Jubilant Sheffield Wednesday able to set free years of heartache

IT felt, at times, like Sheffield Wednesday were under siege in a fashion not seen since a gang of American rebels came unstuck at the Alamo.

Glenn Loovens and Carlos Carvalhal at the final whistle

The Owls’ attempts at avoiding a similar massacred fate at the hands of a swarming Brighton & Hove Albion also bordered on seat-of-the-pants.

But, when referee Roger East blew the final whistle on Monday night to signal a quite extraordinary play-off semi-final second leg had somehow ended level at 1-1, Carlos Carvalhal’s band of brothers had done it.

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A possible Premier League return after 16 long years in the wilderness was a step closer thanks to a 3-1 aggregate triumph and the Yorkshire club’s players were determined to party.

Brighton and Hove Albion's James Wilson (centre) and Sheffield Wednesday's Glenn Loovens (left) battle for the ball during the Sky Bet Championship play off, second leg

At first on the pitch in front of the equally overjoyed 2,000 travelling fans and then in a boisterous away dressing room at the Amex, the Owls celebrated reaching the Championship play-off final in a manner that will take some beating even if promotion is secured at Wembley on May 28.

Glenn Loovens, the longest serving member of a starting XI that battled so gamely even when wave after wave of Brighton attacks threatened to overwhelm the visitors, was part of those jubilant scenes as he basked in the satisfaction of a job well done.

By the time Wednesday set off home, however, the effort and endeavour that had gone into such a draining night had caught up with the Dutch defender.

“I didn’t have the energy to celebrate on the way home,” laughed the 32-year-old. “I just wanted to rest.”

Brighton and Hove Albion's James Wilson (centre) and Sheffield Wednesday's Glenn Loovens (left) battle for the ball during the Sky Bet Championship play off, second leg

With good cause, too. Loovens had been at the heart of the almighty rearguard action that helped keep the Seagulls at bay in a first half that brought a staggering 17 efforts on the visitors’ goal.

Booked early on for a foul that Anthony Knockaert came within a whisker of punishing with a free-kick that struck the inside of Kieren Westwood’s left hand post, the Owls captain led by example.

If he had to throw himself at a goalbound shot, he did it. If an aerial challenge had to be won against two or even three home players, he did so. It was a master class of how guts and determination can win the day, even when an opposing side are so dominant that if it had been a boxing bout rather than play-off semi-final then the referee would have called a halt to proceedings long before the end.

“Games like those show you what football is all about,” added the defender. “We were the better team at Hillsborough and they were the better team in the first half.

“Brighton were all over us but we stuck together as a team. It was defence against attack in that first half. If I am honest, I have never been as tired as I was in that first half in my whole career.

“But, in the end, we got through and that was always the aim. We are in the final and I am glad we did it.

“The way the game went, that maybe makes it more of a relief to get to Wembley. On another day, it could have gone different. We have to be honest about that.

“But I also believe that over the two legs we deserved it. We could have scored a couple more in that first game.”

Wednesday and what is likely to be a 40,000 strong travelling army of fans now have the May 28 final in their sights.

Hull City lay between the Owls and a return to a level they last graced in 2000. Loovens, for one, cannot wait.

“It means a lot to get to Wembley with Sheffield Wednesday,” said the defender, who was in the Cardiff City side beaten in the 2008 FA Cup final.

“There are games you watch as a kid and realise you want to do the same, to walk your team out before a final at Wembley.

“It will be a great honour and I am sure I will do it justice. This game will probably be the biggest of my career. Definitely up there anyway.

“There will be so much at stake, not just for me but everyone at the club and in the city.

“We want to enjoy getting there for a couple of days but then it is back to work.

“We will make sure we are ready for the final.”

Victory, of course, would spark the kind of party in the blue and white half of Sheffield not seen in years.

“The celebrations after the final whistle at Brighton were a thing of the moment,” added Loovens. “You go along and enjoy it.

“Those fans have been there for us all season, home and away. It was good to celebrate it with the fans who took the time and effort to come down here. I am glad for them that we did it.

“There is a big bond between the fans and the club. It has grown a lot this year. It shows us that we have to perform as a team.

“They need us but we need them as well. That was the case at Brighton and also across the whole season.

“I look at the away end at every game and it shows the desire everyone has to get promoted. Everyone is striving for it. Let’s do it, not just for us but them as well.”