Inside Sheffield Wednesday's 'miracle of Hillsborough' - signs, psychology, quotes and comebacks

Four-nil down from the first leg of a play-off semi-final, Sheffield Wednesday pulled off one of English football's great comebacks to beat Peterborough United 5-1 after extra-time and book their place at Wembley via a penalty shoot-out.

In 218 Football League play-off semi-finals, no team had come from more than two goals behind after the first leg to win on aggregate.

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As captain Barry Bannan acknowledged, how they did it had little to do with tactics and a huge amount to do with psychology as manager Darren Moore, sports psychologist Tom Bates and the players got each other believing with videos, stories, WhatsApp group chats, motivational quotes and grabbing every available omen.

The work began hours after the 4-0 defeat at London Road.

After it, Moore struggled to explain how his team collapsed despite playing quite well, at least in the first half, but promised to analyse it away from the raw emotion of a defeat which saw away fans turn on their players.

"We got back at half past one, I didn't get to bed until 6.30, 7am because I was reviewing the game," he revealed. "We were in on Saturday morning by 11 o'clock to debrief the game. I showed them the 65 goals we've scored here this season.

"We told them it's just short of three goals a game. I showed them we'd beaten teams by five goals on three occasions, and a four. We wanted to break the mindset straight away."

PSYCHOLOGY: Sheffield Wednesday manager Darren Moore before Thursday's penalty shoot-outPSYCHOLOGY: Sheffield Wednesday manager Darren Moore before Thursday's penalty shoot-out
PSYCHOLOGY: Sheffield Wednesday manager Darren Moore before Thursday's penalty shoot-out
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Bannan believes: "It was important. It's only normal that 4-0 behind some people are going to buy into it, others don't believe it.

"He showed us great comebacks, Liverpool against AC (Milan, in the 2005 European Cup final), Liverpool v Barca (the 2019 semi-final) and you start to think, 'It can be done.’

"If they can concede four, Peterborough can concede four.’

"What the gaffer and Tom Bates did was amazing. People gradually bought into it – not everyone, but once you've got a good group saying we're going to do it, it just drags people along with you."

JUBILATION: Fans mob Michael Smith at full-timeJUBILATION: Fans mob Michael Smith at full-time
JUBILATION: Fans mob Michael Smith at full-time

The belief was growing.

"We were getting signs," claimed Bannan. "(David Webb), the last time he reffed here was Cardiff (in April 2021) and we won won 5-0, I put that in the group chat on Wednesday.

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"On Wednesday two of the best clubs in world football (Manchester City and Real Madrid) went toe to toe and one loses 4-0.

"Tom worked hard on a lot of quotes stuck up in the changing room and on the training ground so everywhere you went, it was there."

BELIEF: Barry BannanBELIEF: Barry Bannan
BELIEF: Barry Bannan

Total commitment was vital.

"We didn't play great football but we knew it wasn't a night for that, we just had to win," argued Bannan.

"I said in the huddle it could have been a lot of people's last game for Sheffield Wednesday. It's been a terrific season and we didn't want it to end with a whimper.

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"I said if they scored first it didn't matter, just give your all. Win or lose, I was willing to die and get buried in the pitch."

Moore divided the game into quarters, demanding a goal in each.

"We knew once we scored the first two, the crowd was into it," said Moore. "We spoke about the percentages of balls we needed forward.

"We had four attackers in Pato (Callum Paterson), Josh (Windass) and the two strikers (Michael Smith and Gregory) so we knew if one of those came off we could push one of the other two up and bring another midfield player on.

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"We discussed what we'd do if we conceded. For the goal to come in the way it did (off Gregory) was hard but we kept that belief and said there's still time, we'll get a chance."

When the shoot-out came, Wednesday were prepared for that too, Smith, Will Vaulks, Bannan, Windass and Jack Hunt all scoring.

"We believed we were going to get to penalties at least so we practiced for four days," revealed Bannan. "We practiced two penalties every day and Wednesday was two teams in a normal shoot-out.

"A lot of people in training were saying, 'This is not going to help, it's training, there's no pressure.'

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"But I felt pressure with the way he did it. It was real – kids from the youth team shouting things behind the goal, speakers were on.

"Josh said to Tom, 'I thought those penalties were a load of rubbish but we scored all five.'"

And with that, Moore headed off for some jelly snakes and one drink – "I'm driving" – before starting preparations for Bolton Wanderers or Barnsley on May 29.