Rotherham United and Sheffield Wednesday take relegation dogfight with Derby County to the wire

RELIEF may have been the prevailing emotion as Sheffield Wednesday’s and Rotherham United’s fights against Championship relegation continued into the final week of the season, but feelings were decidedly mixed.

Still battling: Rotherham manager Paul Warne. Picture: Simon Hulme

The two South Yorkshire sides were half-an-hour from relegation on Saturday, with rivals Derby County winning at Swansea City and Blackburn Rovers ahead at the New York Stadium. Earlier in the day, the Owls drew 0-0 at home to Nottingham Forest.

For once in a season which has bordered on the cruel at times, fate finally turned in favour of the Millers, and brought the Owls a reprieve, too. Although Millers manager Paul Warne and Wednesday assistant Jamie Smith were disappointed with their sides’ performances on Saturday, crucially their seasons are still alive.

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Two quick-fire Swansea goals turned the tables at the Liberty Stadium in a 2-1 home victory and Lewis Wing’s 86th-minute free-kick leveller – his first goal since joining Rotherham on loan from Middlesbrough – provided another psychologically huge moment for the Millers, who were also indebted to a key late save from the impressive Jamal Blackman to deny Adam Armstrong.

KEEPING IT ALIVE: Rotherham United's Lewis Wing scores the equalising goal on Saturday from a free-kick. Picture by Simon Hulme

It ensured Rotherham avoided a sixth straight defeat. More importantly, their survival fates are now back in their own hands and if Warne’s side win at Luton Town on Tuesday, they will move out of the relegation zone on goal difference above Derby ahead of a huge final weekend.

That would leave the Owls needing an unlikely swing of at least six goals over Rotherham on the final day, but anything less at Kenilworth Road would give them the chance to stay up by winning at Derby on Saturday in a game manager Darren Moore might be able to attend after his recent bout of pneumonia.

“It has just kept the season alive,” said Warne. “I have not taken massive confidence from the result and I don’t think we have performed at our best but it was against a very good team and out of the last three teams left, Blackburn probably could have caused us more problems – although I am not saying they are the better or worse – than the other two potentially.

“It does allow us to go into the last two games with a bit of hope and while you have hope, you have got life, so great.”

UNTIL THE END: Sheffield Wednesday's Julian Borner tracks Nottingham Forest's Anthony Knockaert during Saturday's draw. Picture: Steve Ellis

On how he was feeling on the touchline during a tense afternoon which saw Derby take the lead early in the second half in their game, only to lose a sixth match in a row, Warne added: “I was all right really. All we try and do is drive performances.

“I said to the lads before that I am not fearful of defeat which is not a great managerial quote, but I am always worried that the lads don’t perform or try at a level, that is my indicator if we have done a good job.

“About 25 minutes from the end, I found out Derby were losing but I didn’t know they were winning [earlier] and if I did I would have had even more demons in my head.

“I thought we were not at our fluent best, but I don’t know how much of that is physical or mental tiredness, or how much of that is down to me, or which I believe is the biggest factor, is that it’s a pressure keg.

HOPE: Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore. Picture: Steve Ellis

“At times, we made bad decisions and we need to make better decisions if we are to get enough points to stay in the division.”

One bad decision saw Angus MacDonald make a grave mistake to serve up Blackburn’s opener on a plate, scored by Armstrong on 17 minutes.

Fortunately, Wing was on hand to spare the blushes of MacDonald, who later went off with a calf injury, while Blackman made three big saves to thwart Rovers.

Warne, who has Matt Crooks available again after suspension for tomorrow’s game at Kenilworth Road, said: “Players make decisions all the time. If he [MacDonald] controlled it, passed it and we scored, no-one would have mentioned it.

“Their forwards are some of the best in the league if not the best, so you cannot afford to give them any leg up.”

Like Rotherham, Wednesday were disappointing on Saturday and their draw put all three sides in the bottom three level on points, three behind Derby. Wycombe Wanderers’ goal difference mean they need a miracle to stay up, but Derby’s is the next worst. Only the Millers have a game in hand.

“Being in and around the dressing room, I can say there was no resignation in there,” said Smith, again deputising for Moore, after the Owls’ 0-0 draw and shortly after Derby and Rotherham’s games kicked off.

“Afterwards, the mood was more disappointment because we had built up the importance of getting three points all week.”

Moore missed three April games with Covid-19, came back for one and has been forced to sit out the last four with pneumonia. Although he has been in constant communication during games, he could be at Pride Park.

“He’s a bit better in himself and might be in the stand,” said Smith.

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