Thousands of Wednesdayites stayed behind long after the final whistle had been blown to revel in Fernando Forestieri’s late winner and salute their heroes.
Just as it was at Wembley three months ago, Owls fans refused to go quietly, serenading the team with chants of “To the Premier League, we’re on our way.”
The players had more than earned the supporters show of appreciation and this result will only send the expectations through the roof even further at S6.
However, nobody should get too carried away. It is only one victory and there is still the small matter of another 45 rounds to go.
But against an Aston Villa side who are armed with a huge budget, big parachute payments and who forked out £12m on a single player only a few days ago, Wednesday went toe-to-toe with them and prevailed.
There were times when the Owls rode their luck yesterday. It could have been a very different story had Tom Lees not produced an inch perfect last ditch challenge to thwart Ross McCormack after the striker had appeared to have broken clear of Wednesday’s defence in the 76th minute.
It ultimately proved a crucial moment as Forestieri coolly side-footed home with five minutes remaining following a woeful clearance by Villa debutant Pierluigi Gollini.
Given how poor Wednesday’s record was against the top sides in the division last year, it is psychologically a big win for Carvalhal’s men.
After a cagey start, Wednesday eventually found their rhythm. Sam Hutchinson’s raking 50-yard crossfield pass released Jack Hunt down the right and the full-back’s cross was scrambled behind by Villa debutant Tommy Elphick.
For all their intricate, patient play, the Owls had no clear sights at goal in the opening 45 minutes. They had the better of things but lacked penetration in the final third.
Steven Fletcher couldn’t get his overhead kick on target following an inviting delivery by Daniel Pudil and Forestieri sent his right foot curler agonisingly over the top. Carvalhal had his head in his hands. He thought Forestieri’s effort was in.
Villa lacked fluency and imagination in the final third. Their only chance fell to Jordan Ayew, who headed straight at Keiren Westwood when well-placed after a peach of a centre by Leandro Bacuna.
After the re-start, Forestieri, Wednesday’s main attacking weapon, saw his low drive blocked by Pierluigi Gollini and it appeared the pattern of the contest was not going to alter.
But Villa, playing in the second-tier for the first time since 1988, had other ideas. The visitors upped the ante and Rudy Gestede, Ashley Westwood and captain Tommy Elphick all wasted chances to put Roberto Di Matteo’s side ahead.
As he so often does, Forestieri rose to the big occasion. In front of the Sky cameras, the Argentine-born player Wednesday’s delivered the knockout blow. He pounced on a defensive mistake and his finish was coolness personified. On another day, the Owls’ little magician could have scored a few more.
“We knew it would always be difficult because Aston Villa have come from the Premier League and have very good players,” said Forestieri, who notched 15 goals in their march to the Play-Off final last season. “But we stuck to our game plan and played like a team.
“We have another chance this season to improve, keep getting better and let’s see what can happen in this Championship.
“It’s such a difficult division but we will try to do the best for the fans.”
Throughout their pre-season programme, Forestieri looked sharp, full of confidence and he took that into the main arena.
If Wednesday are to go one better this time around, it is imperative Forestieri stays out of the treatment room. As Carvalhal pointed out in his post-match press conference, he is a “special” talent and gives their forward line an unpredictable edge.
The new recruits
Carvalhal handed starts to three of his summer signings: Daniel Pudil, Almen Abdi and Steven Fletcher. Striker Fletcher, preferred to Gary Hooper in attack, caught the eye before being forced off in the 26th minute after a nasty clash of heads with Elphick. Fletcher’s head wound required 10 stitches.
Pudil slotted in seamlessly at left-back and Abdi showed some neat touches in the middle of the park, although he is not fully up to match speed.
What drove all the players on to go the extra mile was the crowd. Hillsborough was bouncing at times and the atmosphere was electric. Both sets of fans made quite a racket.
It had the feel of a heavyweight clash but the Owls didn’t disappoint despite some questionable refereeing decisions from Stephen Martin. It was far from the complete performance from Carvalhal’s men but effective. Villa put them under the cosh and they came through a stern examination of their credentials.
There’s still a long road ahead of them but the Owls are a team on the up.