After seeing his Owls side harshly slip to a fourth defeat in five matches, Carlos Carvalhal must be wondering what he has done to upset the footballing gods.
His players gave him absolutely everything at Pride Park.
And it would have been easy for the Owls to buckle after going down to 10 men inside four minutes when fit-again captain Glenn Loovens was sent off for upending Matej Vydra.
It was the Dutch defender’s first start in over two months and perhaps he should have just let Vydra go through on goal rather than bring him down in the penalty area. Vydra still would have had a lot to do.
Referee Scott Duncan felt Loovens made no attempt to win the ball and deemed it a red-card offence.
To compound Wednesday’s woes, Vydra coolly slotted in the spot-kick to bag his seventh goal of the season. From that moment on, the Owls were always going to be up against it.
But, after soaking up an early Derby onslaught, Wednesday put in a spirited, battling performance. The Owls dug in, were well-organised and made the Rams work exceptionally hard for the three points.
You could question Wednesday’s lack of penetration in the final third but not their determination or commitment to the cause. Every player gave their maximum in challenging circumstances.
The 3,100-plus travelling fans sang their hearts out and a number of them stayed behind to applaud their heroes off. The team walked away with their heads held high.
Yet Carvalhal cut a frustrated figure at full-time and was left cursing, for the fourth match running, another refereeing call going against them.
Both managers agreed the Owls should have been awarded a spot-kick of their own in the 40th minute after Steven Fletcher tangled with Craig Forsyth.
Fletcher immaculately controlled Barry Bannan’s long, raking pass but went down under pressure from Forsyth.
Derby boss Gary Rowett, who claimed Keiren Westwood was fortunate to escape a red card in the first half after coming out of his goal to block a Richard Keogh shot, said: “It looked an obvious penalty. Fozzy (Craig Forsyth) accidently caught the players’ feet. I’m not sure why Fletcher would go down in that position if it wasn’t.”
As for Carvalhal, he felt it was a “clear penalty”.
“The worst thing is the referee said to Fletcher that he saw (Forsyth’s) hand on his shirt but he should stay up,” he said.
“I don’t know if I’m more upset that the referee doesn’t give the penalty or what he says to Fletcher because he says to Fletcher ‘I saw that he push your shirt but you must stay up’, which I think is bad in my opinion.
“Fletcher has no reason to go down because he is ready to shoot one on one with the goalkeeper. He is a striker who wants to score.
“It was a poor decision against us.
“It [The Loovens incident] seemed like a penalty and a red card but when we have a similar situation it makes a massive impact because it could be 1-1 and Derby will play with 10 players.”
Duncan also ignored another decent penalty shout when Gary Hooper appeared to be caught by Curtis Davies.
“This is the fourth game in a row we have had decisions against us,” insisted Carvalhal. “This is making us lose points.
“In Birmingham we had a clear onside, against Leeds a clear onside against Kieran Lee, last week at Bolton we had the unbelievable decision against Kieran Lee that at minimum will achieve one point.”
Carvalhal voiced his concerns to a refereeing chief last week.
He said: “The gentleman was very polite with his justifications. I believe that they have situations from Sheffield Wednesday in their meetings all the time.
“We have had three or four clear situations where we should have had a penalty but we haven’t had a penalty so far.
“I’m not putting everything on the referees but these things (decisions) make a massive impact on the final score. The way that we ran, fought and played at Derby, I think it is unfair what happened and it had a massive impact on the game.”
The Loovens dismissal altered the Owls game-plan. Morgan Fox, making his first start in nearly a month, switched from left-back to centre-half and Adam Reach dropped to full-back.
Carvalhal was bold and continued to play two strikers. Derby dominated possession but Wednesday always carried a threat on the counter-attack and Bannan, who was outstanding again in midfield, twice went close to levelling things up before Bradley Johnson’s 86th minute strike.
“The players gave everything,” said Carvalhal. “They showed heart, soul and in my opinion we deserved at least a draw.
“They scored a second goal and that came from nothing. Our attitude was very good. We gave a strong sign we wanted to win. When the fans applaud our team at the end after a defeat, we know we are preparing something good for the future.”
OWLS NEED TO STOP THE ROT
These are troubling times for Carvalhal. Lady Luck is not currently shining on the Owls and they are sliding down the table.
Despite producing an improved display against Derby, Wednesday failed to register a single shot on target and have now gone six matches without a win on the road.
Only six points separate the Owls from the bottom three and the pressure is growing on Carvalhal, who will be hoping for better fortune this Saturday.