Sheffield Wednesday 0-1 Derby County
Derby County edged a close-fought battle at Hillsborough on Tuesday evening with Patrick Bamford’s cracking strike the difference on the night.
There was little to separate the two sides over the course of the 90 minutes but the Chelsea loanee’s inch-perfect effort – his fifth goal in six games – was enough to settle the contest.
It was harsh on Wednesday, who had offered plenty in the contest and twice saw goal-bound strikes cleared off the line but it was the Rams who bagged the points to keep up the heat on the Championship’s top two.
There were starts for loan duo Leon Best and Gary Gardner, while Sam Hutchinson took up a place on the bench.
Michail Antonio and Glenn Loovens returned to the side having recovered from injury, while Giles Coke was back in the starting line-up after serving a three-match suspension.
In what was a busy start to the game, the returning Loovens almost gave Wednesday a lead inside five minutes when his header from Chris Maguire’s corner was hooked off the line by Craig Forsyth.
As the midway point of the first period approached, there was little, if anything, between the two sides.
In Derby’s first clear sight at goal, Jamie Ward dragged wide at the back stick before leading marksman Chris Martin miscued from distance.
Ward’s deliveries from the left were hitting the spot for Derby, one of which created an opening for Bamford, who couldn’t get the necessary purchase on his header to send goalwards.
Wednesday, though, had the final say before the interval with the lively Antonio bursting into a shooting position from the left but his strike was well blocked out as opening period reached its conclusion.
Antonio began the second half as he finished the first with a purposeful charge forward and shot which tested ex-Owl Lee Grant, who held on to the strike at the near post.
Maguire’s dangerous corners had been a recurring theme of the opening period and his first after the resumption almost found its way directly into the net but Bryson was well placed to clear off the line.
Grant was on hand again on the hour to push wide from Antonio’s half volley and it was turning into quite a battle between the two, as the Derby keeper held on to a firm hit from the Owls’ winger just minutes later.
There was a cruel twist for the Owls with little over ten minutes left to play when the Rams took the lead out of the blue.
Bamford controlled on the right just outside the area and curled a superb effort into the top corner, past the outstretched arm of Chris Kirkland to fire Derby in front.
Antonio blasted over the bar in added time as the Owls went in desperate search of an equaliser, but the Rams saw out the final few moments to bag a crucial three points in their bid for automatic promotion.
Owls: Kirkland, Palmer, Loovens, Llera, Mattock, Antonio, Lee (Helan 45), Gardner (Hutchinson 61), Coke, Maguire, Best (Afobe 70)
Derby: Grant, Forsyth, Bryson (Hendrick 54), Keogh, Martin, Ward, Eustace (Sammon 76), Hughes, Buxton, Wisdom, Bamford