Derby County extended their unbeaten home run to nine league games on Wednesday night, as they salvaged a late point in a 1-1 draw against Sheffield Wednesday.
The Rams would have been eager to bounce back after a disappointing 1-0 loss to Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park, as they prepared to come up against a Wednesday side that could potentially move up to third spot with a win.
The Owls were in decent form ahead of their trip to the East Midlands, and were looking to make it three wins in three after the 2-1 win over Brentford at the weekend.
Derby’s Achilles heel heading into Wednesday night’s clash was their ability to defend set pieces – Phillip Cocu’s men had conceded eight goals from dead balls before their meeting with the Owls, with only Huddersfield and Wigan conceding more in the Championship.
Not the best time to play against the likes of Steven Fletcher, then, with the powerful forward netting a brace in the win over the Bees, taking his tally up to 10 goals for the campaign.
But it was left-back Morgan Fox who nearly broke the deadlock for Wednesday on nine minutes. A wicked corner was drilled in by Barry Bannan, and an excellent piece of defending from Scott Malone nicked the ball away from Fox at the back post.
Those corners saw eight Wednesday players pile inside the six-yard box and congest the goalmouth, as they attempted to exploit Derby’s main weakness.
After bright cameos off the bench against Hull, Fulham, QPR and Blackburn, Derby youngster Morgan Whittaker was rewarded with his first ever league start for the Rams on Wednesday night.
The winger nearly created a real chance for himself in the early stages, too. In the 14th minute, a long ball from George Evans flew over Dominic Iorfa’s head, but was inches away from the onrushing Whittaker, who could only watch the ball trickle through to Owls goalkeeper Cameron Dawson.
Whittaker was given a stern warning just moments later, though, as he was dispossessed by Barry Bannan who threaded a perfectly weighted ball through to Steven Fletcher.
The Scotland international beat Craig Forsyth for pace, but the defender recovered right at the death and won the ball, injuring the Wednesday striker in the process.
But it was Fletcher who got revenge just moments later in the best possible way.
Forsyth was the next Derby player to give the ball away cheaply – his attempted sideways pass to Duane Holmes was far too sloppy and was intercepted by Bannan, who rolled the ball forward for Fletcher once again.
The striker latched onto the through ball and curled a fantastic first-time shot into the bottom corner with his left foot, to give Wednesday a deserved 1-0 lead on 23 minutes.
It was nothing more than Wednesday deserved – Garry Monk’s side looked bright in possession and limited the Rams to very few chances, with Kadeem Harris a constant threat down the left-hand side.
Frustrations began to grow and boos could even be heard around Pride Park from the home crowd. Their side could only muster a shot from Jason Knight, who fired high and wide after receiving the ball from a throw-in.
It was in fact Wednesday who ended the half as they started it – in dominating style. After Jordan Rhodes saw his header be tipped over the ball by Ben Hamer, Bannan delivered another teasing corner into the box – their eighth of the half,
Sam Hutchinson was there to flick the ball on at the front post, but the ball whizzed out for a goal-kick, as Stephen Martin blew the whistle to mark the end of an eventful half.
It was arguably Derby’s most disappointing half of football of the season so far – Cocu’s men simply had to improve in the second-half if they were to stretch their unbeaten run at Pride Park to nine games.
Straight after the second-half kicked off, the hosts created their first real chance of the game. Holmes broke away down the right flank before teeing up a cross for Chris Martin, who powered his header over the crossbar.
A bright start to the half from the Rams, then, and they also threatened to cause danger once again just a minute later. Whittaker feeding the ball to Bogle down the right, whose low cross was cleared before it could reach Martin.
There was almost a carbon copy of the Owls’ first goal in the 54th minute, though. Again, Forsyth misplaced a pass, allowing Adam Reach to break down the right flank and float a cross in for Fletcher.
The striker was unable to divert his header goalwards, though, and the ball sailed over Hamer’s crossbar – the Scot unable to double his and Wednesday’s tally for the evening.
Both managers began to make changes – it was the lively Harris who was replaced for Wednesday’s first change of the evening, with Jacob Murphy coming on in his place after the hour mark.
On 68 minutes, Derby’s two young guns – Whittaker and Knight – were replaced by two forwards looking to prove a point to Cocu, in Martyn Waghorn and Jack Marriott.
The latter had his first touch of the ball in the 76th minute, but he was unable to divert a glancing header goalwards after George Evans’ cross.
There were also a couple of changes up front for Wednesday too. After Atdhe Nuhiu came on to replace Rhodes, on 78 minutes, goalscorer Fletcher was taken off for Massimo Luongo, as the Owls looked to assert their dominance in midfield.
Applause rang around Pride Park in the 79th minute to mark the passing of former Derby boss Jim Smith, who passed away in the week aged 79. That must have spurred the Rams on, as they managed to find an equaliser out of nowhere moments after,
After Odubajo collided with Marriott inside the penalty area, Stephen Martin awarded a penalty. Another Martin, Chris, had the opportunity to put Derby back on level terms, and he did so emphatically, sending Dawson the wrong way to level the scores.
That decision clearly angered Wednesday’s players, with midfielder Sam Hutchinson picking up a yellow card for dissent, as the pendulum swung in Derby’s favour.
Odubajo’s night went from bad to worse just five minutes later. The right-back picking up a second yellow card and sent on his way down the tunnel, after hacking down Scott Malone as he threatened to counter.
Derby then began to pile the pressure on – five minutes were added on at the end of the half, as Marriott headed a ball inches over the bar from a corner in added time.
But they left it too late to apply any real pressure, and the whistle was blown to put an end to a hectic 95 minutes of football.
It was far from vintage from the Rams, but they managed to extend their impressive home run, with Martin snatching a point for the Rams.