The Warmdown: Owls put on a show in front of a packed-out
Hillsborough with a playoff-sealing win over Pompey
Photo by Will Matthews/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Sheffield Wednesday confirmed their place in the League One play-offs with a 4-1 victory over Portsmouth at Hillsborough Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

A full house in S6 experienced a day to remember as Darren Moore’s side came from behind to win comfortably as the league season came to its conclusion.

Here are some takeaways from the fixture.

Wednesday’s fighting spirit

As shown in midweek – a 3-2 victory over Fleetwood Townthe Owls were forced to work hard and come from behind to win this game.

George Hirst, who left his boyhood club on bad terms in 2018 following a contract standoff, threatened to be the party-pooper to Wednesday’s afternoon as he slotted home from Ronan Curtis’ cutback a mere four minutes into the fixture.

Hirst temporarily silenced the crowd, but the Owls’ support was influential, and it helped Wednesday to stabilise and go again with the mentality of ‘it’ll come’.

For the next ten minutes, Wednesday pressed forward but there was still something missing, they managed to get a few stray passes and crosses that failed to beat the first man out of their system before equalising on 17 minutes.

Marvin Johnson drilled a ball into the centre where Lee Gregory – more on him later – prodded the ball past Gavin Bazunu which was met with an immense roar from the home percentage of the 33,000 in attendance.

The confidence returned to Wednesday and so did their determination and fluidity in phases.

Saido Berahino managed to squeeze his side into the lead following a scramble created from a corner before Jordan Storey tapped home from George Byers’ set-up to give Wednesday a commanding advantage at the break.

The second period saw little sign that Portsmouth would replicate a comeback like their one in midweek – recovering a two-goal deficit to beat Champions elect Wigan Athletic – and they confirmed all three points with a late header from Byers to cement fourth place.

This resolve from Wednesday is something that has been built slowly over the season by Moore, who has changed the atmosphere around the club and fanbase for the greater good after years of seemingly ‘giving up’ after going behind in fixtures.

Man-of-the-match display from George Byers

Byers put in a virtuoso performance on Saturday afternoon in the midfield trio of the 25-year-old, Barry Bannan, and Massimo Luongo.

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Both Byers and Bannan were particularly exceptional in the way they won possession back and pressed in the central third with their shuttling runs and covering.

His defensive numbers saw him make four tackles and five interceptions.

He also contributed to the forward phase, providing Storey with a simple tap in after getting the better of Joe Morrell on the right, and also getting on the scoresheet with a beautiful header from Josh Windass’ out-swinging corner.

It is the way that Byers has evolved himself into a box-to-box, ‘advanced eight’ over this season that has been the most impressive part of his campaign after knocking Lewis Wing out of the starting XI.

Owls boss Moore praised his efforts, saying: “I thought he was good today.

“I thought that when George was on loan with Portsmouth, they will have seen a completely different transformation from him in terms of his performance this afternoon.

“I thought he worked hard for the team; his distances between the lines were good and he used the ball very, very well.

“He had a chance in the second half with the cutback but the ‘keeper saved and he’ll be pleased that he got that header as it was a great header and he has had a wonderful afternoon.”

Hardworking Lee Gregory

“He’s our striker; he’s our number nine,” chanted Wednesday fans as he left the field on 87 minutes to a deserved standing ovation.

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Once again, the plaudits are being directed to Gregory and with good reason – we’re running out of superlatives to describe him.

It is difficult to pinpoint what type of striker he is: he can hold it up, he can poach goals, he can run in behind, he can link play, he can get up and win it aerially – he is the perfect striker.

His 16th goal of the season saw him win the flick-on from a Bailey Peacock-Farrell pump up the field and received it back from Berahino before playing it out wide to Johnson, who put the ball on a plate for him to finish.

He had further chances to bag more, but he was denied by a great save by Bazunu from a volley and he narrowly lobbed an effort just over the target in the second period.

Gregory is going to be vital in the play-offs for the Owls and goes into them full of confidence having scored eight goals in his last eight fixtures.

Up next: Sunderland AFC

Wednesday now prepare for a two-legged affair with the Black Cats, starting on Friday 6 May at the Stadium of Light before returning to South Yorkshire the following Monday.

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Their last visit was one to forget as Sunderland came away with a 5-0 victory against the Owls. But Wednesday were excellent in the reverse fixture, registering a 3-0 success at Hillsborough.

However, these fixtures came against a Sunderland side managed by then-boss Lee Johnson; this was stressed by Moore, who explained what he expects from Alex Neil’s side.

“Alex Neil has done a great job there, taking over and steadying the ship there, so it is going to be two good games,” said Moore.

“We will look at the training programme now and when we wake up tomorrow, all eyes and focus will be on the Sunderland game in looking at a training programme and schedule this week in preparation for it.

“I don’t think there is owing anyone anything because at the time when we went up there the squad were suffering from the training ground being shut down for 17 days and the squad came back and played after only three days, so we knew that we weren’t where we needed to be.

“They are under new management and have a different style of play and the concept is completely different. We just have to prepare as normal and go from there.”

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