Derby County v Sheffield Wednesday – Owls still in with fighting chance, insists Jamie Smith

When Darren Moore and Jamie Smith moved from Doncaster Rovers to Sheffield Wednesday in March, they looked to be taking on if not mission impossible, then certainly mission highly improbable. There have been times since when the Owls have looked doomed to relegation.

Even in the past seven days, Derby County and Rotherham United have both wasted opportunities to consign the Owls to League One next season.

As it is, they travel to Derby’s Pride Park knowing not only do they have to win there for the first time since Marcus Tudgay and Leon Best breached a defence featuring a certain D Moore in April 2006, but they also need Cardiff City to avoid defeat at home to the Millers.

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That the players are understood to have not been paid on time and in full for the fourth time in less than 12 months has been far from ideal preparation.

Sheffield Wednesday's Jamie Smith. Picture: Steve Ellis

But as assistant manager Smith says, “We’re still in with a fighting chance.”

Derby have lost their last six matches, not that Smith thinks that will count for anything when their next one kicks off at 12.30pm today.

Wednesday fans watching Rotherham at Luton Town on the television on Tuesday will not have been left quaking in their boots by a team that had little 
left in the tank after a gruelling April.

Manager Moore’s return to the Middlewood Road training ground after pneumonia this week has lifted spirits and if he is able to be at Pride Park today, even if he gets no further than the directors’ box, it will be another shot in the arm. Smith is hopeful, but cautiously so.

Sheffield Wednesday's Massimo Luongo, left, could return from innury to face Derby County today. Picture: Steve Ellis

It is fair to say the assistant counterbalances the garrulous Moore, but ask him over Zoom if he is looking forward to a day which could see his club drop into the third tier for the third time since they last played in the Premier League and his eyes light up – and not with fear.

“I’m most definitely looking forward to it,” says the former full-back. “I look forward to every game we’re involved in and I can’t wait for the game to come. That’s why we’re in the business, to play these games on a Saturday afternoon, Tuesday or whenever it is. I’m really looking forward to the game.

“We’ve got a calendar in the office with all the games written on there and after each game they’re wiped off and it was just left there, the last game of the season and we spoke about that.

“This season has been 45 games and it all comes down to this gameday.

UNDER PRESSURE: Derby County manager Wayne Rooney (right) speaks to technical director Steve McClaren. Picture: Martin Rickett/PA

“We knew it was a tough job when we came in, the position we were in, but we’re still in there fighting.”

Perhaps Smith’s chirpiness owes something to events 20 years ago on Thursday, when he played for Crystal Palace in what is now the Championship at Stockport County in the same position the Owls are in now – needing to win, then hope for a favour.

“I was talking to Jordan Rhodes about it,” says Smith. “I hadn’t realised it was 20 years ago to the day. It turned out to be a good day.

“It was tough game against Stockport but we came through and we had to wait until the end of the game for the results to come through. Fortunately Birmingham did us a favour by beating Huddersfield so it turned out well.

“That was 20 years ago and the Palace fans and the club are still talking about it.

“It was tense.

“If we had gone down that day, who knows what could have happened?”

Palace won promotion to the Premier League three years later.

Their preparations for the Stockport game seem to have been a model for Wednesday’s this week, albeit Palace did not have the unwanted distraction of unpaid wages or the welcome boost of a manager back after illness.

“It was literally the same,” says Smith. “We didn’t change anything. We treated it as another game, although we all knew about the importance of the game.

“It has been the same for us this week. We have just gone about business in the same way.

“If you start changing things around the players might get a bit nervy with that and ask why are we doing things differently.

“We just treat it as we’ve treated every game since we’ve been here. We have a way of working and it hasn’t changed this week.”

Newly-promoted Rotherham came into this season knowing they were in a relegation fight and after their points deduction for breaching financial fair play rules, most at Hillsborough did too but still there will be a large element around both who believe clubs of the stature of Derby and Wednesday should not be slumming it in League One. If that bring extra pressure, Smith claims not to have seen any symptoms at Middlewood.

“They definitely haven’t shown that on the training pitch and around the training ground,” he says.

“Because the game is early (all Championship matches today kick off at 12.30pm) we haven’t got that waiting around, you’ll get up, have your pre-match meal and be ready to go. You’re not waiting around and thinking about it, it’s there. Maybe it will help.”

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