Even in defeat, Owls fans left a lasting impression on the richest match in football.
Most of the 40,000 Wednesdayites who sung themselves hoarse and bounced their hearts out stayed behind after the final whistle to acknowledge their team and the winners of the Championship Play-Off final.
Cries of ‘Wednesday ‘til I die’ reverberated around Wembley. It was a defiant message.
The Owls may have lost the war on their first visit to the national stadium in 23 years, but they refused to go quietly.
From start to finish of the all-Yorkshire affair, Wednesday’s fans were truly magnificent. Their blue and white hordes packed out the West End and, in the main, they drowned out Hull’s travelling supporters in the showpiece fixture. They just never stopped singing.
“I thought their support would take them over the line,” admitted Tigers boss Steve Bruce. “The Wednesday fans were terrific.
“I didn’t have a clue what they were singing when bouncing up and down but they were brilliant.”
On the day, Wednesday had by far and away the greater noise and numbers, but Hull created the better chances and were the superior team.
Mohamed Diame’s stunning 72nd minute strike was worthy of winning any final. The Senegalese international’s curling right-footed 25-yard drive booked the Tigers instant return to the Premier League. It had to be that good to beat an inspired Keiren Westwood.
Defeat sentenced Wednesday to another season in the Championship and denied them the £170million top-flight cash windfall.
There will be no weekly trips to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and all of the other superb cathedrals of English football. There will instead be unglamorous trips to Burton Albion and Wigan Athletic.
The reality is that the Owls were uncharacteristically outplayed and outclassed on the big stage. Had it not been for Westwood’s heroics in between the sticks, Hull’s margin of victory would have been even bigger.
Perhaps it was just one match too many for this group of players. Did they just run out of steam? Given everything that was at stake, did nerves play a part?
These things happen.
It is just a pity Hull didn’t feel the full force of Wednesday’s dynamic forward line. For the Owls to have stood any chance against an experienced, disciplined, well-drilled Tigers outfit, every player needed to turn up and perform to their maximum. Too many individuals, by their own high standards, under-performed.
Carlos Carvalhal’s side could have played for another 90 minutes and still wouldn’t have scored. They lacked quality and composure in the final third.
“We played against a strong team,” said Carvalhal. “We fight, we ran, we tried to organise but today Hull were better than us and they deserved to win.”
What will really hurt Carvalhal is how the Owls lost their rhythm after a solid opening when Fernando Forestieri and Ross Wallace both had free-kicks turned away by stand-in Hull shot-stopper Eldin Jakupović.
But the Tigers, who failed to sell-out their ticket allocation, gradually took control, with Abel Hernandez’s header brilliantly cleared off the line by Kieran Lee.
It was then all about the Keiren Westwood show. He underlined his class either side of the interval, denying Hernandez, Moses Odubajo and Michael Dawson. His handling and decision-making was virtually impeccable. Westwood didn’t deserve to finish on the losing side.
It will be an absolute travesty if, on the back of that performance, if Westwood is not included in the final Republic of Ireland squad for next month’s European Championships.
Man of the match Diame struck the post from an acute angle and you could have forgiven Hull fans for fearing the worst when Andrew Robertson wasted a glorious opportunity to put them ahead following a rapid counter attack.
“I thought we’d had too many good chances, and on big occasions you can’t keep missing them,” conceded Bruce.
“When Robbo (Robertson) `knocked that one over the bar I thought ‘it’s not going to be our day’.
“But Mo produced a bit of magic for us. His quality has got us back into the Premier League. It was a wonder goal which would grace any cup final.”
Try as they might, Wednesday couldn’t break down Hull’s stubborn rearguard.
Football can be cruel at times and the disappointment was etched all over the players and fans faces at full-time. It will take everybody some time to put this disappointment behind them.
However, a below-par showing in the final shouldn’t mask what a good season Wednesday have enjoyed. The positives far outweigh the negatives. All is not lost, although it might not feel like that right now.
Wednesday surpassed all expectations by finishing sixth in the regular campaign. With a match to spare, Carvalhal’s men secured a play-off spot and came within 90 minutes of ending their 16-year top-flight exile.
There’s no disgrace in falling a little short against a side packed full of international players and top-flight know how. This was, after all, Hull’s third promotion in eight years.
Chairman Dejphon Chansiri and head coach Carvalhal have revitalised the club, bringing the feelgood factor back to S6.
This team has provided great entertainment, thrilling the spectators with their attractive, free-flowing brand of football. This team has given the club hope again.
Carvalhal said: “I’m proud of the players, the club and the fans but at the same time we are unhappy because we’ve lost the final but football is good when we dream.
“I think we had a really fantastic season and nobody expected us to finish in this position.”
Throughout Saturday’s tea-time extravaganza, the Owls supporters were in fine voice. A popular and familiar refrain from the terraces has been “We’re On Our Way Back”. The dream is over...for this year.
For this year, the dream is over. Beaten but unbowed.
But if Wednesday can pick themselves up over the summer and rebuild, there’s every chance the club could still celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2017 back in England’s top division.
Hull: Jakupovic 6; Odubajo 8, Dawson 6, Davies 7, Robertson 7; Elmohamady 6, Huddlestone 8, Livermore 7, Snodgrass 7 (Clucas 81); Diame 9 (Maguire 88), Hernandez 7 (Meyler 85). Substitutes: Kuciak, Bruce, Maloney, Akpom.
Wednesday: Westwood 9; Hunt 7, Lees 6, Loovens 7, Pudil 6 (Joao 86); Wallace 6 (Helan 63, 6), Lee 6, Hutchinson 7, (Nuhiu 76), Bannan 6; Hooper 6, Forestieri 6. Substitutes: Wildsmith, Matias, Lopez, Sasso.
Referee: Bobby Madley (West Yorkshire)