Another week to wait ... Sheffield Wednesday verdict and reaction: Derby 1 Owls 1
We all know by now that there is nothing that can be taken for granted when it comes to Sheffield Wednesday.
The history of the great club is littered with ups and downs, twists and turns - enough to know nothing is certain until it is certain.
And so the top-six spot that has long looked to be in the bag is not quite that just yet.
The opportunity to secure a place in the play-offs came and went once again with Saturday’s draw at Derby County - a decent result at any other point in the season, of course.
And a late, late winner from the penalty spot for Cardiff City against Bolton Wanderers means next weekend’s meeting between the Welsh outfit and Wednesday at Hillsborough could hardly be more important.
Anything other than defeat will book a play-off date for Wednesday. A loss would mean they would head to Wolves on the final day with only a single-point advantage.
Though they head into the clash with Cardiff without a win in three, Wednesday will be buoyant following an excellent performance in a brilliant game on Saturday against a side who could yet stand in the way in their bid for promotion.
On show from Wednesday was a real quality with the ball and superb doggedness without it.
They held their own against a Derby side back on form after their own wobbles and showed they belong among the Championship’s elite, even if they have yet to secure such a placing.
Barry Bannan’s superb second-half strike raised hopes they would get the job done with two games to go. But Darren Bent came off the bench to head home an equaliser and ensure Wednesday will have to wait at least another week.
After 95 intense minutes of action, Wednesdayites rather graciously sang ‘See You At Wembley’ to the Derby fans they had been enjoying verbal jousts with over the preceding couple of hours.
A repeat of Saturday’s action at the national stadium next month would make for a superb play-off final.
It was a meeting of two quality sides desperately searching for the key to unlock the other. And it made for a fascinating contest where the draw was the deserved outcome.
Hosts Derby had the cushion of having already banked a top-six finish. And that was something which showed in their play.
Calm, composed and comfortable, they were content to keep the ball and play it around midfield and defence, biding their time for opportunities.
But, to their credit, they were certainly keen to continue their excellent run of recent form. They looked to get at Wednesday in the wide areas, through their two full-backs and Tom Ince.
But the Owls defence stood up incredibly well with a great deal of composure of their own.
They tracked attempts to run in behind and largely restricted the hosts to forays down the flanks.
With the ball, Wednesday’s midfield was on song, producing their best collective effort in recent weeks.
Aiden McGeady came into the side for the suspended Ross Wallace and performed well, even if his crossing was largely off colour.
But the driving force was neat interplay between Bannan, Kieran Lee, Fernando Forestieri and the revelatory Alex Lopez.
In Sam Hutchinson’s absence, Lopez has stepped up superbly. He is the starting point for so many attacks and a willing blocker in front of the back four.
The main thing the Owls found difficulty with was breaking into the Derby box. The hosts pressed well throughout the game and got men back to create a white wall in the final third.
The visitors’ best periods came midway through the first half and early in the second.
But Wednesday had to ride their luck at times also and probably should have gone behind in a five-minute period in the second half.
Derby should have had a penalty when Lopez clipped Cyrus Christie close to the byline, though the full-back’s keeness to go down did him few favours.
Moments later, Craig Bryson put a shot at a decent height for Keiren Westwood to parry clear.
And Westwood was the hero again, racing out to block Johnny Russell’s tame chip attempt.
It was an afternoon of goalkeeping heroics. Westwood largely had to deal with simple shots from the likes of Chris Martin, Bryson and Jacob Butterfield.
But when called into more testing action he was superb. He acrobatically touched over a Bryson piledriver in the first half and showed his own tackling skills late in the game to nick the ball away from substitute Nick Blackman who was looking to win it for the hosts.
And Westwood’s opposite number, Scott Carson, was on his game also. The former Wednesday loanee produced a quite stunning save to prevent Forestieri from curling in from 25 yards after the break.
After weathering the mini storm midway through the second half, Wednesday took the lead with 68 minutes gone.
Bannan latched on to Hooper’s inventive back-heel, darted forward and, with placement and power, struck the ball home from the edge of the box off the underside of the crossbar.
The game looked to be petering out after Bannan’s goal, though Forestieri dropped a free-kick on to the top of the crossbar in Wednesday’s best chance to double their lead.
Derby did roar back in search of an equaliser and sent on Bent and Blackman in a double attacking substitution.
Soon after, they were level.
Russell was given far too much space to send in a peach of a cross from the left and substitute Bent rose higher than Daniel Pudil to head in at the back post with his first touch since coming off the bench.
So Wednesday’s top-six quest goes on to the penultimate game of the regular season. The stakes at Hillsborough next week do not come much higher.
Derby: Carson 7, Christie 7, Keogh 7, Shackell 7, Olsson 7, Russell 7, Bryson 7, Hughes 8 (Hanson 75), Butterfield 7 (Blackman 81), Ince 6 (Bent 81), Martin 6. Subs not used: Mitchell, Buxton, Camara, Wiemann.
Wednesday: Westwood 8, Hunt 7, Lees 7, Loovens 7, Pudil 7, McGeady 7 (Matias 68, 6), Lopez 8, Lee 7, Bannan 8, Forestieri 7 (Helan 86), Hooper 7 (Joao 73 6). Subs not used: Wildsmith, Sasso, Helan, McGugan, Nuhiu.
Referee: Lee Mason (Lancashire).