Here we go again!
For the second year on the trot, Sheffield Wednesday are in the Championship play-offs and will play Yorkshire opposition once more in the end-of-season competition.
Huddersfield Town await in the semi-finals and the Owls will be hoping to atone for their heartbreaking final defeat to Hull City last year.
While Wednesday have finished the regular season with a flourish, winning six of their final eight fixtures, the Terriers have limped over the line. Huddersfield will be no pushovers, but the Owls will be strong favourites to win over two legs and make it through to Wembley.
It is a pity Wednesday could be without the injured Gary Hooper for the challenge looming on the horizon, but boss Carlos Carvalhal still has plenty of attacking options.
The Owls’ second-string side made a decent fist of yesterday’s dead rubber at Hillsborough. The ‘reserves’ made a strong start, taking the lead through striker Sam Winnall.
But Neeskens Kebano’s double either side of half-time halted their seven-match unbeaten run.
Sixth-placed Fulham, who will meet Reading in the play-offs, controlled an entertaining contest for large periods following Marco Matias’ needless sending off in the first half. It is the first time Fulham have claimed maximum points in Sheffield since April 1985.
Carvalhal said: “We tried to win. We started really well, scored a goal but our energy came a little down.
“It was more difficult for the boys after the red card but I’m happy with how they fought until the end.”
It was no surprise Carvalhal made wholesale changes to his side in preparation for the play-offs.
He rested a string of senior players, including Keiren Westwood, Tom Lees, and Steven Fletcher, with Jack Hunt, Barry Bannan and Adam Reach dropping to the bench. Kieran Lee was the sole survivor from the team who beat Ipswich Town and Jose Semedo was given the captain’s armband.
“The result was not important,” said Carvalhal.
“It was the chance for us to give some of the players who have not played so much recently the time to play.
“It is our priority to try and protect players in terms of injuries and red cards for the play-offs - that is a priority. I would be a very stupid person to lose three or four players in a game that doesn’t matter and not have them for the play-off semi-final.”
Ten changes or not, Wednesday made a bright start. Lee was busy in midfield and was the architect of the opener, feeding Winnall, who coolly fired low past Marcus Bettinelli. It was a classy finish by Winnall and issued a timely reminder to head coach Carvalhal that he could play a big part in the run-in.
After dominating the early stages, the Owls lost their rhythm and Fulham took control.
Denis Odoi headed narrowly wide after a teasing corner by Tom Cairney before Kebano made it 1-1 in the 25th minute. The forward slotted home after good work on the right wing by the lively Odoi.
Wednesday’s makeshift back four, featuring Semedo at centre-back, appeared vulnerable from dead ball situations and Chris Martin glanced Cairney’s delivery inches off target.
Against the run of play, the Owls almost regained the lead when Winnall’s volley was charged down following lovely approach play by Lee and Jordan Rhodes.
It became an uphill task for Wednesday after Matias was dismissed for a rash, petulant tackle on Aluko. There was no need for Matias, making his first start in nearly 12 months, to dive in and it changed the entire complexion of the match. Fulham, a slick, eye-catching team, almost took advantage immediately but Martin was denied by the reflexes of Joe Wildsmith.
After the restart, the Cottagers largely bossed proceedings. with the dangerous Scott Malone hitting the crossbar. He was also thwarted by the agility of Wildsmith while Floyd Ayite fluffed his lines from close range.
Bettinelli was equal to a Vincent Sasso’s drive at the other end but the Cottagers deservedly sealed the points late on, Kebano heading in Lucas Piazon’s free-kick. It took a fine save by Wildsmith in the closing stages to prevent Kebano from completing his hat-trick.
Would the Owls’ best team have beaten Fulham? Quite possibly. We might get the chance to find out three weeks today.