Sheffield Wednesday keep their cool, now Sunderland and play-offs await

A CROWD of 33,394 were in attendance at Hillsborough on Saturday. The calmest person in the building was Darren Moore.

In his poem If, Rudyard Kipling spoke about the importance of individuals keeping their heads when others are losing theirs.

The Sheffield Wednesday manager has done that and has never gone off-piste even during the Owls’ hairier moments in 2021-22.

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It is a big reason why he is the person to take a grand old club forward. Regardless of what happens on Friday night and next Monday evening – and possibly in 19 days time in what has proved to be a remarkable season at the top end of League One.

Owls' Jordan Storey celebrates his goal with Saido Berahino. Pictures: Steve Ellis

Against Portsmouth, his players crucially kept their cool as well following a spot of early adversity. It is the sort of thing that really pleases Moore.

It might just serve as useful preparation ahead of their play-off tie against Sunderland which has the potential to be ultra-tight and go all the way.

Expect Moore to remain steadfastly on-message. When he was conducting his post-match press conference by the side of the pitch, one joyous Wednesdayite, suitably refreshed and clearly in a party mood, belted out a loud song in homage to striker Lee Gregory.

It did not disrupt the flow of Moore, who rarely gets flustered.

Injury worry for Owls skipper Barry Bannan. Picture: Steve Ellis

It was an occasion which showed Hillsborough in all its finery. Owls supporters came for a party; those in blue and white jerseys on the pitch were there for business.

That said, things could have gone wrong and been a whole lot different. Cast in the role of pantomime villain, George Hirst’s fourth-minute opener hinted at another of those gut-wrenching final day games at Hillsborough – think Crystal Palace in 2010 and for those with longer memories, Nottingham Forest in 1990.

Wednesday’s response was proper, emphatic and reassuring. Their big players turned up.

A former electrician, Lee Gregory sparked the hosts into life with a quality equaliser – his eighth goal in eight matches.

Jubilant Owls scorer George Byers. Picture: Steve Ellis

Saido Berahino needed to deliver in a big game and duly did, while Barry Bannan conducted the orchestra. His injury scare late on when he came off in discomfort was the only downer on a day which followed the script, apart from former striker Hirst’s unwanted early intervention.

Although his goal was probably something that many seasoned Owls fans inwardly expected.

Others stepped up too, none more so than George Byers, against a club where he previously spent a frustrating loan spell. He set up the Owls’ killer third goal and then added their fourth before the end in front of the Kop. Not a bad day’s work.

The midfielder said: “It was the best atmosphere I have played in by a mile. Unbelievable, incredible, I loved it.

Owls scorer Lee Gregory. Picture: Steve Ellis

“I have played in Swansea v Cardiff games, but this was something else. The atmosphere was electric and even when we went 1-0 down, the fans stayed with us.

“We were always confident we could win the game. The team talk was ‘it’s just another game’. The manager was right.

“We all knew how big the game was, but it was about staying focused and relaxed and concentrating on what we were good at.

“It is always nice to score, no matter who it is against, but I have no grudge against Portsmouth. I had a sticky time there, but times like that only help you.”

A nervy start culminated in Hirst’s opener in front of the Kop after Ronan Curtis did well to reach a pass from Conor Ogilvie and cut the ball back to the lurking striker who silenced most of the bumper crowd.

Against a form side who had dispatched Wigan and Rotherham of late, it was concerning, but order was soon restored.

Gregory started and finished off a quality move, deftly turning home an inch-perfect low cross from Marvin Johnson. He recently said that this season has been his most enjoyable one for a good while and moments like his equaliser showed just why.

The striker then tested the reactions of Pompey keeper Gavin Bazunu with a thumping half-volley, with the loanee forced into further significant work to turn over Bannan’s rising shot.

With defenders in front of him becoming negligent, Bazunu was left exposed before the break.

Pandemonium ensued from a Bannan corner before Berahino showed admirable composure to finish tidily from close range and Byers soon picked the pocket of Louis Thompson to set up Jordan Storey for a chance he could hardly miss to make it 3-1.

The second half was about game management for the hosts, although Pompey didn’t roll over.

Substitute Aiden O’Brien hit the post soon after coming on, while Bailey Peacock-Farrell produced a stunning save to claw out Sean Raggett’s header and then do well to thwart Hirst.

The gloss came when Byers glanced home Josh Windass’s corner.

Wednesday did not just book their play-off place; they also made a bit of a statement.

Although you probably won’t catch Moore saying that.