TWO SECOND-HALF strikes in the space of six minutes either side of the hour mark helped Sheffield Wednesday produce a big comeback to claim their first win over Derby County in 18 attempts - and consolidate their play-off place and jump up to fourth spot
It was turning into a fraught afternoon for Wednesday, with the Rams taking a lead early in the second half from Darren Bent, with the Owls' hopes of securing a fifth successive win for the first time since April 2007 being in serious jeopardy before the hosts redeemed themselves in dramatic fashion.
Steven Fletcher restored parity with a header following good work by Ross Wallace and Gary Hooper on 58 minutes and Hooper - who provided a smart assist for the leveller - put the hosts in front, steering into the net after Scott Carson' unconvincingly dealt with Adam Reach's centre.
It was an eventful second period in contrast to a tame first-half ensued when Derby - a side who have displayed a soft underbelly at times this season - frustrated Wednesday with a resilient and disciplined performance based around soaking up pressure and making the odd foray forward on the counter-attack when the chance arose.
It was Wednesday who were afforded the lions share of the territory and possession, but despite some manufacturing some semi-threatening positions and overloads on the flanks and producing several dangerous crosses from particularly Ross Wallace and Jack Hunt, the hosts got small charge out of Derby centre-halves Richard Keogh and Alex Pearce.
The pair defended their box well - with the visitors clearly looking a bit more streetwise under the stewardship of Gary Rowett.
Neither keeper was forced to make a save in an uneventful first period and the closest that the Owls came arrived on 25 minutes when Steven Fletcher headed narrowly over under pressure from Keogh following Hunt's inviting centre.
Perhaps the best sign of the opening half for Wednesday was the sight of Kieran Lee making an encouraging return to the first-team fray after three-and-a-half months out with a hip injury, with the influential midfielder possessing his customary energy and drive at times.
Lee fired an early shot wide, but substantive chances were at a total premium.
After a quiet opening half hour, Derby showed a bit more urgency in the build-up to the break and carved out their sole decent opportunity with Ikechi Anya finding a yard of space before firing a fierce low shot into the side-netting, with substitute Chris Baird seeing his speculative curler fly off target in stoppage-time.
After a passive first-half, the game exploded into life on the restart, with Derby going close to making the breakthrough, when Darren Bent's dinked effort was superbly blocked by Kieren Westwood after Anya's assist - but the veteran striker was not to be denied.
From the resulting corner floated in by Russell, the Owls switched off and Bent's downward header beat Westwood for his 13th strike of the season.
The goal inspired Wednesday into immediate life and they went desperately close to a leveller straightaway when Daniel Pudil's cross found Fletcher, whose fine header clipped the woodwork.
Play was starting to become stretched with the Rams going close to a second when Will Hughes showed magical skills to waltz his way towards goal, with his goalbound effort cleared off the line by the well-stationed Glenn Loovens.
It proved a big moment and balm was provided to an increasingly anxious afternoon when the Owls levelled on 58 minutes.
A left-wing cross from Wallace was nodded adeptly across goal by Hooper and Fletcher backed up to nod in his tenth goal of the campaign.
With Derby showing signs of panic for the first time, it got better for the Owls six minutes later when Hooper turned scorer, coolly firing home into an unguarded net after Scott Carson's poor parry clear arrived at his feet following Adam Reach's left-wing centre.
The double-whammy rocked Derby for a spell and despite the visitors being afforded plenty of possession in the final half-hour.
Their one big chance for a leveller arrived when Westwood made a smart parry to deny Chris Baird's volley and Johnny Russell's follow-up header flew over.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood; Hunt, Lees, Loovens, Pudil; Wallace, Lee (Rhodes 56), Bannan, Reach; Hooper (Semedo 77), Fletcher (Forestieri 81). Substitutes unused: Wildsmith, McManaman, Sasso, Nuhiu.
Derby County: Carson; Christie, Keogh, Pearce, Olsson (Baird 9); Russell, Hughes (Ince 74), Johnson, Anya; Vydra, Bent (Nugent 61). Substitutes unused: Mitchell, Bryson, Butterfield, Camara.
Referee: P Tierney (Lancashire).