Sheffield Wednesday: Summoning the spirit of Cardiff back in 2005

Owls skipper Lee Bullen  exhausted reflects in the dressing room on the season and a job well done
Owls skipper Lee Bullen exhausted reflects in the dressing room on the season and a job well done
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Sheffield Wednesday boast an impressive unbeaten record in the play-offs.

In five matches in the end-of-season shootout, the Owls have won four and drawn one. - but no Wednesdayite will ever forget their last play-off campaign 11 years ago.

Goal....Jon Paul McGovern scores the first goal

Goal....Jon Paul McGovern scores the first goal

After seeing off Brentford in a two-legged semi-final, the Owls clinched promotion to the Championship, beating Hartlepool United 4-2 after extra time in an absorbing final at the Millennium Stadium.

Goals from Jon-Paul McGovern, Steve MacLean, Glenn Whelan and Drew Talbot helped Wednesday come from behind and send their 42,000 fans home happy.

McGovern said: “Even when Hartlepool went 2-1 up, I still believed we were going to win. I fancied us from start to finish. We didn’t panic at any stage.

“That was the best season of my career and it was great to be part of that history. I played every game, scored in the first leg of the play-off semi-final tie with Brentford and winning at Cardiff will stay with me forever.

owls skipper lee bullen lifts the trophy

owls skipper lee bullen lifts the trophy

“I still get people who come up to me and go ‘you gave us the best day of our life’. It was a privilege to play for Wednesday and they will always have a special place in my heart.”

Wednesday had limped into the top-six, winning just one of their last nine league fixtures. With a match to spare, Paul Sturrock’s men won 2-1 at Hull City to confirm their place in the play-offs. Captain Lee Bullen, now a member of the Owls’ coaching staff, said: “The Hull fixture was the defining game of the season after Paul had got us p****d the night before.

“We knew we had to get a result at Hull to try and stay in the play-offs. It was such a turbulent period. I don’t think we would have got in the play-offs had we not won that game. It was a relief for the players, Paul and his staff and the fans to get the win.

“The lads played with such a freedom afterwards and I knew we would get promoted after that fixture.”

Owls Glenn Whelan with champagne

Owls Glenn Whelan with champagne

For striker Lee Peacock, the secret behind their success was the side’s team spirit: “Normally there are different cliques in dressing rooms but we were all in it together,” he said.

“The most successful teams I’ve been at in my career are the ones who have been united.

“We weren’t all blessed with bags of talent but we worked really hard for each other to grind out results. We had a good mix. There were some lads who could affect games and do something out of the ordinary and we had some good, honest pros.

“For me, our player of the season was David Lucas. He kept us in so many games. He made some unbelievable saves. What set us aside was the togetherness, work rate and team spirit which was installed from the manager down. We all wore the shirt with pride.”

lee bullen lifts the trophy

lee bullen lifts the trophy

Sturrock, who succeeded Chris Turner at the helm in 2004, claimed the promotion was the highlight of his career.

“I played in European Cup semi-finals, UEFA Cup games and won leagues but nothing will surpass that,” he said.

“The whole day was unbelievable. The noise was incredible. When the fans sang ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’, it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck.”

There is an iconic photograph of Bullen which encapsulated the day. After leading the team to glory, the Scot celebrated the “proudest moment” of his footballing career by drinking a few beers, slumped against a wall in the changing rooms.

Bullen said: “That picture summed up everything. I was shattered and mentally drained.

“Everyone was jumping around and celebrating but Heck [Paul Heckingbottom] sat with me just having a drink and Steve Ellis took the picture. I didn’t even realise it had been taken!”

Left-back Heckingbottom led the celebrations on the journey back to South Yorkshire.

“I was drunk before I got on the team bus!” admitted Heckingbottom, the current Barnsley boss.

“We were stuck on the M4 in gridlock. I remember opening up the fire exit door on the bus and getting out and running down the motorway with the play-off final trophy!”

Bullen added: “It was chock-a-block on the motorway and Heck opened the fire exit on the bus and started dancing the conga down the middle of the motorway through a line of stationary cars with the cup!”

Hartlepool: Konstantopoulos; Nelson, Westwood, Robson, Butler (Williams 31); Barron (Craddock 61), Strachan, Porter (Daly 70); Sweeney, Boyd, Humphreys. Substitutes: Provett, Tinkler.

Sent off: Westwood (81).

Goals: Williams 47, Daly 71.

Sheffield Wednesday: Lucas; Bruce (Collins 77), Bullen, Wood, Heckingbottom; McGovern, Rocastle, Whelan, Brunt; Quinn (MacLean 77), Peacock (Talbot 77). Substitutes: Adamson, Adams.

Goals: McGovern 45, MacLean 82 pen, Whelan 94, Talbot 120.

Attendance: 59,808