Nigel Clough’s match preparations took an unexpected twist when Mark O’Brien felt a pain in the back of his knee in the warm-up, subsequently Jake Buxton was drafted in to replace the young Irishman in the starting line-up – making his first start since recovering from a cruciate knee ligament injury in the victory Leeds United back in December.
Derby started the game brightly and looked on the front foot, particularly when Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland was forced to save an early Conor Sammon effort. Shortly after a minor chance by Kieron Lee called Adam Legzdins into brief action but that was all the Owls were going to get, after that the away side put their foothold on the game. The Rams dominated the ball, looking a threat, and the Owls looked quite the opposite – the home side lumped the ball forward but had no success with it.
Midway through the first-half, on the 23rd minute to be precise, the travelling side deservedly broke the deadlock. The goal was scored by recently capped Republic of Ireland midfielder Jeff Hendrick, who passed the ball into the feet of striker Jamie Ward for him to return the ball to the midfielder – slotting the ball home into the right hand side of the goal in front of the home support. It was a brilliant move for Derby, with Hendrick’s persistent run into the box paying off, starting with an intelligent ball out wide by Will Hughes to Craig Bryson, who was the man who initially passed the ball to Hendrick.
At this point the play was all Derby, with goalscorer Jeff Hendrick providing the Rams with a force in midfield, that knocked the ball about. It was the right football from the visitors whereas the home side couldn’t string a few passes together without hitting the ball long. Sheffield Wednesday manager Dave Jones seemed to address this, or help it due to the height of his substitute, as he brought on on-loan Sunderland striker Conor Wickham to make his debut as a replacement for Kieron Lee. However that 33rd minute change had little impact on the rest of the proceedings in the first half, with the Rams ending the half as the side on top.
An early shot from the Owls saw them attempt to stamp their mark on the second-half after their awful display in the first period. Quickly after Miguel Llera brought Rams striker Jamie Ward down in the penalty area to hand the visitors a perfect chance with a penalty to double their lead in front of the travelling support, positioned high in the West Stand. The Northern Ireland international attempted to bring down a loose ball in the box but was shoved to the ground in his tracks by the Sheffield Wednesday defender, that was the penalty’s cause. The man who won the penalty took on the pressure of taking the penalty and made no mistake, firing the ball to the right of the Owls’ ‘keeper to make it 2-0 to Derby County. The former Sheffield United player attracted plenty of boos from the home support but not the Rams fans, who went wild in jubilation of the goal, which was Ward’s 7th goal in his last 9 outings.
That goal didn’t dampen the Owls’ spirit as they surged forward, responding to going 2 goals down with a goal just 3 minutes after Derby’s penalty. Danny Pugh sweetly lifted in a corner into the packed penalty area over the puzzled Rams goalkeeper for Antonio to score at the back post. That goal had every reason to make the Rams fearful, it lifted the home team and support from the Hillsborough Kop. It was evident that Derby’s Adam Legzdins wasn’t happy about the goal because he immediately raced over to the referee to protest, presumably for some pushing. Wednesday, after the goal, had more of a threat and spark about their play, with attacks breaking out from midfield instead of the lumps forward from the defence.
The next goal was just 6 minutes after the Owls’ second. Michail Antonio delivered a superb left-footed cross to the back post, where Llera was lurking to head home to level the game at 2-2. The defender got ahead of marker John Brayford for the goal, which came as a massive blow for Derby as the away side never imagined events to turn out like this after going 2-0 up.
After the goal the action seemed to die out a bit until ex-Wigan Athletic shot stopper Chris Kirkland was called into action. A long throw from left-back Gareth Roberts was met by Jamie Ward, who powered past Llera and let a shot fly at a tough angle into the near post. Kirkland got down quick to make a save.
The end of the game saw Derby be the side most desperate to get all 3 points. Boss Nigel Clough rallied the changes, bringing on three substitutes, and had a string of set pieces cleared by Sheffield Wednesday in the dying minutes so it ended 2-2. It was a repeat of the opening day fixture, which saw the Rams throw away a 2-0 lead to the Owls.
The Rams boss wasn’t too happy with referee Oliver Langford after saying post match: “We were pleased to get a point away from home and to score another two goals on the back of the three last week. I was happy with the performance and certainly with the way we played in the first half. I’m disappointed that the referee maybe missed a couple of fouls in the build-up to both their goals. The first goal was as good a team goal as you’ll see today.” (BBC Derby.)
I thought Sheffield Wednesday were a very physical side and, on the whole, played unattractive long balls forward. If anyone deserved to win the game it was without doubt Derby, who had a superb first half and mostly stayed competitive throughout the second half apart from conceding. The Rams should be pleased with their first half display but I’m sure that it won’t make up for the frustration. It’s time that these good away performances are turned in to wins, our away games have been much better than the results suggest.
As a result of dropping the two points today Derby drop to 10th position in the league, 5 points off the play-offs and above Nottingham Forest. Next week it’s a trip to 4th placed Hull (Tuesday) and a Pride Park visit for 21st placed Wolves (Saturday).
Twitter – @NMtherams