Who would be a manager, eh? Wayne Rooney stewed powerless in the technical area as his Derby County side crumbled before his eyes in an absurd, see-sawing second half but then came a moment that transformed their fortunes.
The Derby substitute Kamil Jozwiak was speeding away towards the Sheffield Wednesday goal when he was fouled by Chey Dunkley, gifting Derby the chance to equalise from the penalty spot and earn a whiff of salvation. Seconds earlier and 150 miles away in south Wales, Cardiff pulled level with Rotherham as Marlon Pack cancelled out Lewis Wing’s opener. It was a minute that had enormous ramifications.
Martyn Waghorn blasted in the subsequent penalty with 12 minutes to play and this time Derby, who had surrendered the lead in three of their four previous matches before succumbing to defeat managed to hold on, surviving six painstaking minutes of second-half stoppage time. Rooney turned apoplectic as Patrick Roberts failed to seal victory with eight minutes to play after getting through one on one with the Wednesday goalkeeper Keiren Westwood as Barry Bannan and Julian Börner chased in vain.
For Wednesday’s manager Darren Moore, the former Derby defender back in the dugout for the first time in almost a month after suffering from pneumonia, his side were ultimately the ones who pressed self-destruct. Wednesday’s players sank to the turf after being relegated to League One and Derby’s players also dropped to the floor, exhausted from the mental and physical exertion of a fraught contest. At full-time, there were tears of joy for Waghorn. Wednesday had twice wrestled the lead but this point left them bottom of the pile.
It had looked as though Derby had found another agonising way to implode but they held on to saviour a point that felt like a victory, the most important of their season. Rooney was a picture of calm as Patrick Roberts slid on to his knees in celebration, skidding towards the corner flag with every outfield player in hot pursuit. Roberts’ wondrous left-footed strike flew into the top corner to give Derby a precious lead three minutes after Waghorn nodded a header beyond Westwood from Tom Lawrence’s delicious cross.
Derby twice thought they had taken the lead in a first half of few chances but plenty of attrition. At one point, Wycombe making up the 12-goal deficit required to avoid relegation in the event of results elsewhere going their way seemed more feasible than a moment of quality. As Mike Dean blew the whistle, Rooney rushed down the tunnel to prepare the biggest team talk of his four-month old managerial career, Sam Hutchinson’s strike just before the interval giving Wednesday a whiff of hope. Whatever Rooney said, it worked and, despite proving to be their own worst enemy once more, they survived.