THE fabled venue stood 125 miles away, but the metaphorical smell of Wembley hot dogs drifted up the M1 to Sheffield Wednesday and Derby County supporters on Saturday afternoon.
After an absorbing high-class game that ebbed and flowed, both famous old clubs emerged with honours and reputations intact in an encounter which bore the stamp of two worthy play-off participants.
An esprit de corps, refreshing to see these days, was there between both sets of fans following the final whistle, with a chant of ‘See you at Wembley’ from Wednesdayites to their Rams counterparts evoking smiles and a few thumbs up from the home ranks.
A lot stranger things have happened.
On the weekend when William Shakespeare’s death 400 years ago was celebrated, it was not quite a case yet of all’s well that ends well in the Owls’ quest to confirm a top-six place, but after several seasons when there has been much ado about nothing, this script is somewhat more alluring.
Derby booked their place in the end-of-season jamboree in midweek, while Wednesday still have business in their in-tray before mathematically booking their top-six place, despite Bolton almost doing them an almighty favour against play-off rivals Cardiff City, whom they welcome at Hillsborough on Saturday.
A point against the Bluebirds would suffice, with Wednesday in a comparative position of strength ahead of their Welsh rivals, who need the footballing equivalent of a couple of snookers to usurp them from sixth spot. It is theirs to lose.
Saturday saw Wednesday’s third draw on the spin as they inch towards the qualification tape, but this point will justifiably be heralded more than the exercises in agitation against Ipswich Town and MK Dons.
A touch of frustration, granted, given that head coach Carlos Carvalhal’s side were within sight of their first win over a top-five side this term and ending that particular seasonal hoodoo, only for one of the oldest gunslingers in town in Darren Bent to intervene in the way he knows best.
On an afternoon when Wednesday showcased their credentials in front of a watching TV audience, it was not an occasion for recriminations.
The likes of Keiren Westwood, who displayed aplomb with some key saves, and the classy Barry Bannan, who gilded another eye-catching performance with a fine goal, showed just why the Owls are up there with the best in the Championship.
Others were not far behind, with several Derby players also displaying poise and élan.
Offering his take on proceedings, Westwood said: “It should have probably been maximum (points) as we worked hard for so long and it was frustrating to come away with a point, but on the basis of the game, they probably deserved it. It is still a good point.
“I was happy with my performance and the rest of the lads. We worked our tails off and Barry scored a peach of a goal.
“You can have all the quality in the world, but if you have no chemistry on the pitch, it’s a little bit different. To a man, you couldn’t put any one of us down.
“If we make it into the play-offs, we know it will be a bit of a lottery. But I know this team will give everything for each other and it’s anyone’s (prize).”
Derby headed into the game seeking their fifth successive win, and sixth on the spin at the iPro, for the first time since 2010, but Wednesday were not cowed in a first half played out between two well-matched sides.
Both goalkeepers earned their corn with Scott Carson blocking a rasping deflected shot from Bannan and Westwood spectacularly tipping over a majestic curling strike from Craig Bryson.
Play opened up in an engrossing second period, even accounting for the proliferation of cautions, some wholly unnecessary, from Lee Mason, with his booking of Fernando Forestieri firmly bracketed in the soft variety after a tussle with Richard Keogh.
Forestieri also had cause to lament matters at the start of the half, when Carson brilliantly clawed away his effort before the Rams went for the jugular.
The Owls were somewhat fortunate when Cyrus Christie went down under pressure from Alex Lopez without a penalty being awarded.
The marauding full-back then set up Bryson and Johnny Russell with golden chances to break the deadlock, but Westwood thwarted both impressively.
It was left to Bannan to exquisitely break the deadlock and put gloss on his well-earned place in the PFA Championship team of the season with a lovely curler, which flew in off the underside of the bar after Gary Hooper’s assist.
Forestieri almost clinched it with a curling free-kick from the left that clipped the bar before Derby threw on the cavalry in Bent and Nick Blackman.
It was the former who, somewhat inevitably, had the last word, heading home at the far post with his first touch following Russell’s fine cross.