Sheffield Wednesday set for ‘stern test’ in play-offs

DARREN MOORE’S observation that it did not matter who Sheffield Wednesday got in the League One play-offs after their 4-1 home victory over Portsmouth was certainly not a trite one.

In the event, it is Sunderland who the Owls will face in a mouth-watering semi-final with the first leg taking place on Wearside on Friday evening.

Moore’s respect for the north-easterners is as big as it is for MK Dons, Wycombe Wanderers and the team who just missed out on the top six in Plymouth Argyle, whose total of 80 points would have comfortably been enough to book a spot in the end-of-season lottery in a normal year.

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But this is not a standard season in a campaign when a side have missed out on automatic promotion with 89 points in MK.

Owls scorers George Byers and Lee Gregory celebrate infront of jubilant fans. Picture: Steve Ellis

Moore, whose side took their points total on home soil to an outstanding 53 on Saturday, said: “The first phase was to get in the top six. We are now in the play-offs and we have got two massive games coming up against Sunderland.

“They will be two great games and we are focused on them. It will be a stern test.

“It doesn’t matter who we were going to get in the play-offs. There are four teams in there who have worked incredibly hard all season. They are four teams who have amassed 80-odd points.

“It is mind-boggling to think of the relentless league schedule this season. Credit to all four teams in there.”

Owls boss Darren Moore. Picture: Steve Ellis

The degree of difficulty to call a play-off winner is heightened by the fact that all four participants are in good order. Over the last 10 League One games, the division’s four form sides are the Owls, Sunderland, Wycombe and MK. The table does not lie.

In the regular season, Wednesday hit the heights in a stellar 3-0 victory over the Black Cats at Hillsborough. In the reverse fixture, they plumbed the depths in a wretched 5-0 reverse at the Stadium of Light.

Despite those developments, most suspect that the forthcoming tie between the division’s biggest two clubs will be tight. Moore is inclined to agree.

Moore added: “We will have to be detailed. They are going to be tight games. We are in there with them and will plan and prepare.

“Alex Neil has done a great job with Sunderland. They are a good team and a big club. Both teams will go into the tie full of confidence and in good form. It will be a good game.”

Despite suffering a jolt when ex-Owls striker George Hirst – son of club legend David – put Portsmouth in front, Wednesday’s reaction was outstanding as they recorded a comprehensive victory in front of just under 33,500 fans.

The only downer was a potential injury worry for talismanic captain Barry Bannan, who came off eight minutes from time.

Wednesday will assess the Scot today, although he appeared to allay concerns with a post-match tweet.

He tweeted: “What a atmosphere today, (I) want to thank you all again; amazing love – play offs secured (such a) big performance from the boys again love this team. See you all Friday.”

A philosophical Moore commented after the game: “What’s the point in worrying now? We don’t know what’s going to happen and we might be jumping to conclusions. In a couple of days, things can settle down and we’ll be able to give you a better idea.”

On his side’s display, he said: “Massive, massive credit to the players with their strength of character to go a goal down and not lose sight of the process.

“They kept to the game plan, settled down and we could see clear pictures and the areas we wanted to exploit.

“What I have liked since the start of the season is the mindset and character, not just in the players but even in the supporters. There is a transformation happening here and continues to happen with moments like that.”