A PLACE in the fifth round of the FA Cup was never a priority this season for Sheffield Wednesday.
Defeat last night against Blackpool was still a disappointment, however, because the Owls had come so far and got so close to a glamour tie against Everton.
With hindsight, this pairing was probably effectively lost in stoppage time at Bloomfield Road 10 days earlier when Kevin Phillips saved Blackpool’s skin with a controversial penalty.
Last night, Blackpool produced a far better display and the Owls simply failed to sparkle.
It was a real anti-climax for Wednesday, who had started the competition with a first-round victory at Morecambe in November and upset the formbook by knocking out West Ham United in the third round.
If it is any consolation, they are now able to concentrate on the task of winning promotion back to the Championship.
And that, without any question, is all that really matters to the Owls this season.
Goals from Matt Phillips, Lomana LuaLua and Ludovic Sylvestre booked Blackpool’s passage to Goodison Park with the minimum of fuss.
Yet without Phillips’s penalty, harshly awarded for a foul by Chris Sedgwick, there would have been no replay last night.
The Owls had won on penalties in a Carling Cup meeting between the clubs at Hillsborough in August and took the moral high ground – if not the fifth-round ticket – from the original game at Bloomfield Road.
Both managers made seven changes to sides which had won in the league at the weekend.
Owls boss Gary Megson rested Jose Semedo, Jermaine Johnson, Chris O’Grady, Gary Madine and David Prutton and was without the services of cup-tied Miguel Llera and John Bostock
There were recalls for captain Rob Jones, midfielder Liam Palmer, Chris Lines and Chris Sedgwick, strikers Clinton Morrison and Ryan Lowe and the fit-again Julian Bennett.
After signing Roman Bednar and John Fleck in the transfer window, Blackpool manager Ian Holloway now has a wealth of attacking options at his disposal.
His chosen three last night – Kevin Phillips, LuaLua and Matt Phillips – spread panic in the Owls’ defence and put Blackpool two goals ahead inside just 14 minutes after Ryan Lowe had missed an early opening for the Owls.
Former Blades loanee Matt Phillips scored with a low drive from the edge of the box and LuaLua dashed half the length of the pitch before curling home from 25 yards.
If the first goal was hard to stomach, the second was at least worthy of respect.
Now 31, LuaLua has always been a player capable of the extraordinary and would still be playing in the top flight if he could do it on a more consistent basis.
His lightning pace took him where he needed to be before picking a spot to aim for in the top corner of the net.
The former Congo international celebrated with a trademark somersault near the Hillsborough Kop as the Owls supporters looked on in stunned admiration.
Unfortunately for the home side, LuaLua was not the only Blackpool player with quick heels. Matt Phillips continued to torment on the run and even Kevin Phillips, at 38, was no slouch.
With nothing to match that at the back, the Owls often looked vulnerable on the counter-attack.
Threats on the Blackpool goal were rare although Rob Jones tested Matt Gilkes with a powerful far-post header from Sedgwick’s corner.
Reda Johnson, the Owls centreback turned left-back, was given yet another new role by Megson, being moved into central midfield as the Owls chased a way back into the contest.
It was hardly a roaring success although the Benin international covered just about every inch of the pitch.
He also collected his 10th booking of the season and is now banned for the next two games but, importantly, will be back from suspension for derbies against Chesterfield and Sheffield United.
The Owls, wearing black armbands as a mark of respect for Nottingham Forest’s former chairman Nigel Doughty, were already facing an uphill task at the start of the second half but simply made things worse for themselves.
Liam Palmer lost possession in midfield and moments later Stephen Bywater was picking the ball out of his net for the third time.
It was another quality finish, Sylvestre curling the ball in from the edge of the box.
The Owls enjoyed more of the ball in the final 20 minutes but the result was already done and dusted.
Rather than a trip to Everton on February 18, it will now be a far shorter – yet vitally important – journey for the Owls to neighbours Chesterfield in League One.
Blackpool, meanwhile, are in the fifth round for the first time in 22 years.
Sheffield Wednesday: Bywater; Otsemobor, Batth, Jones, R Johnson (Semedo 45); Sedgwick, Palmer, Lines, Bennett; Morrison, Lowe. Unused substitutes: Weaver, Buxton, Prutton, O’Grady, Beevers, Madine.
Blackpool: Gilks; Eardley, Sylvestre, Baptiste, Harris (Dicko 85); Martinez, Ince, Wilson, M.Phillips (Bruna 75); LuaLua; K.Phillips (Fleck 64). Unused substitutes: Halstead, Taylor-Fletcher, Basham.
Referee: AP D’Urso (Essex).