Despite a valiant second half performance, goals either side of half-time from Lucas Joao earned Sheffield Wednesday a 2-0 victory over Derby County.
The defeat for the Rams was their first in the league for 13 matches and their first loss on the road in the Sky Bet Championship since September.
David Nugent, one of six changes made to the Rams’ starting line-up by Gary Rowett, gave the visitors a flash of hope in the first 90 seconds, with his volley from a Chris Baird corner almost testing Owls goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith.
Hosts Wednesday had the first key chance of the game after quarter of an hour when Frederico Venancio headed Adam Reach’s corner on target, fortunately his effort landed straight into the hands of Scott Carson.
The Owls took the lead three minutes later when Lucas Joao struck home from close range after he was found by Jack Hunt’s pass from the right a long switching ball by Reach.
Andreas Weimann almost put the sides level with a header at the near post from Baird’s cross; his effort went narrowly wide.
Joao doubled the host’s lead two minutes into the second half with a thunderous effort from outside of the penalty area nestling into the bottom corner.
In attempt to turn the game around, the duo of Nugent and Baird once again linked up from a corner, but Nugent’s header sailed over the frame of the goal.
The Rams continued to apply the pressure after that, with Weimann going clear through on goal via a well-timed through pass by Matej Vydra, but the Austrian winger’s shot forced a good save by Wildsmith.
Vydra then had a chance of his own after being teed up by Nugent, again denied by the feet of the Wednesday goalkeeper.
From the resulting corner, Tom Huddlestone tried a audacious left-footed dipping volley that he was unable to keep on target.
Championship top goalscorer Vydra had a fantastic opportunity to pull a goal back for Derby after Nugent picked him out at the back post, but he was unable to test Wildsmith.
The home goalkeeper was called into action in second half stoppage time when Weimann’s chip forced Wildsmith to tip his effort over the crossbar.
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith; Hunt (Palmer 78’), Venancio, Loovens (Thorniley 86’), Pudil; Clare, Pelupessy, Reach, Boyd; Rhodes (Nuhiu 85’), Joao
Substitutes not used: Dawson, Jones, Fox, Stobbs
Derby County: Carson; Baird, Keogh, Davies, Forsyth; Huddlestone, Ledley (Anya; 74’); Weimann, Vydra (Palmer 82’), Johnson; Nugent (Jerome 82’)
Substitutes not used: Roos, Lawrence, Wisdom, Pearce.
When Joao doubled Sheffield Wednesday’s lead early in the second half, it sparked a resurgence from Derby, who fought tooth and nail to gain a positive result at Hillsborough.
But in the end, the Rams’ efforts proved to only be in vein as the Owls picked up their first home victory in the league since the end of October.
Huddlestone put in a solid performance alongside Joe Ledley in the middle of the midfield.
Despite constant pressure from Jos Luhukay’s side, Huddlestone remained calm and managed to keep the ball well for the majority of the evening and displayed a fine range of passing.
Next up for Derby is a home game against Leeds United on Wednesday (21st February), before a trip to the Madejski Stadium to face Reading three days later (Saturday 24th February).
Words by Jonty Colman