Derby County 1 Sheffield Wednesday 1: Ten-man Owls pay the penalty

FOR a man revered in Derby and highly regarded in his home city of Sheffield, a draw would have perhaps represented the perfect result for the late Jim Smith last night.

Red card for Owls full-back Moses Odubajo. Picture: Steve Ellis

Supporters of these two famous old clubs, both close to the heart of the Yorkshireman – who passed away at the age of 79 on Tuesday – duly paid their respects to a successful football manager and much-admired individual before attention turned to the game, as Smith would have wanted it.

Affectionately known as the ‘Bald Eagle’ during his long stint in management, one of Smith’s most glorified achievements arrived in 1995-96 when he took Derby County back to the Premier League – with a montage of those feted moments and more besides shown ahead of kick-off – prior to a wholesome minutes applause.

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In the here and now, there will be no replication of that majestic season at the old Baseball Ground for the Rams, firmly in transition after the summer departure of Frank Lampard.

The league table would suggest that Sheffield Wednesday, the boyhood club of Smith – who used to walk from his home in Shiregreen to Hillsborough to watch his hero Albert Quixall in action – possess a potential chance at a return to the big time, albeit with a major caveat.

The spectre of possible points deduction after being charged by the English Football League with breaking financial rules is lurking away ominously in the background.

In contrast to Derby, play-off aspirants Wednesday are at least enjoying the view rather more at the moment, although a disputed 82nd-minute equaliser from the spot by Chris Martin – after Moses Odubajo was controversially penalised after challenging Rams substitute Jack Marriott – soured their mood somewhat.

Salt was rubbed into the wounds for Odubajo, dismissed for his second yellow card in stoppage time, while Sam Hutchinson faces a two-match ban after his tenth caution of the campaign – in another unwelcome development for Wednesday.

The visitors had been full value for their first-half lead, given to them by Steven Fletcher’s instinctive 23th-minute strike – his 11th goal of a praiseworthy season. It contrast, Derby produced an anaemic first-half showing and failed to lay a glove on Wednesday and were second to nearly everything.

It was personified in a first-half episode which saw Hutchinson win a couple of challenges in midfield which he had no right to while Derby’s passive players watched on.

Should Smith have still been in his pomp and in the Rams dug-out, rest assured that some choice words would have duly arrived at the interval for the home players, for sure, with Wednesday assuming almost total control from the off.

Yet on the resumption, Derby belatedly got the message after a first half in which Garry Monk’s side had 10 corners and the hosts did not muster one.

Wednesday’s goal may have been gift-wrapped after Barry Bannan was the beneficiary of a horribly loose pass from Craig Forsyth and instantly threaded a pass to Fletcher, but the finish bore the mark of a craftsman.

His crisp first-time strike which whistled past Ben Hamer was the sign of a striker in form, with the Scot taking his tally to six in his past five outings.

The goal was just reward for a spell of concerted pressure from Wednesday – who rewarded Jordan Rhodes with a starting berth after his impressive performance from the bench on Saturday – who had signalled their intentions by peppering the home goal with crosses early on in an intense opening.

It saw a saving challenge from Scott Malone deny a certain goal at the far post for Morgan Fox before an equally timely challenge from Curtis Davies thwarted the ravenous Rhodes before Forsyth’s blooper.

The hosts had rung the changes in a line-up which contained four players aged 30 or over and three teenagers, including a full debutant in striker Morgan Whittaker.

While Derby count down the days ahead of their first sight of Wayne Rooney in a Rams jersey, Rhodes was able to reflect on his long wait being over as he lined up at the start of a league fixture for Wednesday for the first time in 599 days since April 21, 2018. He went close to celebrating a goal just before the interval with his header clipping the woodwork from Adam Reach’s centre.

A chance inside the first minute of the second half which Martin headed over from Duane Holmes’s cross hinted at some frank interval words and for a spell, the hosts asked questions.

Jason Knight shot wide, but gradually Derby’s tempo started to fade. But they regrouped ahead of the controversy which saw Martin restore parity to extend Wednesday’s winless streak in Derby to 12 matches.

Derby County: Hamer; Bogle, Davies, Forsyth, Malone; Holmes, Evans, Knight (Marriott 68); Whittaker (Waghorn 68), Martin, Lawrence. Substitutes unused: Roos, Wisdom, Dowell, Lowe, Bird.

Sheffield Wednesday: Dawson; Odubajo, Iorfa, Lees, Fox; Reach, Hutchinson, Bannan, Harris (Murphy 61); Rhodes (Nuhiu 72), Fletcher (Luongo 79). Substitutes unused: Jones, Lee, Pelupessy, Borner.

Referee: S Martin (Staffs).