It was deja vu for Sheffield Wednesday after once again falling short of promotion from the Championship.
The Owls were in touching distance of Premier League football last season, and went close again this term but fell to a penalty shootout defeat to local rivals Huddersfield Town in the play-off semi-final.
Over a short period of time, the Owls’ ambitious Thai owners and former Sporting Lisbon and Besiktas coach Carlos Carvalhal have transformed the club from mid-table also-rans into genuine top-of-the-table contenders.
And they didn’t disappoint, with another solid season in the upper reaches of the Championship that ultimately ended in more heartache as they lost out to Huddersfield in a tense play-off semi-final shootout.
1 A strong summer window
The Owls treated their fans to a positive summer transfer window, which saw the likes of Adam Reach, Steven Fletcher and Almen Abdi join up with Carvalhal’s squad.
But more importantly, Wednesday had kept hold of Italian hit man Fernando Forestieri, whose goals, set-pieces and overall influence on their attacking play would go on to be vital to their battle for promotion this season.
There had been serious interest in Forestieri from the Championship’s new big-fish Newcastle, but ultimately Wednesday kept hold of their talisman striker.
Relief all round.
2 Slow out the starting blocks
Wednesday only lost two home games in the Championship last season, but Carvalhal’s side had already equalled that record by October.
Having started the season with a nervous win against newly-relegated Aston Villa, the Owls picked up just four points from their opening four league games, and lost to bitter rivals Leeds at Hillsborough.
What’s more, they suffered EFL Cup humiliation at the hands of League Two minnows Cambridge United in the first round.
This was not the start they’d had in mind.
3 Leading from the front
But they upped their game, winning four out of five games in September that saw them rise steadily back up the table.
After 11 games, Carvalhal’s side were sat ninth having suffered further defeats against Birmingham and Brighton.
Forestieri was leading the scoring charts, but Fletcher, with his Premier League experience at Wolves and Sunderland (not to mention his brief stint at Marseille) gave the Owls the necessary experience when the going got tough.
Gary Hooper would also prove to be an influential member of the squad, having bagged the winner against QPR in October, but his season would go on to be dogged by a hamstring injury.
4 Festive cheer
The festive period is infamously difficult for club’s in England, but Wednesday negotiated the fixture-congestion by losing only once between the end of November and the beginning of the new year.
A three wins on the bounce at the end of December provided a particularly jovial atmosphere for the Hillsborough faithful, with their Boxing Day win over table-toppers Newcastle at St James’ Park the Owl’s undoubted moment of the season in terms of performance.
5 Savvy signings and New Year momentum
Things only got better, with four wins in February blotted only by another loss against Leeds.
But a 5-1 thrashing of Norwich gave the Owls a useful five point gap over play-off chasing Fulham below them.
What’s more, Carvalhal’s January signings proved to be among his most savvy, with Championship goal-scoring expert Jordan Rhodes arriving on loan from Middlesbrough along with Callum McManaman from West Brom.
6 End of season push
The thrashing of Norwich was followed by a nail-biting slump, which saw defeats against Villa and Reading coupled with a draw away to Barnsley.
Fulham’s rise saw Carvalhal’s side drop out of the play-off places, but another turn around in fortunes saw Wednesday win their next six games to secure their place in the top six, with
Wednesday finally confirming their place in the Championship play-offs with victory at Ipswich.
Cue a collective sigh of relief.
7 More end of season misery
Despite their fine run towards the end of the season, the Owls once again fell short of their promotion dream.
Having reached the play-offs, optimism was rife around Hillsborough as Wednesday drew Huddersfield over the two legs of the semi-final.
After playing out a nervy 0-0 at the Kirklees Stadium, Carvalhal’s charges went ahead in the second-half of the second leg through Steven Fletcher, only to see the Terriers level through an unfortunate Tom Lees own-goal.
With nothing to separate the sides after 90 minutes, and two halves of extra-time, the place in the Championship play-off final went down to penalties.
Sam Hutchinson missed the Owls’ opening spot kick, but Huddersfield’s fifth kick was saved by Keiren Westwood who restored hope for his side.
But in sudden death, it was the hero of the season Forestieri who saw his penalty saved.
So close yet again, but it’s another season stuck in the second-tier for Wednesday.