Yet another Carlos Carvalhal tactical masterclass took the Owls a step closer to Wembley.
The first leg of their two-legged play-off semi-final with Huddersfield Town was a tedious, uneventful Yorkshire derby.
It was a cagey, nervy affair, but Wednesday are in the driving seat after recording their seventh successive clean sheet at the John Smith’s Stadium.
Forget parking the team bus in front of goal. The Owls parked two.
As an attacking unit, Carvalhal’s side lacked creativity and struggled to retain possession. They failed to register a single shot on target.
But Wednesday’s compact, well-organised comfortably tamed the Terriers. It was a dogged, professional, efficient team performance.
Tom Lees and Glenn Loovens were magnificent at the heart of their rearguard, heading and kicking everything away to safety. Loovens had only one lapse in concentration all afternoon but Izzy Brown was unable to punish him midway through the first half, clipping the crossbar with a right foot drive.
The Owls’ two banks of four maintained their shape and discipline superbly as Carvalhal stretched his unbeaten record against Huddersfield to five matches, conceding only one goal.
“We had to work hard to keep a clean sheet,” said Lees. “We would have liked a bit more possession ourselves and been better on the ball but didn’t get that side of our game going.
“We dug in and kept a clean sheet.
“It is going to be tight. It is always going to be fine margins. We just have to get ready for Wednesday now.”
The tie, of course, remains finely-poised. It is only half-time, but the Owls are in a healthy position.
Huddersfield, who finished level on 81 points, with Carvalhal’s side taking fourth place on goal difference. dominated possession and territory.
Despite their patchy form heading into the end-of-season shootout, the Terriers raised their game in front of a vociferous crowd. Some of their approach play was pleasing on the eye and the tireless Jonathan Hogg excelled in the centre of midfield.
“We didn’t come here to defend,” insisted Lees. “You have to give credit to Huddersfield.
“They implemented their plan and forced us back. We now have to do the same in the next game.
“When you are at home, you want to take the game to the opposition and at some point you are going to have to go and win the tie.”
Aaron Mooy, the Terriers main man, drilled a low left foot off target early on following good work out wide by leading scorer Elias Kachunga, who returned after a four-match absence due to a calf injury.
However, the hosts lacked a cutting edge in the final third.
Wednesday executed their game plan to perfection, restricting Huddersfield to few opportunities.
“We can’t deny how good a side they are and they have been in this position for two years on the spin now and they are a tough side to break down,” said Huddersfield striker Nahki Wells. “I think any side who come up against them would find it tough to score against them.”
Brown had probably the best chance of the contest. The Owls failed to clear Chris Lowe’s deflected cross and the ball dropped invitingly to the forward, who spent time on loan at Rotherham United earlier this season, but he clipped an off-balance shot against the crossbar.
Wednesday gave the ball away at regular intervals, especially in the opening 45 minutes, and lacked a creative spark.
Fernando Forestieri, making his first start in over two months, made little impact and cut a frustrated, isolated figure. It didn’t help Forestieri, the scourge of Huddersfield in recent years, or his strike partner Steven Fletcher that the service into them was largely poor. Huddersfield’s defence shackled them well.
The Owls showed marginally more attacking intent after the break, with Adam Reach and Barry Bannan’s left foot piledrivers going narrowly wide.
Nonetheless, Huddersfield had the better of things and Wells’ delicate lob was tipped over the bar by Keiren Westwood. Wells was thwarted again by the reflexes of Westwood in the 72nd minute after the ball fortuitously broke to him.
Wells said: “It was one of the best saves. He made himself big and it was his arm or shoulder and went over the bar. I thought it was an unbelievable save and he has done his job.”
All to play for
It wasn’t pretty from Wednesday. It was a battling, workmanlike display as they racked up a 17th clean sheet. Huddersfield, operating on one of the division’s lowest budgets, huffed and puffed but lacked the quality and firepower to break them down. It is easy to see why 22 of their 25 victories in the regular league campaign came by a single-goal margin.
Full-back Jack Hunt said: “We know they like to use the ball very well. Huddersfield had a lot of possession but we limited them to few chances. They had half chances apart from maybe the one in the first half.
“We stuck to our game plan and nullified them.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t use the ball today as well as we can and that is probably the most frustrating thing for us.
“But if you had offered us one game at the start of the season to get to the Play-Off Final at home in front of our crowd, I think most of the lads would have taken it.”
Huddersfield failed to make home advantage count and you get the feeling the Owls won’t be as generous on Wednesday night in the return leg.