It was painful end to a rollercoaster campaign for Sheffield Wednesday.
Ultimately, the Owls came up short in the Championship play-offs for the second year running, losing out to Huddersfield Town in the semi-finals in a penalty shoot-out.
It will take time, as Wednesday chairman Dejphon Chansiri recently pointed out, for the wounds to heal. He publicly expressed his desire for the Hillsborough club to secure promotion in time for their 150th anniversary this year.
But boss Carlos Carvalhal can be rightly proud of his record, having guided the Owls to back-to-back play-offs. He has transformed Wednesday from midtable also-rans to genuine promotion candidates.
Their performances were unconvincing at times. Wednesday adjusted their style of play to combat opponents’ defensive tactics, preferring a more pragamatic approach. It was not always pretty but mightily effective.
There have been a fair share of highs and lows. Here are six key moments in a topsy-turvy 10 months.
1) SLUGGISH START
After their heartbreaking Wembley defeat, Wednesday wanted a fast start to put that disappointment behind them. They needed to hit the ground running. They didn’t.
The Owls entered the first international break, having collected a meagre five points from their opening five fixtures.
Injuries hit them hard in defence - four players played out of position at Burton Albion - but Fernando Forestieri’s refusal to play at Norwich City brought uncessary negativity. It was, as Forestieri later admitted, “unprofessional and unacceptable” behaviour.
If anything, Forestieri tried too hard in the opening months to make amends for his error of judgement. Like the side, he struggled for consistency.
2) COMEBACK SPECIALISTS
The Owls found their mojo in September, with Carvalhal nominated for the Manager of the Month award after engineering four wins from their five outings.
Bringing in David Jones, Adam Reach and Steven Fletcher increased the competition for places in midfield and up front. Carvalhal succeeded in making his side more efficient and difficult to break down. There were occasions where you could question their creativity and quality in possession, but it was hard to fault Wednesday’s spirit. The Owls produced three phenomenal fightbacks in a row at Hillsborough, beating Wigan Athletic, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest to move steadily back up the table. Kieran Lee was inspirational in the centre and continued his happy knack of finding the net in vital matches.
3) POSITIONAL CHANGE
Wednesday’s improved form over the festive period coincided with Sam Hutchinson moving back into midfield. He was switched from centre-half to midfield at Fulham.
Hutchinson’s aggression and energy helped give the Owls greater control. He put in man-of-the-match performances against Barnsley and Newcastle United. Injuries have dogged the former Chelsea youngster throughout his career but he has largely stayed out of the treatment room this term, enjoying the best season of his career.
4) BIG SIGNING
Following a hit-and-miss January, the Owls beefed up their forward line, capturing long-time target Jordan Rhodes.
The 27-year-old made an instant impact, providing the assist for Ross Wallace’s match-winning strike at Wigan Athletic.
Rhodes grabbed three goals in his seven Wednesday appearances, including a brace in their impressive home victory over Norwich City.
However, a stuttering run in March threatened to cost them a top-six spot.
Carvalhal was sent to the stands at Aston Villa and things didn’t look too clever after Reading’s smash-and-grab raid at S6.
5) STRONG FINISH
The pressure was mounting on Wednesday heading into April. Carvalhal’s men urgently needed to hit top form - and the team didn’t disappoint.
The Owls enjoyed their finest winning streak in the league in 24 years to book a top-six finish with a match to spare. Gary Hooper proved to be the catalyst for the stunning turnaround in their fortunes. He was influential in the number 10 position and scored a crucial goal against Derby County.
Hooper is the “fish” in Wednesday’s squad, playing a big part in them bettering last season’s points tally.
6) MORE PLAY-OFF WOE
The Owls were quietly confident of seeing off Huddersfield Town in the play-off semi-finals and sealing a return trip to Wembley. Wednesday finished the regular season with momentum whereas the Terriers limped over the line.
In the first leg, Carvalhal’s charges put in a defensive masterclass to keep Huddersfield at bay. The clean sheet was the big positive. The negative was the Owls’ inability to retain possession and create chances. Hooper was a big loss in the tie.
Wednesday fancied their chances of completing the job in the return leg and Fletcher’s second-half opener had Hillsborough bouncing.
But rather than push for a second, the Owls sat back, invited pressure and the Terriers forced extra time. The rest is history.