore, Turner, Gunnarsson, Lawrence.
Referee: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).