WEDNESDAY’S storming comeback on a tumultuous opening day has convinced point-saver Reda Johnson that they have nothing to fear in the Championship.
He knows the division from his time with Plymouth but echoed the view of Dave Jones that there were nerves in the camp as the Owls set out to do battle in the red-hot atmosphere of Pride Park.
But after a shaky start Wednesday more than matched an established Championship side, though their own squad is not yet fully fashioned.
“We have players who have never played in the Championship; we were a bit nervous; it is a new league,” said Johnson.
“But every player wants to give his best. After going two goals down, you have to react, and it’s what we did.
“We can see now that we can do the job.
“The other team weren’t better than us. They just know the league.”
He added that the Owls just need to keep up the standards they showed in the second half.
Jones certainly thinks they are capable of doing it.
Not this time a half-time rocket from the manager after his team had conceded two early goals, as happened at Oldham, but a question in the dressing room to the players: “What is there to be frightened off?”
They answered him in the second half, having also been given a foothold by Chris O’Grady’s wonder goal just before half time.
“Chris hadn’t done much up to then! Nobody had,” said Jones, pleased that Chris Kirkland made a couple of important saves.
“We just needed to settle down,” he added. “We had big Kirky to thank for keeping the score down.
“That said, we broke away four times. If we had just picked out a pass instead of shooting from a ridiculous angle or distance, then we were away.”
Jermaine Johnson, mostly, plus Michail Antonio and Chris O’Grady all failed with a finish or final pass.
Jones even reflected: “In the first half JJ was lucky he stayed on. I couldn’t take everybody off.” But the manager’s overall verdict on JJ was: “He ran them ragged. Now we’ve got to get Michail Antonio up to the level.”
Wednesday also conceded simple goals. Derby’s first was a cross flicked on at the near post and finished by an unmarked Nathan Tyson, who had slipped in between Anthony Gardner and Reda Johnson.
The second was a cross where no Wednesday player attacked the ball, and centre-half Jake Buxton dived in front of Gardner to head home.
O’Grady’s marvellous strike from the edge of the box injected fresh hope into the Owls and the 6,000 fans who gave them what Jones described as “magnificent” backing.
Wednesday surged forward more and more as the second half wore on. Jones called them “relentless”. Nigel Clough, whose team twice lost a three-goal lead in the cup against Scunthorpe, took off one of his two strikers, Tyson, and sent on a defender, James O’Connor, to play in front of the back four.
The Owls pinned the Rams back. O’Grady, put into space after a lovely run and pass by Rhys McCabe, saw a shot touched over the bar by Frank Fielding.
O’Grady missed a chance set up by JJ, goals for O’Grady and Madine were debatably disallowed, a JJ shot might have brought a penalty for handball; Fielding denied McCabe, and Miguel Llera had a shot blocked.
Just when it seemed, that for all their endeavour and resilience, Wednesday were going to get nothing, JJ found Buxton, the full-back’s cross to the far post was perfect, Madine nodded downwards, the ball bounced up, and Reda Johnson, scorer of seven goals last season, threw himself at it to head home.
But it did not end there. In four minutes of stoppage time, a full-stretch save by Fielding kept an O’Grady rocket out of the bottom corner.
No wonder Jones felt that Wednesday might well have won and not merely extended his unbeaten record as Wednesday manager with a draw.
He also said: “We were a bit like rabbits in the headlights for the first 20 minutes. We knew that if we got ourselves back into it, we had the players who could cause harm.
“Let’s not forget young Rhys. He’d not played any football at all for us, He grew into the game. In the second half I thought he ran the show, with his probing and driving on.
“Chris O’Grady grew into it. Nejc Pecnik hasn’t played before at this level and he found the going a bit hard, Then he settled in. Gary Madine came on and gave them some other problems.”
McCabe showed maturity and ability on the ball for a little 20-year-old playing his first game in such a setting.
Wednesday, after that dodgy start, also looked sounder defensively.
In Reda Johnson, they have a defender whose powerful frame has time and again proved its worth at the opposite end of the field.
He said: “Every time it is amazing. It was even more amazing to do it in front of 6,000 away fans.
“I was so happy to enjoy it with them and the team; I think we deserved a point in the second half. We didn’t start the game well, but Chris O’Grady scored an amazing goal and we came back well.
“We did our best. I hope we have more confidence now and get three points against Birmingham on Tuesday.”