The pain of Sheffield Wednesday supporters was shared by the Owls crestfallen players amid shattering scenes at the final whistle after their 1-0 defeat in the £200m jackpot game with Yorkshire rivals Hull City, with the overwrought emotions still obvious a fair time afterwards among the likes of Tom Lees.
A resolute rock at the back in two seasons with the club which has provided a sanctuary after some tough times at former employers Leeds United, it was to Lees’s credit that he fronted up and spoke to the assembled press afterwards when it would have been easier not to.
Lees felt the hurt more than most, with his attempted clearance picked up by former Leeds team-mate Robert Snodgrass in the game’s key moment on 72 minutes, with the Scot supplying Mo Diame, who broke 41,000 Wednesday hearts with a sublime match-winning strike.
Admitting that the pain of losing on Saturday will take time to subside following his toughest day in football, Lees said: “Yes, it is by far (my hardest moment) and it is going to be horrible now for the summer.
“We had the chance to go up and we are devastated really, to be honest. I don’t know what to say and I am so upset.
“You saw how good our support at the end was and we have lost...That almost makes it harder.
“I have never felt so bad lying on the pitch and when you look up and see everyone, it is horrendous.
“I am not too sure how we pick ourselves up as I have never been in this position before. I don’t know, it just seems a long way off getting going again and we have got to go away and digest it.”
Admitting he is at a loss as to why the swagger and verve that Wednesday have displayed in a renaissance season was largely missing in their biggest and most definitive game of all, the 25-year-old added: “I don’t think I can put my finger on it. It’s a cup final and anything can happen...
“If we’d scored a goal from 20 yards, we wouldn’t be looking at ways we could improve, would we... We have got to look back over the course of the season and take in all that has happened and what happened on Saturday.”
Much like Lees, defensive partner Glenn Loovens felt similarly bereft after events at the home of football. But the Owls captain insists that – given the requisite time – that the pain that the players are suffering will be channelled into instigating the fitting response in 2016-17 as they strive to return the club to the top flight in time for its 150th anniversary.
The Dutchman rued: “We worked so hard to be in this position and to be empty-handed is hard to swallow. Hopefully, we can keep this feeling and take it into next season, to make sure it doesn’t happen again. There were some sad faces. But it is part of football, I suppose. You have to bounce back and make sure we are there again next season.”
On the game, he added: “They had the better chances in the first half and the second. I don’t know why, that’s football.
“We had possession, but never really hurt them. We weren’t really ourselves, even though everyone worked really hard. Sometimes, it doesn’t go your way. It is hard to say how things have gone. But I am really proud of how far this team have come.”
Like Loovens, midfield pivot Sam Hutchinson was adamant that while defeat was a grievous wound, pride can also be taken from a season when the Owls have announced themselves back on the footballing landscape. The wounds may take a few weeks to heal following Saturday’s events, but Hutchinson believes that perspective will ultimately be kind on Wednesday’s efforts in a season of reinvigoration and restoration at S6.
Even accounting for an unforgiving Saturday, the strains of: “We’re Sheffield Wednesday, we’re on our way back” were still raucous in plenty of pubs and hostelries in the capital following the game – with the hurt of Wednesdayites laced with pride, as witnessed when the Owls players were given a warm send-off after leaving the Wembley stage.
Hutchinson said: “The fans have been brilliant all season.
“They have been ‘mental’ all the way; coming in on the coach, we couldn’t even get past them! They are brilliant. I think the lads really wanted to do it for them.
“It is disappointing. But you saw at the end, there were still more fans than Hull had. It is just unfortunate we couldn’t do it for them. It is gutting for all of the team – from everyone who hasn’t played as much to everyone who has played every game.
“It means a lot because everyone goes in and works hard.
“We worked our hardest and did our best, but just fell short. But it is (still) a special day for us. Sheffield Wednesday had not been to Wembley for a long time. We felt sorry for the fans, but we tried our best.
“We will go again.”