Try as they might, the Owls couldn’t quite spoil Wolverhampton Wanderers’ promotion party.
But Wednesday produced a disciplined, hard-working performance to grind out a draw at the home of the Championship title-winners.
It was a battling, hard-earned point in a largely forgettable contest at a cold, drizzly Molineux.
It was a positive display and result. Another encouraging step on the road to redemption.
Jos Luhukay’s troops restricted Wolves’ much-vaunted and expensively assembled forward line to few sights at goals.
Tom Lees led by example and barely put a foot wrong at the back. The skipper was ably supported by Frederico Venancio and Daniel Pudil while Adam Reach and youngster Jordan Thorniley acquitted themselves well in the wide areas.
When Wolves occasionally pierced a gap in the visitors’ defence, they found Cameron Dawson in inspired form. His save to keep out Romain Saiss’s close-range header from Barry Douglas’s corner in the dying embers of the first half was top class. Dawson also produced two good saves to thwart the lively Diogo Jota after the restart.
“I’m happy with the result,” said Luhukay.
“It was never going to be an easy game against the best team in the division. They have a lot of individual talent. But we played well and deserved a draw.
“I think that over 90 minutes it was a good game for us. We defended well.
“We had good stability and combinations in the first half. We played good football and tried to create chances. We didn’t have a lot of chances to score but I think Wolves only had one good chance, from a header from a corner.”
It was a day of celebration for Wolves in their final home match of the campaign. Hundreds of supporters welcomed the team, who had wrapped up the title a week earlier at struggling Bolton Wanderers, outside the ground before kick-off.
The atmosphere was electric ahead of the fixture and Wolves were given a guard of honour by Wednesday. Supporters received flags and there was a pyrotechnics display ahead of the main event.
Since buying the club in 2016, Wolves owners Fosun have spent more than £50 million on transfer fees, bringing in some top talent from overseas. The likes of Ruben Neves and Atletico Madrid loanee Jota have lit up the league, helping Wolves blow away the rest of the competition.
Luhukay said: “When you stay in position number one and have so many wins it is all credit to Wolves. They have a fantastic team and it is not easy when you are the favourite for the season and every opponent gives 120 per cent to try and win.”
It was feared Nuno Espirito Santo’s team would be too strong and have too much quality for the Owls in front of a large, jubilant crowd.
And Wolves were the better team, wasting a number of chances to become only the fifth team to cross into a century of points in the second tier.
However, Wednesday put in a dogged defensive performance to record a third straight clean sheet. Everyone in the team knew their jobs and stuck to the task well to leave Wolves frustrated.
The young guns
Both Dawson and Jordan Thorniley turned in impressive performances to enhance their burgeoning reputations. Dawson, a graduate of the club’s youth system has now kept four clean sheets in his six Owls outings this term.
In truth, Dawson was not overly busy on Saturday as the defence in front of him were rock solid and put their bodies on the line.
But what little Dawson had to do he did well. His decision-making was quick and decisive.
No wonder Luhukay described Dawson as “fantastic”.
“Cammy was with a high focus and high concentration to clear the dangerous situations and we did that in the second half as a team,” said Luhukay. “It is very important for a young goalkeeper like Cammy to gain experience in a fantastic stadium with a lot of fans.
“He put in a good performance.
“It was a good challenge for Cammy and the team.”
Luhukay fielded Thorniley at left wing back and he grew in confidence and stature as the contest wore on. He was aggressive and played a key role in nullifying the threat of Helder Costa.
Dawson and Thorniley have proven they can more than hold their own at this level. The question now is whether they can consistently perform at a high level in arguably the most competitive league in Europe. Only time will tell but the pair certainly haven’t looked out of their depth in recent months.
There is still more to come
Luhukay was satisfied with the point but admits Wednesday have to improve their attacking play. Although the visitors enjoyed plenty of possession and got into several promising positions, there was no end product. Luhukay named an attack-minded side, featuring Lucas Joao, Atdhe Nuhiu and Fernando Forestieri, but Wednesday failed to register a single shot on target. They had only two efforts on goal in the entire match. The Owls lacked the guile, cutting edge and belief to break down stubborn, well-drilled opponents.
“We played very well in the first half but we didn’t have that precision with the last pass or cross,” he acknowledged.
Luhukay tweaked the shape of the team. Some observers felt it was a 5-2-3 formation. Others thought a 3-4-2-1 system. It was a fluid shape and Wednesday collectively defended superbly.
But if the Owls are to be in the promotion mix themselves next year, more quality is required in the final third.