Derby County’s spirited final day performance in a 3-3 draw against Sheffield Wednesday secured their status in the Sky Bet Championship for next season.
Both sides were fighting for their lives and with Rotherham United taking an early lead against Cardiff City in their game, the Rams would need a victory to survive.
The Owls took the lead through Sam Hutchinson late in the first half, but goals from Martyn Waghorn and Patrick Roberts, with his first Derby goal, within six minutes of the second half, gave the Rams the lead and lifted them back to safety.
The elation was short lived as Callum Paterson levelled the score and dropped Derby back below the line before Julian Borner gave them the lead again. A late goal by Cardiff City came and meant a draw would be enough for the Rams just as Waghorn stepped up to take a penalty.
He made no mistake and that goal ensured Derby County’s safety.
The Rams had an opportunity to open the scoring inside the opening ten minutes from the first corner of the game after Tom Lawrence’s free-kick was sent behind from the defender. Nathan Byrne sent a corner in to the area that George Edmundson flicked on at the front post. Waghorn raced in at the back post and the ball went inches wide.
In the process, however, Waghorn clattered into the post and a scary few minutes ensued as he lay on the ground. He appeared to have hit his chest at full speed, but after a lengthy period on getting checked out on the pitch, he was able to continue.
The Rams had the ball in the back of the net with just over five minutes left to play in the first half, but the referee whistled for offside. Patrick Roberts drove forward down the left and struck on target. Keiran Westwood parried the ball into the path of Colin Kazim-Richards at the back post who turned the ball in but was adjudged to be offside.
Deep into the five minutes of injury time, the Owls took the lead with their first chance on goal. A long throw into the box was met by Hutchinson who struck a low shot towards goal. Kelle Roos parried the effort away back to Hutchinson who struck again from two yards out.
The Rams had a chance to level the score just before heading into the changing room as Waghorn stood over a free-kick after Kazim-Richards was taken down on the edge of the box, but he curled his effort just inches over the cross bar and on to the roof of the net.
Within six minutes of the second-half, the Rams were in the lead through two stunning goals. Lawrence crossed and Waghorn rose way higher than anyone else in the middle of the box and powered his header in the back of the net.
Waghorn then chested the ball into the path of Roberts who stormed forward and unleashed a spectacular left-footed effort from the edge of the box that bent and left Westwood unable to do anything to save it.
However, just after the hour mark, Wednesday drew level as Paterson heading in before Borner gave them the lead five minutes later.
The drama wasn’t over, yet. The Rams were awarded a penalty to draw the game level as Kamil Jozwiak was brought down, just as news came through that Cardiff City had equalised against Rotherham.
Waghorn stepped up to the spot and made no mistake to level the score and take the Rams above the relegation zone with just over ten minutes left to play.
Derby rode out Wednesday’s attack in the closing stages as they desperately tried to find a hope of staying up. There were moments when Derby had chances on the break, with Roberts being played clean through to go one-on-one with Westwood, but the Owls’ keeper got down to scoop the ball from his feet.
As the final whistle blew, there was a collective breath from everyone involved with Derby County as the players and staff ran on to the pitch in relief and celebration to remain in the Championship for the 2021/22 season.
Derby County: Roos, Forsyth, Shinnie (C), Edmundson, Waghorn, Lawrence, Byrne, Kazim-Richards, Clarke, Roberts, Knight.
Substitutes: Marshall, Jozwiak, Bird, Sibley, Cashin, Buchanan, Ebosele, Davies, Watson.
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood, Palmer, Paterson, Hutchinson, Pelupessy, Bannan (C), Reach, Borner, Windass, Rhodes, Dunkley.
Substitutes: Wildsmith, Harris, Green, Dele-Bashiru, Urhoghide, Shaw, Hunt, Brennan, Kachunga.