A whirlwind second half nine minutes saw the Rams squander a two goal lead at Hillsborough, as Dave Jones’ Sheffield Wednesday fought back to earn a point in a highly entertaining 2-2 stalemate.
In a week that saw Jeff Hendrick gain full international honours for the first time in his career, the Republic of Ireland midfielder extended celebrations with a terrifically taken goal after 23 minutes when he latched onto Jamie Ward’s through ball to fire the Rams ahead.
The provider turned goalscorer in the second half as Ward dispatched a penalty that he won following a clumsy tackle by Miguel Llera.
However, just as the Rams looked in complete control, a quickfire bombardment from Wednesday levelled proceedings, courtesy of Michail Antonio's close range finish and Llera’s far post header.
There was an early blow to the Rams’ preparation at Hillsborough, as Irish defender Mark O’Brien felt pain at the back of his knee during the warm up, which meant manager Nigel Clough was enforced into tweaking his starting line-up prior to kick-off.
O’Brien’s injury opened up the pathway for Jake Buxton to return to the starting XI for the first time in just over two months, after the former Burton Albion man suffered a cruciate knee ligament injury against Leeds United at Pride Park in December.
The 27-year-old slotted in alongside Richard Keogh at the heart of the Rams’ back-four, with Michael Hoganson drafted onto the substitutes’’ bench to complete the matchday squad of 18.
Prior to kick-off, the Rams sat in ninth position and were the highest placed club with only three away wins in the Championship, however Clough’s men began proceedings brightly, and almost took the lead in the first 60 seconds.
Ward ferreted in the hole behind strike partner Conor Sammon, and from the edge of the penalty area he was allowed time and space to pick his spot with a low drive, but Chris Kirkland threw his right arm out and diverted the ball away from the bottom corner.
The home side battled back with an effort of their own four minutes later, when Lewis Buxton’s right-wing cross was flicked into the arms of Adam Legzdins
by Kieran Lee.
However, Lee’s header was as close as the Dave Jones’ men came to scoring in the opening period, as Derby dominated possession and outworked their opponents, with Hendrick and Will Hughes dictating the tempo of the game.
And Hendrick’s domination in midfield was rewarded in the 23rd minute. The Academy graduate fed the ball into Ward’s feet on the edge of the box before continuing his run into the area. Ward held off the attentions of Llera and slid the ball into the path of the onrushing Hendrick, who then slotted it underneath Kirkland from 10-yards out.
Owls boss Jones reacted to his side going a goal behind instantaneously, as he introduced new loan signing Conor Wickham from the substitutes’ bench, in place of Lee, but the change had little impact on events for the remainder of the first-half.
The two teams began the second period highly charged and Michail Antonio blazed an effort over from 20-yards, before the Rams replied immediately at the other end when referee Oliver Langford pointed to the spot following Llera’s clumsy tackle on Ward.
The ball bounced around in the Wednesday penalty area, and as Ward tried to bring it down, he was knocked to the floor by the Spanish defender. The former Sheffield United forward took responsibility, and drilled the resulting spot kick into the bottom corner.
However, the end to end nature of the second 45 continued as just four minutes after Ward had given the Rams a two goal lead, Wednesday fought back through Antonio. The forward took advantage of a mix-up following Danny Pugh’s corner from the right, as Antonio, from within a crowd of bodies bundled the ball into the roof of the net to lift the home side’s spirits.
The goal injected belief into the home side, and with the backing of a rejuvenated set of supporters, Wednesday produced a second goal to level the game, as Llera stooped at the back post to power a header past Legzdins.
Ben Davies, Theo Robinson and Michael Jacobs were all introduced in the final 20 minutes as Clough’s men searched for an elusive winner, but Wednesday stood firm to ensure the result matched the game the two sides battled out on the opening day of the season.
Derby County: Legzdins; Brayford, Keogh, Buxton, Roberts; Coutts (Davies 74), Hughes (Jacobs 88), Hendrick, Bryson; Ward (Robinson 78), Sammon.
Subs not used: Fielding, Gjokaj, Freeman, Hoganson.
Sheffield Wednesday: Kirkland; Buxton, Llera, Gardner, Pugh; Lee (Wickham 34), Coke, Prutton, Helen (Johnson 87); Lita, Antonio.
Subs not used: Bywater, Taylor, Semedo, Madine, McCabe.
Attendance: 25,765 (3,649 visiting supporters).