Sheffield Wednesday 4 Hartlepool 2: Play off Final May 29, 2005 - How The Star reported it

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Ten years ago today, Sheffield Wednesday fans turned Cardiff into a sea of blue and white as the Owls triumphed over Hartlepool in the League 1 Play off final at the Millennium Stadium. Here’s how our man at the time, Paul Thompson reported the victory...

Forty thousand Owls fans inside the Millennium Stadium witnessed more than a fantastic victory - they also saw the rebirth of a club.

Joy and self respect are back as Sheffield Wednesday, the team who tumbled down the divisions, who always seemed to blow it on the big occasion, who put their followers through agonies in the last 10 years, now head back towards joining the big boys.

It wouldn’t be Wednesday if they didn’t do it the hard way; the loss of a lead spelled tension, a second Hartlepool goal spelled potential disaster, but in the end the fans could say to Paul Sturrock and his team, “You did us proud.”

Top-class decision-making by the manager, coupled with a formidable showing by the team meant that the Owls, with the added help of a sending off and a penalty, were too strong for Pools and deserved their glory.

Within the great tale of a promotion triumph came a series of dramas, none more remarkable than the return of Steve MacLean.

Sheffield Wednesday celebrate their 4-2 win over Hartlepool in the Coca-Cola League One play-off final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Sunday May 29, 2005

Sheffield Wednesday celebrate their 4-2 win over Hartlepool in the Coca-Cola League One play-off final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Sunday May 29, 2005

It was a calculated gamble by Sturrock to put the striker on the bench after he had been out for three months with a stress fracture and had been expected to miss the rest of the season. It paid off.

It was a decisive move by Sturrock to make a triple substitution when the Owls were trailing 2-1. They had been first to settle and they forced two chances in the 13th minute; Glenn Whelen shot loosely over the top after bursting into the box, and Chris Brunt, with plenty of time, drove tentatively at the keeper.

The Owls were looking solid and well-organised at the back in the early stages but were given two scares when Joel Porter tried a lob from a decent position and sent it over the bar, and then Adam Boyd clipped a good opportunity over the top from 12 yards.

There was another worry when David Lucas needed treatment: it turned out to be only a back spasm and Wednesday were soon back on the attack and looking calm and positive.

Sheffield Wednesday's Chris Brunt and Hartlepool's Richie Humphreys

Sheffield Wednesday's Chris Brunt and Hartlepool's Richie Humphreys

A back-heel from Quinn sent McGovern clear for a pass to Brunt; the cross to the far post was spot-on but Quinn and Whelen got in each other’s way.


It was just as clear a chance when Whelen set up Peacock, who clinically made space for a strike at goal from 18 yards but put it over the top.

Wednesday deserved a goal and it finally came in the first minute of first half stoppage time. McGovern began the move out on the right. The ball was switched to Rocastle, who made a run down the inside-left channel, played a one-two with Peacock and pulled the ball back from the by-line for McGovern to get in front of his marker and smash his eighth goal of the season into the roof of the net.

Steve MacLean scores Wednesday's second goal from the penalty spot

Steve MacLean scores Wednesday's second goal from the penalty spot

Many Owls fans were still taking their seats for the second half when they were stunned by the equaliser: a Humphreys long throw clipped the top of Lee Bullen’s head and dropped at the far post where sub Effie Williams volleyed home.

A vital tackle by Bruce on Boyd in the box prevented the unthinkable - Wednesday conceding a second goal almost straight away.

Hartlepool inevitably derived inspiration from the goal.

A near post header by Richard Wood past the angle from a McGovern corner was a bit of respite for Wednesday in the middle of a lively spell by Pools, and Owls fans’ hearts were in their mouths again when their team opened up and Sweeney put a fair chance wide from the edge of the box.

McGovern deceived some Wednesdayites into thinking he had scored with a right-footer that was always bending wide and hit the side-netting; Brunt had them roaring again with a free-kick that whizzed past the angle.

But the Owls had lost the initiative - and they fell behind in the 61st minute. Sub Jon Daly had been on the field for only seconds when he got on the end of a free kick to power home a free header.

Wednesday urgently needed greater forward impetus and Sturrock sought it by sending on Patrick Collins, Drew Talbot and MacLean for Alex Bruce, Peacock and Quinn.

Talbot was waiting unmarked for a ball by McGovern that didn’t come; then the same combination created the incident that gave the game a dramatic twist in the 82nd minute.

Talbot challenged for a low ball by the winger and when he tried to follow in on goal he was tugged by Chris Westwood. The centre half was the last defender so it had to be a red card.

MacLean’s penalty wasn’t perfect - the keeper got a hand to it - but it didn’t matter.

In the last few minutes of normal time, Wood, Brunt and McGovern peppered the Hartlepool goal, and in the fourth minute of extra time it was a vital breakthrough when Whelen made a great run and slotted a left foot shot inside the keeper’s right-hand post.

Then the Owls played possession football to make wise use of the extra man. In MacLean with his link-up play, and Talbot, with his pace, they also had the men to cause Pools further problems.

It took a heroic tackle by Bullen on Tony Sweeney to preserve the lead, early in the second period of extra time, and inevitably there were some tired passes near the end.

But Wednesday did not waver. In the first minute of stoppage time, away went Talbot to go around the keeper and slot the ball into the empty net.

Then it was champagne, ecstasy, and almost delirium on the pitch as Wednesday celebrated promotion under Sturrock at the first attempt.


SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY: Lucas 7, Bruce 7, Bullen 7, Wood 7, Heckingbottom 7, McGovern 7, ROCASTLE 8, Whelen 8, Brunt 7, Quinn 8, Peacock 7. Substitutes: Collins 7, MacLean 7, Talbot 8.

HARTLEPOOL: Konstantopoulos 7, Barron 6, Nelson 6, Westwood 7, Robson 6, Butler 6, Strachan 7, Sweeney 7, Humphreys 7, Boyd 7, Porter 7. Substitutes: Craddock 6, Daly 7, Williams 6.


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Paul Sturrock: Promotion the highlight of my career, says ex boss