Results before kick off not only sent them bottom of the Championship but extended the gap to safety. A team whose manager, Darren Moore, was at home with Covid-19 could easily have shrunk from what was looking an increasingly hopeless task.
Assistant manager Jamie Smith, deputising for Moore, might have said at full-time he knew his players were capable of this but surely no one else saw Wednesday’s biggest victory since beating Leeds United in January 2014 coming.
A 5-0 victory over Cardiff City put them level on points with Rotherham United, who suffered a crushing disappointment at home to Wycombe Wanderers. The Owls are six points from safety with seven games to do something about it.
The pressure has been cranked up on Birmingham City, who travel to Brentford tonight, because the Championship’s lowest scorers at kick-off did more than just win. The manner of it was such a big injection of confidence they were in danger of overdosing, the skill of their attacking matched by the hunger of their defending.
Inevitably 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.
“We knew a performance like that was in them, it’s just bringing it out more often,” said Smith, playing it cool.
“It’s no surprise to us because we see that quality regularly in training. It’s just about the players believing in themselves.”
The intent was there from the opening seconds, Borner overlapping outside wing-back Reach almost immediately.
Within five minutes the Owls had won a second corner and Bannan’s delivery was perfect, met with a brilliant header by Borner to put it inside the far post.
Windass showed brilliant feet in the 15th minute and allowed Bannan to thread a wonderful pass to Rhodes, whose shot was blocked. Palmer 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.
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 Aden Flint’s took two attempts to gather, 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. 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 the second half, yet 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, the immense Bannan playing a gorgeous reverse pass to Paterson, who crossed for Rhodes to register his seventh goal this season.
As Wednesday somehow got 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.
Cardiff manager Mick McCarthy, never known for getting carried away, could only acknowledge the brilliance his side ran into.
“The second goal was an amazing goal and I almost had to applaud it myself,” he said.
“Even though it made me feel sick.”
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).
Support The Yorkshire Post and become a subscriber today. Your subscription will help us to continue to bring quality news to the people of Yorkshire. In return, you’ll see fewer ads on site, get free access to our app and receive exclusive members-only offers. Click HERE to subscribe.