Results before kick off not only sent the Owls bottom of the table, but extended the gap to safety with Coventry City winning. A team whose manager, Darren Moore, was at home with Covid-19 could easily have shrunk from what was looking an increasingly hopeless task.
Rather than throw the towel in, they rose to the occasion with an outstanding 5-0 victory. By full-time, they were level on points with Rotherham United.
Wednesday, the Championship's lowest scorers at kick off, did more than just win. The manner and margin of their biggest victory since beating Leeds United 6-0 in January 2014 was such a big injection of confidence they were in danger of overdosing.
The skill of their attacking was matched by the hunger of their defending.
Inevitably the immense Barry Bannan led it, but important contributions were everywhere – from Callum Paterson, Adam Reach, Josh Windass, Jordan Rhodes, Liam Palmer, Tom Lees and Julian Borner. The rest were pretty good too.
The intent was there right from the opening seconds, Borner overlapping outside wing-back Reach almost immediately.
Within five minutes they had won a second corner and Bannan's delivery was perfect, and met with a brilliant header by Borner to put it inside the far post.
Although Cardiff got the ball clear in the eighth minute, it was great to see Paterson, moved into central midfield, hunting the ball down from former Owl Aden Flint's weak backpass. Windass showed brilliant feet in the 15th minute and allowed Bannan to thread a wonderful pass to Rhodes, whose shot was blocked. Palmer, the only personnel change to the side, showed intelligence as well as skill to pull a cross deep to Paterson in the 21st minute and the technique on the volley was outstanding.
Before Cardiff knew what had hit them, it hit them again, another marvellous crossfield pass to play right wing-back Palmer into the corner, from Bannan. The move ended in a dangerously-positioned free-kick and when Bannan shifted it, Reach curled a brilliant finish to put his side 3-0 up. In just over a quarter of a game, they had scored more goals than in any full game since July's trip to Fulham for a match they lost.
Cardiff offered up a couple of long-range efforts, not a bad idea with Joe Wildsmith staring into bright sunshine from beneath a cap, but only a couple. Will Vaulks's was comfortable thanks to a deflection and whilst Flint's took two attempts to gather up, there was no one in the goalkeeper's face as he did.
Other than that, there were just plenty of rugged set pieces – long throw-ins and corners – with occasional fruitless penalty appeals in the inevitable melee's which followed.
Wednesday's defending was as brilliant as their football at the end of the first half when Lees, who had shrugged off injury to keep his place in the back three, produced a fantastic header to put a Tom Sang cross well behind him and away from danger.
Cardiff came out unchanged in terms of personnel but sharper in performance in the second half, but the Owls stood firm before adding to their tally.
With former Barnsley striker Kieffer Moore poised to score, Palmer cleared off the line and his side broke from the corner, Bannan playing a gorgeous reverse pass to Paterson, who crossed for Rhodes to score his seventh goal of the season.
When Wednesday somehow threw enough bodies in the way of a goalmouth scramble two minutes later, Cardiff have known they were never going to score. Harry Wilson would hit the post with five minutes to go and even after that Bannan was throwing himself in the way of shots.
The goalscoring was not done, though, Reach showing great skill to play Windass in on the left and the stamina and desire to get onto the six-yard box for the ball cleverly played back in for his fifth goal.
It was the crowning moment of a performance which really was incredible.
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith; Urhoghide, Lees, Borner; Palmer, Bannan (Shaw 90), Hutchinson (Pelupessy 82), Paterson, Reach; Windass (Green 82), Rhodes (Kachunga 82).
Unused substitutes: Westwood, Brennan, Hunt, Brown, Harris.
Cardiff City: Phillips; Sang, Nelson, Flint, Brown, Ralls; Pack, Vaulks; Bacuna (Ojo 72), Williams (Wilson 72); Moore(Watters 72).
Unused substitutes: M Harris, Hoilett, Ng, Colwill.
Referee: D Webb (County Durham).
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