The competition is irrelevant - Joe Crann’s Sheffield Wednesday column

I said before that Sheffield Wednesday were four games from a trip to Wembley – turns out some players didn’t fancy a chance at silverware…

Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 6:00 pm

Darren Moore rang the chances for the visit of Hartlepool United, but even with those changes the Owls should have had enough to get the job done at Hillsborough. They certainly had enough – on paper – to make a game of it.

But Wednesday, who haven’t won a cup competition for 30 years, instead fell to a 3-0 defeat to a team placed 17th in League Two. Despite having three senior internationals, several former Premier League players, and a number of ex/current-youth internationals in their starting XI.

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Moore said afterwards that a couple of players were given a chance to shine after spending time on the fringes of the first team, adding that he was very disappointed that they didn’t grasp that opportunity. That feels like a bit of an understatement.

Because it didn’t even feel like Hartlepool had to knuckle down and dig deep for their win. Wednesday gifted it to them.

The Papa John’s Trophy is much-lamented. It was diluted even further when they started putting Premier League youth teams in there, and it even before that the EFL Trophy – under its various names – was hardly top of anybody’s wishlist.

But to breed a winning culture you need to be winning games. Or at least trying to.

Sheffield Wednesday were well beaten by Hartlepool United this week. (Credit: Will Matthews | MI News)

On Wednesday night it looked like the bulk of the team had no interest in winning that game of football. And regardless of what competition it might be, that’s just not acceptable.

5,000+ fans turned up at Hillsborough to watch, and countless others paid their £10 on iFollow to tune in around the world, and what they got was a group of players sauntering around a football pitch – some of whom didn’t even try to pretend that they were interested in getting a result.

Moore won’t single out players, he never has and never will, but after the defeat to the Monkey Hangers you could sense his anger. He spoke of it being ‘unacceptable’, and how it should never happen again. He spoke of standards and it being a step backwards after the progress in recent weeks.

And he’s absolutely right.

Yes, there were some square pegs in round holes. And yes, in the grand scheme of things the importance of the Papa John’s Trophy pales in comparison to promotion, but instead of Wednesday’s game being a chance for players to force their way into Moore’s plans it became a confirmation of maybe why they aren’t there in the first place.

A line needs to be drawn under it, of course. The PJT exit does undo the strides that have been made in recent weeks, and it’ll be a completely different setup when the Owls travel to Portsmouth next week.

But it does leave a sour taste. Because no matter the competition, a competitive game should be just that – competitive.

Instead Sheffield Wednesday rolled out the red carpet. And that’s unjustifiable.