Part of Sheffield Wednesday’s cacophonous 41,000 travelling army who recently converged upon Wembley, Chris Waddle’s flat feeling at the final whistle was not a wholly new experience.
The Owls legend famously stepped out at the old Twin Towers four times in 48 days back in 1993 and while his wondrous free-kick in the sweet win over Sheffield United in an all-Steel City FA Cup semi-final was an iconic moment for all Wednesdayites, losses in two domestic cup finals were events that he would prefer to gloss over.
Just as those dual defeats to Arsenal left a bitter taste for the blue-and-white hordes, so the Owls’ Championship play-off final loss to Yorkshire rivals Hull City 12 days ago will have left supporters feeling similarly bereft following an episode they would also be eager to draw a line under.
But with the dust now settling after the club’s near-miss of 2015-16, Waddle believes that inspiration can be found from one place as the Owls plot a new course to the Promised Land ahead of their 150th anniversary and seek to channel their Wembley angst.
That destination being Teesside, with Boro supporters, like their Wednesday counterparts, afforded a sickening feeling in the pits of their stomachs after watching their side fail to lay a glove on their play-off final opponents in Norwich City in the showpiece at the end of 2014-15.
After that Wembley no-show, Boro, whose fans packed out the same West End of the national stadium as the Owls did, refused to let the wounds fester, embarking on a head-turning summer recruitment drive which saw Stewart Downing, Cristhian Stuani and David Nugent sign and greatly aid in the ‘moving on’ process.
Waddle believes Boro’s template is the perfect one for the Owls to follow as they bid to emulate the Teessiders and claim the big prize following play-off misery.
Waddle said: “Wednesday will be in the frame again and you would think they will add three or four players.
“Middlesbrough lost in the play-off final last year and the year after, seemed to say: ‘Look, we will go up this year.’ And they went out and got players like Downing and made a statement to show they meant business. For me, that is what Wednesday have got to do in the summer.
“(Carlos) Carvalhal signed 16 players to the players that they already had and he has signed a (competitive) Championship side now. They know what they need now to get out of this league and they have got to be hungry again.
“But they’ve got to add three or four quality players; five maybe.
“Two might be loans, but they might be two good signings where people go: ‘Wow.’ That is what they must do to make sure that they go for automatic promotion rather than the play-offs.
“If he gets the right ones in, there is no reason that they cannot only go for the play-offs, but aim for automatic as well.
“For me, they need a centre-forward, winger and maybe a couple of full-backs and maybe another midfield player to go in.
“If they do that, I think they have got a real chance of going up automatically rather than just aiming for sixth and getting a play-off spot.”
Among the thousands who travelled south, Waddle saw the pain of Wednesdayities at the closest of quarters at Wembley.
His boyhood allegiances may have very much been with another team in stripes in Sunderland, but the Owls also tug upon his heartstrings and he empathised with fans’ deflation at the end.
Yet even accounting for the club falling short, Waddle believes perspective should also be afforded after a season which put the Owls back on the footballing map.
Sheffield Wednesday, as the song goes, are ‘on their way back’, with the very fact that the sleeping giants put themselves within one game of a return to the Premier League after a 16-year exile – after previous finishes of 13th, 16th and 18th – worthy of merit.
Waddle said: “It is the first time I went as a punter (to Wembley). I went down with my friends and my son and the fans turned up, but Wednesday really didn’t.
“That was disappointing. But if somebody had said to any fan: ‘Listen, you will be in the play-off final and if you win, go up’, they would have snapped people’s hand off at the start of the season.
“It is great to go up with the money you can generate. But realistically, I think it was a year too early and they would have suffered in the Premier League. The plan was two years.
“You would have been talking about bringing in a lot of players and the wage bill really going up and a case of: ‘Woah, how much are we spending here?’”
The Owls may still be ‘on schedule’ in the grander scheme of things but, equally, time stands still for no-one.
Wednesday may have top-flight aspirations, but so do countless others, with the managerial presence of Rafael Benitez, Nigel Pearson and Roberto di Matteo in the Championship in 2016-17 underlining that fact.
Waddle added: “The problem now is the league has got harder with Newcastle, Aston Villa and Norwich all there and who look good for getting out of that league.
“Also there’s Derby. Nottingham Forest and QPR will also be better this year and there’s the likes of Cardiff and Brighton. There are a lot of tough games.”