THE gut-wrenching pain of losing a play-off final at Wembley has lingered throughout the close season for Sheffield Wednesday’s players.
And you sense that the wounds will only fully heal for Sam Hutchinson and his Owls team-mates by achieving promotion next year.
On a shattering late May afternoon at Wembley, 40,000 raucous Wednesdayites sang themselves hoarse, but were left choked at the final whistle following a 1-0 loss to Yorkshire rivals Hull City in the Championship play-off final.
It was scant consolation that the Owls had overachieved by reaching the final, which put them back on the football map in a breakthrough season.
Certainly not at the final whistle on May 28 when a number of crestfallen Owls players lay prostrate on the Wembley deck while Hull’s players enjoyed an impromptu party.
Time has aided Wednesday’s recuperation and they at least begin the new season with considerable momentum and a feel-good factor after a year when thousands of Wednesdayites proudly showcased the fact that the club were ‘on our way back’.
But the hurt of that Wembley day is never far from the surface and while the focus is very much on the here and now ahead of the Owls’ attractive home opener with Aston Villa, memories of the pain sustained in the capital are still in the players’ memory banks.
Expect them to be used as a motivational tool at critical junctures in the new season.
Hutchinson said: “It hurt and it hurt everyone and you do not want to have that again.
“Fingers crossed, we get our own way, and what everyone wants at Wednesday, and go up automatic.
“But if it did happen again and we get into the play-offs, we know what we have got to do.
“It is in the back of our minds and we try to forget about it. Going into a new season, you need to keep afresh or else you have a hangover going into it. But we will use it at certain times of the season.”
This season’s Championship make-up has an imposing look with big-city clubs Newcastle United and Aston Villa both representing marquee additions to the most competitive league in the world.
The addition of Norwich, allied to the presence of three aspiring sides with bonafide promotion ambitions in Wednesday, Derby and Brighton, has added to the teak-tough nature of the division and Hutchinson acknowledges that the league is an even stronger proposition than last season.
Wednesday will certainly be able to vouch for that after a substantial opening week to the season that sees them start off with a home game with Villa followed by a trip to Carrow Road to face Norwich for their first away league appointment of 2016-17.
But Hutchinson, for one, is not bemoaning the tough opener and he believes that tomorrow’s blue riband game with Villa is the perfect opener for the Owls, whose recuperation following Wembley would be greatly aided by a handsome result against the Midlands club, who will be backed by a 4,500 travelling army in the West Stand.
He said: “Without a shadow of a doubt, it is a great test for us at the start of the season, at home in front of our fans with a big team coming here with a good away support.
“I don’t think it could have got any better really apart from Newcastle.
“I think Villa are going to be right at it and I don’t think that they will be anything like last year and will have a right go.
“It is going to be blood and thunder for the first 20 minutes and it will be about who manages to get the upper hand.”
On what he expects from this year’s league, he added: “It will probably be harder. But it is hard for anyone because of the amount of games you play and the frequency you play them at.
“You just have to get on with it and we all prepared at this level and went through it all last year together. We take positives from that and go again this year.
“We are contenders. But we will just go week-by-week and see how we go. It is a difficult league and with the influx of money into it, there are teams who are having a right go.
“You never know what it can bring; it is a hard season and a slog and fingers crossed, we are at the top again.”
Hutchinson is likely to go back to the future this season and revert to the position in which he has played for the vast majority of his career, centre-back.
While happy to do his bit policing the area in front of the back four, it is in defence where the 27-year-old is most at home and he believes that the move back should prove a seamless one.
He added: “It has not been hard as that was my career (position).
“It was probably harder adjusting to playing in midfield every week because obviously I am a defender at heart and thoroughly enjoy doing it.”
After being afflicted by glandular fever for a spell in the second half of last season, Hutchinson is thankfully over his ailment, which left him feeling drained for spells earlier in the new year.
The former Chelsea utility player is the first to admit that it represented a bit of a worry for a time.
He added: “It was horrible. I just had no energy and when I was with the doctors and physios, I had to be very careful when I wanted to get back and the doctor didn’t want me to get back so soon.
“It affected me for three or four months and still affected me in the play-off final.
“I still didn’t feel very well and wasn’t really training as much. But it was just one of those things and I was just unlucky.
“Thankfully, I am fine now and fully fit.”