They valiantly tried to add another ‘giant-killing’ to their collection.
But Sheffield Wednesday’s extraordinary Capital One Cup run came to an abrupt end at the Britannia Stadium. There was to be no third Premier League scalp for the Owls as Carlos Carvalhal’s men lost to an accomplished and well-drilled Stoke City side.
Goals either side of half-time by Ibrahim Afellay and Phil Bardsley condemned Wednesday to their second defeat in 15 matches. Although they missed out on reaching the semi-finals for the first time since 2002, Wednesday left knowing they, on occasions, rattled the Potters.
Dumping out Newcastle United and Arsenal in the earlier rounds gave the Owls cause for optimism. It is a tournament which has given them so many happy memories this year but it just wasn’t their night.
They missed Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri’s creativity and found it difficult to keep Stoke’s flair players at bay.
To make matters worse, defenders Tom Lees, Glenn Loovens and Jack Hunt all were taken off, meaning Wednesday finished up with a patched backline consisting from right to left of Modou Sougou, Sam Hutchinson, Daniel Pudil and Rhoys Wiggins.
As is Carvalhal’s way, he rotated his squad for the cup competitions, making seven changes to his starting line-up. Joe Wildsmith, Jack Hunt, Ross Wallace, Sam Hutchinson, Lucas Joao and Gary Hooper all returned while Wiggins was handed a surprise recall at left-back following a seven-match absence.
Out dropped Keiren Westwood, Liam Palmer, Daniel Pudil, Jose Semedo, Jeremy Helan, Atdhe Nuhiu and Forestieri, who was ineligible having played in the tournament for Watford earlier this season.
Stoke, managed by Mark Hughes, who lifted the League Cup three times as a player, fielded a strong side, recalling Dutch international Marco Van Ginkel and giant striker Peter Crouch. Owls old boy Glenn Whelan was named on the substitutes bench while influential centre-back Ryan Shawcross missed out through suspension.
Stoke enjoyed the bulk of the possession early on as the visitors struggled to settle. The hosts created the first meaningful opportunity, with skipper Jonathan Walters latching on to Glen Johnson’s lovely through ball but his low drive was comfortably gathered by Wildsmith.
It then took a brave block by Tom Lees to prevent Afellay from testing the reflexes of Wildsmith again as the Owls kept cheaply giving the ball away.
There was then a promising moment for the hosts in the 18th minute when Joao sent Kieran Lee scampering down the right flank. The midfielder whipped in a teasing cross but Hooper fluffed his lines and the chance went begging.
At the other end, Wednesday continued to live dangerously, with Marko Arnautovic curling a free kick over from distance following a clumsy challenge by Hutchinson on Joselu, who replaced the injured Crouch.
Van Ginkel, on loan from Chelsea, tried his luck from distance only to be denied by the agility of Wildsmith.
But Stoke’s pressure and superior quality paid off on the half hour mark when Afellay smashed in his first goal for the club after great play by Joselu. It was nothing more than they deserved and Carvalhal’s troops paid the price for switching off.
Wednesday’s misery was compounded when Lees, an ever present this year, trudged off after picking up an injury. They had to wait over five minutes to bring on Daniel Pudil as a replacement.
So much of the Potters joy kept came down the left wing. Full-back Erik Pieters bombed forward at every available opportunity to offer support to Arnautovic, who troubled Hunt with his trickery and neat footwork.
Things could have got even worse for the Owls had Wildsmith not rushed quickly off his line to prevent Walters from intercepting Pudil’s poor back pass.
Chants of ‘Come on Wednesday’ echoed around the ground as the players headed into the dressing room at the interval. The 4,638 travelling fans had been given little to cheer about.
The Owls reshuffled their backline again at half-time, throwing on Lewis McGugan for Hunt. With McGugan moving into the centre, Modou Sougou switched to right-back in the re-jig.
Stoke pressed for a second and Walters should have done better after rising highest to meet Arnautovic’s corner but the Republic of Ireland striker’s header lacked the power and accuracy to trouble Wildsmith.
Against the run of play, Wednesday threatened to level things up through Hooper, whose deflected attempt looped over Jack Butland.
But the Potters always carried the greater attacking threat and Joselu, a constant menace, was brilliantly denied by the legs of Wildsmith before Sougou produced a vital block to stop Afellay from convering the follow up.
Midway through the half, Wednesday almost punished Stoke’s profligacy by grabbing an unlikely leveller when Pudil sent a rasping left foot drive inchest off target after the hosts had failed to deal with McGugan’s corner.
Bardsley, a half-time replacement for Glen Johnson, put the contest out of the Owls’ reach in the 75th minute, drilling a fierce shot past Wildsmith which went in off the post.
Wednesday kept battling McGugan’s tame effort in the closing stages pretty much summed up their evening.
The result leaves them with the league to focus on now and Carvalhal will be hoping they can pick themselves up quickly from this disappointment.
Stoke: Butland; Johnson (Bardsley HT), Wilson, Wollscheid, Pieters; Cameron, van Ginkel; Walters, Afellay, Arnautovic (Whelan 88); Crouch (Joselu 13). Substitutes: Haugaard, Adam, Shaqiri, Bojan.
Owls: Wildsmith; Hunt (McGugan HT), Lees (Pudil 38), Loovens (Nuhiu 77), Wiggins; Wallace, Lee, Hutchinson, Sougou; Hooper, Joao. Substitutes: Price, Semedo, Helan, Lopez.
Attendance: 26,779 (4,638)
Referee: Jon Moss (West Yorkshire)