Joe Crann: Potential remedies for Sheffield Wednesday's Play-Off hangover

Four years ago getting to the Championship Play-Off final was a bonus for Sheffield Wednesday fans, the following year it became almost expected, and now – with football at a standstill – it would be seen as a bit of a miracle…

By Joe Crann
Thursday, 28th May 2020, 5:00 pm

When 40,000 Wednesdayites crammed into their allocated side of Wembley Stadium in 2016, there was an air of optimism in the Wednesday fan base. Not so much for that day, because I think we all knew how tough a task beating Hull City would be, but the ‘We’re on our way back’ chant felt like an awakening at Hillsborough. We might not be on our way back then, but it was coming.

Fast-forward 1462 days, and that optimism appears to have disappeared all but completely.

It’s tough to point out exactly what caused it, and when, but somewhere between the changing of managers, the unsuccessful signings, the individual errors and the snowballing drop in confidence, Wednesday’s early peak became a slump, and the Owls found themselves as a mid-table Championship side once more.

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People talk about a Play-Off hangover in the first games after a final or a semifinal, but I think that, in 2020, Wednesday are still suffering from a hangover stretching back about three years now.

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"I wasn't sure I'd get to watch Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley with my dad..."

Carlos Carvalhal’s second season wasn’t as exciting as his first… Wednesday didn’t look as good, things were different, but that’s to be expected when opposition no longer see you as a surprise package – all of a sudden you’re seen as a threat.

I felt for Carlos, he always came across brilliantly and I desperately wanted him to succeed, but I can only imagine how difficult it is to pick up a team from back-to-back Play-Off defeats, especially when signings that have been brought in to try and help, have just not pulled their weight.

Sheffield Wednesday stumbled at the last hurdle in 2016... (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Since the 2016 final, Wednesday have seen the likes of Almen Abdi, Jake Kean, David Jones, Callum McManaman, Will Buckley, Jacob Butterfield, Achraf Lazaar, Rolando Aarons and Josh Onomah come - on permanent deals or on loan - and leave without having made any sizeable impact at Hillsborough, while fans are still waiting to see whether big-money signings such as Jordan Rhodes and Joost van Aken can push on and show their worth.

As battles over Financial Fairplay Regulations and the sale of Hillsborough rage on, spending has all but dried up for the Owls over the last two seasons, and Garry Monk has been left with a squad that has the second-highest average age (27.8) in the Championship, but still seems lacking in the leadership department.

Failing to properly replace José Semedo and Glenn Loovens in terms of their mentality as much as their ability should be high up on Dejphon Chansiri’s list of priorities this summer, as should adding more youth, pace and hunger to a side that is in desperate need of reinvigoration.

Something that Semedo told me recently really seemed to ring true when I asked him about his and Loovens’ departure and the decline at Hillsborough since – going from finishing 6th and 4th to 15th and 12th – and I doubt I’m alone in thinking that it needs to be addressed.

Sheffield Wednesday were beaten on penalties in the 2017 Play-Off semifinals by Huddersfield Town. (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)

Semedo said, “I believe there’s a lack of leaders there now, and a lack of ambition. I think it’s a combination of both. During my time there we went some times in the season that were tough, and my advice was always that you should never go home after a game thinking that you could have done more – always give your best. The worst thing to regret is that you could’ve given more.

“Before you had five or six leaders in the team, with the ambition to win, to not just be one more football player in the club. When I signed for Wednesday I said that I can’t just be one more player. I could’ve signed for Barnsley – my sister lived there and I could’ve been closer to her – but I knew that Wednesday was exactly where I wanted to be, and I wanted to be part of something there.”

To give credit where it’s due, I personally think the signings of players such as Dominic Iorfa, Julian Börner, Massimo Luongo and Moses Odubajo are a step in the right direction, but with a lot of senior players out of contract next month, Chansiri and Monk have a lot of work to do if they’re to plug the many gaps that could be left.

The Owls weren’t contenders for promotion at all prior to the 2015/16 season, but astute signings like Barry Bannan, Gary Hooper and Fernando Forestieri turned things around – now it’s time to see whether that can be done again.

At the end of this season there could be just a handful of players left from the Wednesday squads that twice suffered the heartbreak of Play-Off defeats, and if the response to those exits is that Sheffield Wednesday grab some vitamin tablets, eat some carbs and banish this hangover once and for all, then who knows what the 2020/21 season could have in store.

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