"The Day of Reckoning" was the Sheffield Star's back-page headline yesterday morning, but for the Steel City's blue and white half, this had the feel of a carnival even before a ball was kicked.
There were supporters in fancy dress – the Pink Panther was spotted speaking to a BBC film crew outside Hillsborough – and beach balls bouncing around the Kop, and at the end of it all there was the inevitable pitch invasion to celebrate Sheffield Wednesday's return to the second tier of English football. That it came at the expense of neighbours Sheffield United, whom they only overtook in second place last weekend, made it all the sweeter.
Wednesday went into this game against relegated Wycombe a point clear of United and they made certain of promotion with a comfortable victory, courtesy of a goal in each half from two loan players, Michail Antonio and Nile Ranger. It was their 28th win in League One this season, equalling a club record set in 1959 when Harry Catterick led Wednesday into the top flight. Moreover, it was their 10th win in 12 undefeated matches since Dave Jones replaced Gary Megson at the helm in early March.
At the time the owner Milan Mandaric's decision to sack Megson after a derby win seemed harsh, but it has paid off and the Hillsborough crowd sang Mandaric's name at the end.
"I am pleased for the chairman because he made a big call and I am just glad that I repaid him," said Jones, who has encouraged a less direct approach than his predecessor and now has his third promotion after successes with Stockport County and Wolves.
"It is nice to come into a football club where they are not fighting relegation. They had already started 10 months ago; my job was to kick it on because they had started to slip." Jones took over a team who had won three of nine games before his arrival.
"My remit was promotion," he said. "We thought when I arrived it would have to be though the play-offs."
Instead it is Danny Wilson's United, who were held at Exeter yesterday, who will be in the play-offs, having taken only one point from games against MK Dons and Stevenage since top scorer Ched Evans' imprisonment on a rape conviction.
Hence the mood of anticipation at this famous old ground yesterday. Before dropping out of the top flight in 2000 Wednesday, four-times champions of England, had had only one five-year spell in the third tier. By contrast, they have twice dropped down there in the last decade. Yet yesterday's crowd of 38,082 – the biggest anywhere outside the Premier League this season – was a reminder of the size of a club showing signs of life once more.
It took a quarter of an hour for Wednesday to settle but after Jose Semedo had blazed a volley over when teed up by Antonio, the pressure began to build. From successive corners Wycombe's goalkeeper, Nikki Bull, twice denied the centre-back Miguel Llera but Wycombe's resistance did not last much longer. With 25 minutes played Antonio, a 21-year-old winger on loan from Reading, delivered the breakthrough. Breaking through the middle, he shrugged off a defender on his way into the box and steered in a low finish. Hillsborough was rocking and there was almost as big a roar moments later as news filtered through that Exeter had taken the lead against United.
Ranger had a goal ruled out, possibly wrongly, for offside but he scored seven minutes after the restart when heading in a Chris Lines free-kick. Now the party could start.
Chances came and went but at the final whistle the fans swarmed on to the pitch and Llera could be seen bobbing in a sea of supporters, shirtless but waving a Spanish flag. While Wilson's United face the play-offs, Jones's men can have a civic reception at Sheffield town hall this week. On Wednesday – when else?
Sheffield Wednesday (4-4-2): Bywater; Buxton, Batth, Llera, Beevers; Antonio, Lines, Semedo, Treacy (Johnson, 79); Madine, Ranger (Lowe, 88).
Wycombe Wanderers (4-4-2): Bull; McCoy, Doherty, Laing, Basey (Dunne, 14); Ainsworth, Lewis, Eastmond, Bloomfield; Beavon, McClure.
Referee Colin Webster.
Man of the match Antonio.
Match rating 6/10.
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