Sheffield Wednesday fans proved in the stands to be ready for the big time but work still has to be done on the pitch. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
“PREMIER LEAGUE, we’re on our way...” sang the Sheffield Wednesday hordes over and over again.
As statements of intent and deep-held belief go, this wall of noise – accompanied throughout by tens of thousands of blue and white clad Wednesdayites bouncing up and down in unison – was mightily impressive and something that Steve Bruce admitted afterwards he feared could inspire the Owls to prevail at the expense of Hull City.
Mohamed Diame’s spectacular winner ensured that did not happen but, even so, there is now surely an acceptance that Wednesday, as a club, are very much heading in the right direction after so long spent stagnating or worse.
The past 12 months have transformed the landscape at Hillsborough. No longer are the Owls a byword for big clubs down on their luck. No longer do supporters have to look to the past for justification of Wednesday’s standing in the game.
Those noisy fans proved with possibly the most passionate show of support that the new Wembley has seen that they are ready for the big time.
On Saturday, the team lagged behind in that respect. But, across the whole season, the Owls have looked the part and Dejphon Chanisiri’s stated ambition on taking over 15 months ago to have the club back in the Premier League by 2017 no longer looks fanciful.
Wednesday, as epitomised by Saturday’s backing from the stands, have the feel of a Premier League club-in-waiting. It might not have happened this year but this is a team that will come again.
Not that it will be a stroll next season. Far from it, in fact. The Championship, already an assault course of a competition, is about to become even harder.
The relegated trio of Newcastle United, Aston Villa and Norwich City are all likely to push strongly for promotion. So, too, a Derby County side now under the charge of Nigel Pearson, a manager who knows all about the Championship from his time at Hull and Leicester City.
Brighton & Hove Albion will also again be strong in 2016-17 after missing out on automatic by just two goals this time around, while the likes of QPR, Reading, Ipswich Town and Cardiff City will all fancy their chances of making more of an impact.
Carlos Carvalhal accepts just how competitive the second tier will be next term. “Twenty teams will be saying they want promotion when the season starts in August,” said the Portuguese. “It will be a very strong league next season.
“We have to try and upgrade the team and make us better. Create a fantastic environment for everyone. We want the fans to enjoy themselves again.”
Those upgrades Carvalhal wants to make will, no doubt, be made. Chansiri will see to it that money is not a problem.
In the most recent transfer window, the Thai businessman again made plain his ambitions for Wednesday as Gary Hooper arrived from Norwich City for £3m and Jack Hunt’s switch from Crystal Palace was made permanent. Several new contract extensions were also agreed with key players.
Perhaps more pertinently, Chansiri was keen to go further only to be left frustrated by the determination of rival clubs to keep hold of their better players.
A substantial bid, for instance, was made for Brentford’s Alan Judge that, sources have indicated to The Yorkshire Post, would have smashed Wednesday’s club record transfer fee. The Bees, though, stood firm and held on to the Irishman, who in March suffered a double leg fracture.
Other enquiries for players were made in January and Chansiri, whose passion for the Owls has only grown as the season developed, plans to again back his head coach in the quest to strengthen over the summer.
This need to add depth to the squad was apparent at Wembley. Wednesday’s bench, save for the aerial threat of Atdhe Nuhiu, hardly smacked of one capable of turning the game in a moment.
That has to be addressed, as does the need for deeper quality in midfield. If that can be done then what Carvalhal describes as “the waking of a giant” really could turn into Wednesday being on their way back to the Premier League.