When the opposition shower you with praise after escaping with a point, you must be doing something right.
Sheffield Wednesday more than matched Derby, beaten in the 2014 Championship Play-off Final, on Saturday, giving the Rams a real scare as they maintained their unbeaten start to the campaign.
After the goalless draw at Hillsborough, Derby defender Jake Buxton said: “The big lad [Atdhe Nuhiu] is a handful for a start. They are all singing off the same hymnsheet. When it goes up to him the lads are coming in off the line - Jacques Maghoma and Chris Maguire.
“I think Maguire has improved since we had him at Derby; he didn’t look a bad player. I thought he picked out some decent balls.
“I think Tom Lees is a good signing for this division at centre-half and the keeper [Keiren Westwood]. If we score in the dying minutes through Johnny Russell then we come here and are talking about a Derby win, but Westwood has made a good save and he’s an improvement.
“So they have signed a few decent players in the summer, finished quite strong last season and I think they’ll have a good season.”
Rams boss Steve McClaren echoed Buxton’s sentiments.
“Sheffield Wednesday are a far better team than last season, I don’t think many teams will come here and collect points,” he said.
The visitors absorbed so much pressure, especially in the first half. Owls chief Stuart Gray made a statement of intent by fielding two strikers in a 4-4-2 formation against one of the favourites for promotion.
Gray said: “I wanted to have a real good go at Derby and impose our game on them. I wanted a fast start. They are a difficult side to play because they play a 4-3-3. I just thought we nullified them with our intensity and hard work.”
Stevie May, making his long-awaited debut after arriving from St Johnstone, twice went close inside the opening quarter of an hour. The Scotland Under-21 international showed glimpses of his quality and combined effectively with Nuhiu.
Gray said: “Somebody went down injured in the 70th minute and Stevie came over to the side of the pitch for a drink and I asked him if he could go for the full game. He said he wanted to stay on.
“I think he will get better. He will cause defenders problems. He had a couple of half-chances against Derby.
“We need to find out what his strengths and weaknesses are. He’s a team player. He will work his socks off, making a bad ball into a good one. I just think if we create chances for him, he will score goals.”
In an entertaining and open encounter, Jeff Hendrick flashed a shot narrowly wide while Chris Martin, who was well shackled by Lees and Glenn Loovens, fired into the side-netting from an acute angle.
Jacques Maghoma and Nuhiu spurned glorious opportunities to break the deadlock after good build-up play before Maguire’s deflected free-kick struck the crossbar.
Lees, a tower of strength at the back for Wednesday, saw his header from Maguire’s corner cleared off the line by Chris Martin.
Gray said: “I thought we had a 20-minute period in the first half where we dominated the game. Attey [Nuhiu] and Maghoma had a chance. Maguire hit the bar with a free-kick. We’ve just played a quality side and matched them so the players should take a lot of encouragement from that.”
After the re-start, Owls old boy Lee Grant pushed away Maguire’s effort.
As the match wore on, Derby grew in stature and could have snatched maximum points through substitute Russell. First he dragged a shot wide after being released by Craig Bryson. With 15 minutes left, the forward beat the offside trap, racing on to Bryson’s defence-splitting pass only for Westwood to deny him in a one-v-one situation. Defeat would have been harsh on Gray’s men.
“It just shows you how important goalkeepers are in your team; Lee Grant did very well for Derby and when Keiren Westwood had to pull off a save he did do,” said Gray. “It was a big save for us.
“Sometimes with goalkeepers they go searching for work. It’s about concentration. When Russell went through one on one, as daft as it sounds, I knew Keiren would pull the save off because that’s the quality of the keeper we’ve got.”
Westwood’s heroics ensured Wednesday recorded a third successive clean sheet. No team scored more goals in the division than Derby during the 2013/14 campaign so the Owls deserve big praise for subduing their much-vaunted attack.
Gray said: “At the back end of last season, we had to score four goals to win a game of football because we were conceding so many. I thought the back four were in control. Martin and the wide players can cause problems but Loovens and Lees just showed what a good combination and partnership they are.”
Gray is satisfied with Owls’ points return from their opening two league fixtures. Brighton and Derby finished in the play-off positions last year.
He said: “I would have taken four points from two games. With the amount of chances we created against Derby, maybe we should have had six points.”
It maybe 13 matches and eight years since Wednesday last defeated the Rams but the gap between the two sides is definitely closing.
Stuart Gray: “That was two good teams both going for a win. I’m amazed it finished 0-0. It was entertaining. I’m just surprised and disappointed that we didn’t get three points. I thought everyone was excellent. We carried on from where we left off against Notts County. We’ve set our standards. They can’t drop below them.
Steve McClaren: “I thought we started well and then Wednesday got on top of us. They are a far better team than last season. I don’t think many teams will come here and collect points. They are tough opponents. I think we got a taste of that in the first half. Nuhiu was a handful in the first half and and we couldn’t handle him. We were on the back foot and we stopped playing football. Wednesday’s game-plan was good.