Liam Hoden: Whatever happens, what a ride this has been for Sheffield Wednesday

Carlos Carvalhal and owner Dejphon Chansiri
Carlos Carvalhal and owner Dejphon Chansiri
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Whatever happens on Saturday, this has been a truly incredible season for Sheffield Wednesday.

Their mere presence at Wembley Stadium this weekend is testament to that.

It was a year that was meant to be about progress, about building towards something special in time for next year's 150th club anniversary.

Who could have foreseen that the progress would come at such a remarkable rate that, at the end of year one, Wednesday would stand one game away from the Premier League?

And who, at this point, would have thought that a year ago, there were more than a few doubts over whether the club would indeed be heading in the right direction?

Dejphon Chansiri promised progress and teased a promotion push within two years. But there was no telling what the methods of a self-confessed football novice would be.

Eyebrows were raised when Stuart Gray was pushed and Carlos Carvalhal arrived - a total unknown in British football. It seemed to be a threat of a Leeds-like scenario.

But - the odd ticket price furore aside - decisions and actions have been sensible and progressive.

Plenty of money has been spent, plenty of players have come through the door. But recruitment has been wise and Carvalhal has been allowed to shape the team in his image.

When Milan Mandaric said he felt he had left the club in good hands, he was not merely paying lip service. He will no doubt have a huge smile on his face at kick off time on Saturday.

Owls head coach Carlos Carvalhal

Owls head coach Carlos Carvalhal

And so will the 30-odd thousand Wednesdayites in Wembley and tens of thousands elsewhere.

Pessimism towards their side's prospects became the modus operandi of Wednesdayites - and who could blame them.

Wednesday have been out of the top flight for 16 years. And it has taken 16 long years for them to mount even a single solitary challenge for a return.

Cardiff '05 and the incredible Mind The Gap promotion win in 2012 were rare highs in a decade and a half of stagnation and far too many backward steps for a club of the Owls' size.

The talismanic Fernando Forestieri

The talismanic Fernando Forestieri

The pair of promotion wins were met with elation but the majority feeling was one of relief that the Owls had wrestled their way out of a division they should not have dropped in to.

There have been notable management figures to be thankful towards - Messrs Sturrock, Laws, Megson, Jones and Gray. But the final step, for a catalogue of reasons, was always beyond these men.

In the last 16 years, the pair of promotions helped to shift some of the gloom that had descended over the club. But they were not the promotions Wednesdayites truly wanted. And until this year, it never looked like coming.

There have been so many false dawns that supporters stopped believing daylight would ever come. The ill-fated regimes of Dave Allen and Lee Strafford plus the best forgotten brushes with the likes of Geoff Sheard, Club 9 Sports and Hafiz Mammadov ensured any sight of brighter days was short lived. And it became apparent that Mandaric - while the undoubted saviour of a proud club - could only provide stability in an increasingly competitive Championship.

Chansiri put his considerable money where his mouth was from the start and delivered such a swift return that it has been difficult to comprehend.

Wednesday now have the best collection of players since Premier League relegation. And the likes of Barry Bannan and Fernando Forestieri are at the very least at the level of the best post-2000 signings such as Glenn Whelan and Chris Brunt, in terms of their influence on the club.

Owls players celebrate a Gary Hooper goal

Owls players celebrate a Gary Hooper goal

And the football isn't half bad either. Carvalhal's gift to the club has been a breathless, thrilling style of play that just so happens to deliver the desired results.

Regardless of who is left celebrating at the final whistle on Saturday night, this season has been a success for Wednesday.

This brilliant season has delivered a one-shot chance - and a really good chance - of getting back to the big time sooner than anyone expected.

It is not the be all, end all. Real progress has been made at the club, and will continue to be made regardless of the result this weekend.

Most important of all, Wednesdayites are believing again. It's been a long, long 16 years but now there is genuine hope that - guided by Chansiri and Carvalhal - the Premier League is back within touching distance.

Whatever happens on Saturday, remember one thing: Sheffield Wednesday - they're on their way back.

Delighted Sheffield Wednesday fans at Brighton

Delighted Sheffield Wednesday fans at Brighton