Winning run a thing of beauty for ‘ugly’ Owls as play-offs beckon: Sheffield Wednesday 2 Derby County 1

Steven Fletcher levels the scores. Pictures: Steve Ellis
Steven Fletcher levels the scores. Pictures: Steve Ellis
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If any team in the Championship has perfected the art of winning ugly, it is Sheffield Wednesday.

The class of 2017 know how to dig in and grind out a result while not playing well. This team love a good scrap.

It would have been easy for them to panic when Darren Bent put bogey side Derby County ahead.

But when the going gets tough, the Owls get going.

Wednesday thrive on adversity and hit back thanks to goals by Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper to nudge themselves above Huddersfield Town into fourth position on goal difference.

Excuse the pun, but the Owls are flying. They are the form team in the league.

Gary Hooper shapes to hit the winner

Gary Hooper shapes to hit the winner

Victory over Derby was Wednesday’s first in 18 meetings against the Rams and saw Carlos Carvalhal’s side record a fifth straight win for the first time since April 2007.

Coach Lee Bullen said: “To win five games in a row in any division is an achievement but in the Championship, it’s exceptional.”

The result means the Owls are on the brink of confirming a place in the play-offs for the second year running. A win or two draws from their last two fixtures will book their place in the end-of-season extravaganza. No one will publicly say it is all over - mathematically it isn’t - but I can’t see Wednesday squandering this opportunity. This team is too mentally strong to let slip such a promising position.

KEY MOMENT

Goal joy for the match-winner

Goal joy for the match-winner

The big turning point in Saturday’s tussle came in the 55th minute.

The Rams lead through Bent’s header and Will Hughes could have doubled their advantage after a superb solo run through the heart of Wednesday’s defence. The midfielder weaved his way past several attempted challenges before calmly rounding Keiren Westwood only to see his weak drive cleared off the line by captain Glenn Loovens.

It was a lucky escape for the Owls following a boring, uneventful first period.

Rams boss Gary Rowett said: “I don’t want to advocate it, but had Will fallen to the ground I am sure he would have got a penalty.

A welcome return from injury for Kieran Lee

A welcome return from injury for Kieran Lee

He did the honest thing. He stayed on his feet and probably suffered for it because he couldn’t get the power on the shot.

“At that point it looked like we were going to make it 2-0 and make it very difficult for Sheffield Wednesday.”

There would have been no way back for Wednesday had Hughes scored.

The hosts’ defending for the opener was poor to put it mildly. Bent rose above his marker to meet Johnny Russell’s corner and power a header past Westwood at his near post.

“We started the second half better and, having got the goal, we looked pretty much in control,” said Rowett. “We looked like we should have got the second goal because we had a couple of breakaways.”

GARY HOOPER

It is no coincidence Wednesday’s form has improved since Hooper returned to action and he played an integral role in the comeback. His neat header down teed up Fletcher, who had hit the crossbar earlier with a bullet header, to level it up just before the hour mark.

And Hooper then completed the stunning turnaround, firing home after Scott Carson failed to deal with Adam Reach’s cross. Injuries have blighted Hooper’s season but his sixth goal of the campaign and his first in nearly six months couldn’t have come at a better time.

Rowett conceded: “We had a really stupid 10-minute spell.”

The impact Hooper has made on the team should not be downplayed. His contribution has been immense this month. His goal had been coming and having him and Kieran Lee available for the run-in is a huge positive.

But no one should forget the outstanding stop Westwood produced late on to prevent Derby from equalising. He dived to his left to keep out substitute Chris Baird’s well-struck volley and Russell headed over the follow up. Westwood’s heroics ensured the Owls ended their Rams hoodoo.

promotion push

Wednesday have opened up a five-point cushion on seventh-placed Leeds United, who slipped up at Burton Albion, with two matches remaining. They are nearly there and surely won’t be caught now.

Bullen, who deputised for Carvalhal at the post-match press conference, said: “This group of players is fantastic. They push each other so hard in training every day and get the best out of each other.”

Winning ugly must feel pretty good right now.

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