Match report: Norwich City 2 Sheffield Wednesday 2 – Mario Vrancic’s late free-kick breaks the Owls’ hearts
As a player, Steve Bruce enjoyed plenty of good times at Carrow Road.
He made 180 appearances for Norwich City between 1984 and 1987 before earning a big-money switch to Manchester United.
But his recent managerial record at Norfolk left a lot to be desired. Bruce entered the Good Friday showdown, having lost on his last four visits to his old club.
However, Bruce's depleted Sheffield Wednesday team produced a superb, spirited performance to hold the Championship leaders in a thrilling encounter.
The Owls looked on course to claim maximum points after strikes either side of half-time from Fernando Forestieri and Steven Fletcher cancelled out after Marco Stiepermann's 19th minute opener.
But substitute Mario Vrancic broke Wednesday's hearts, curling in an exquisite free kick deep into added on time to deny the visitors maximum points and all but end their faint play-off hopes.
Football is cruel at times but the Owls can take plenty of heart from this showing. Given they lost Keiren Westwood in the warm up to injury and Sam Hutchinson also picked up a knock in the first half, this was a real battling display. Skipper Tom Lees and Michael Hector were outstanding at the back and Forestieri was a real livewire in attack.
They more than matched a side that are on the brink of securing promotion.
Wednesday, who made four changes from the team beaten by Leeds United last weekend, were forced into making a late alteration o their line-up after Westwood suffered an ankle injury in the warm up.
Cameron Dawson was drafted in goal and the academy graduate made a shaky start. He rushed out of his goal to collect a high ball from Marco Stiepermann and was penalised for deliberate handball, receiving a yellow card from referee Geoff Eltringham. The decision infuriated the home fans, who aimed 'you don't know what you are doing' chants towards Eltringham.
Dawson kept his composure admirably in the heat of the battle in front of a rowdy crowd by punching Stiepermann's ferocious free kick away.
The atmosphere was electric and Norwich continued to play their slick, attractive brand of football. Dawson produced a brilliant stop to deny Onel Hernandez when he the wide man was clean through as Daniel Farke's side pushed for the opener.
But it was not all one way traffic.
Fernando Forestieri, recalled to the attack, almost caught Tim Krul out with an ambitious long range strike. The ball bounced awkwardly in front of Krul, who unconvincingly palmed it to safety.
Steven Fletcher also had a couple of efforts blocked and flashed a header wide before George Boyd had a goal ruled out for offside after he latched on to Dominic Iorfa's neat pass.
But midfield playmaker Stiepermann gave the Canaries a 19th minute lead. He drilled a first-time effort through the legs of Sam Hutchinson and under the body of Dawson to claim his ninth goal of the campaign. Although he was partially unsighted, Dawson may feel he should have done better.
It was a breathless, pulsating encounter but Wednesday hit back through Forestieri. There looked little on when Forestieri collected the ball more than 30 yards from goal. The little maestro worked himself a yard of space before rifling an unstoppable right foot shot into the top corner.
Forestieri's 33rd minute thunderbolt was a thing of beauty and it silenced Norwich's noisy home faithful.
Yet again Bruce was forced to rejig his side after the leveller. Hutchinson went off after picking up a knock and was replaced in midfield by Joey Pelupessy.
It was impossible to fault the Owls' commitment or attitude. They played on the front foot and with energy. They soaked up Norwich's pressure and caused them problems on the counter attack in an open, entertaining affair.
Norwich came close to regaining the lead on the stroke of half-time after Max Aarons, the cousin of Wednesday loanee Rolando, latched onto Hernandez's clever backheel but Dawson was equal to the teenager's shot.
The game continued to ebb and flow after the break, with Canaries defender Ben Godfrey glancing a header wide after Boyd inadvertently flicked on Moritz Leitner’s corner.
Forestieri was a nuisance throughout. His enthusiasm and tenacity rubbed off on his teammates.
Krul showed great reflexes to turn away Forestieri venomous attempt.
The Owls' pressure paid off in the 53rd minute when Bruce's men completed a remarkable turnaround.
Forestieri whipped in a delightful cross from the left and Fletcher, sliding in at the far post, saw his initial shot saved by Krul but the ball bounced back and appeared to hit the striker's hand before trickling over the line. Norwich's complaints fell on deaf ears. If the video assistant referee system had been in operation, that may have been disallowed.
But there is a reason why Norwich are top and look destined to secure a Premier League return after a three-year absence.
Kenny McLean's bullet diving header from Aarons' pinpoint delivery in the 65th minute flew inches off target.
Fletcher and Forestieri had chances to extend Wednesday's advantage.
But Norwich, the kings of late goals this term, refused to buckle and laid seige to the visitors goal. They showed their character and quality by levelling things up with virtually the last kick of the game.
Vranic was fouled on the edge of the box by Matias and the midfielder picked himself up to curl a wonderful free kick past Dawson.
It was a heartbreaking end for Bruce's troops but they can take lots of positives and pride from the performance.
Norwich City: Krul; Aarons, Zimmermann, Godfrey, Lewis (Srbeny 84); Trybull, Leitner (Vrancic 80); McLean, Stiepermann, Hernandez (Klose 90); Pukki. Substitutes: Oxborough, Tettey, Hanley, Cantwell.
Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Iorfa, Lees, Hector, Palmer: Matias, Onomah (Bannan 67), Hutchinson (Pelupessy 33), Boyd; Forestieri (Joao 76), Fletcher. Substitutes: Fox, Winnall, Nuhiu.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (County Durham)
Star man: Fernando Forestieri