Derby County missed out on the League One play-offs in agonising fashion as a controversial penalty and subsequent red card for Curtis Davies saw them beaten by play-off bound Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough.
The Rams knew that victory would guarantee a play-off place, but that simply matching or bettering Peterborough’s result against Barnsley would also be enough to remain in the top six.
The game’s pivotal moment saw veteran defender Davies try to make amends for a poor backpass, but he was dismissed for tugging Marvin Johnson following keeper Joe Wildsmith’s rushed clearance five minutes before the break.
But although Posh managed to see out a 2-0 win over Barnsley at Oakwell, the Rams were unable to find an equaliser that would have still been good enough to see them stay in the final play-off spot on goal difference.
They went close to levelling after the break through top-scorer David McGoldrick and Max Bird, but Wednesday remained largely in control and wasted a number of chances to wrap up the win.
It was the Rams who had the best of a cagey first half, with McGoldrick having five attempts on goal – the best of which saw a fierce 20-yard drive superbly pushed away by keeper Cameron Dawson and a clever dinked attempt tipped over.
Four of McGoldrick’s first-half attempts came with the score at 0-0, but the harsh red card saw the chances largely dry up despite an impressive response by the visitors.
They set aside a huge feeling of injustice that there was minimal contact by Davies and there were several defenders in attendance following the challenge, and showed character and quality in equal measure against impressive opponents.
But Wednesday, who were already assured of a third-placed finish and will now face Peterborough in the play-offs rather than Derby, soon exerted more control and went close through Liam Palmer’s effort.
The hosts upped the tempo even more after the interval and could have been out of sight, Will Vaulks striking the bar with a fine shot and a long-range Barry Bannan effort going just wide.
Callum Paterson also missed the target with an excellent headed opportunity but the 10 men almost levelled when Bird’s scuffed shot beat Dawson only to be cleared off the line by Aden Flint.
McGoldrick once again tested Dawson from long range late on, but Paul Warne’s men could not force the equaliser that would have secured a top-six spot and the Owls go into the play-offs having ended the regular season unbeaten in 23 home games – the club’s longest sequence since January 1981.
Sheffield Wednesday boss Darren Moore: “To finish on 96 points and break all sorts of club records is testament to the work everyone has put in.
“It could have been easy to rest a few players, but every game matters at Sheffield Wednesday and we want that winning culture.
“We don’t want to rest on our laurels and we wanted to go full tilt before dusting ourselves down for the play-offs. When Hillsborough is in full voice like it was today, you have to go a long way to find another club like it and the supporters drove us on.”
Derby County manager Paul Warne told BBC Radio Derby:
“I don’t think it’s today’s performance that hasn’t got us in. We dropped points we shouldn’t have dropped which I’m hugely disappointed with, but I thought our performance today was excellent.
“It was the best away performance we’ve had, against a top-six team, and I know I’m biased, but I thought for large periods we were the better team, both with 11 and 10.
“The penalty was disappointing because we had an opportunity to clear the ball and didn’t, but I don’t think it should have been a red card because we had a defender covering on the line and our keeper was on the right side of the ball.
“Curtis has had his head in his hands since the final whistle, but he’s been brilliant leading the troops on and off the pitch and has put his body on the line so many times and I feel for him.
“It’s hard for the players – there’s a lot in tears in the dressing room as you can imagine, but hopefully we can keep the large majority of them for next season, improve where we can and have a real go. While I’m proud to be the lads’ manager, I’m heartbroken for them.”
- 3BrownBooked at 61mins
- 2PalmerBooked at 74minsSubstituted forHuntat 78′minutes
- 17Dele-BashiruSubstituted forDurrantat 85′minutes
- 10BannanSubstituted forBakinsonat 78′minutes
- 18JohnsonBooked at 90mins
- 24SmithSubstituted forWindassat 65′minutes
- 33DaviesBooked at 41mins
- 38KnightSubstituted forWhiteat 74′minutes
- 8BirdSubstituted forDobbinat 69′minutes
- 4HourihaneSubstituted forCollinsat 74′minutes
- 15RobertsBooked at 43mins
- 11Mendez-LaingSubstituted forBarkhuizenat 69′minutes
- 17SibleySubstituted forSmithat 44′minutesBooked at 77mins
- Leigh Doughty
Match ends, Sheffield Wednesday 1, Derby County 0.
Second Half ends, Sheffield Wednesday 1, Derby County 0.
Offside, Sheffield Wednesday. Aden Flint tries a through ball, but Josh Windass is caught offside.
Offside, Sheffield Wednesday. Callum Paterson tries a through ball, but Sam Durrant is caught offside.
Foul by Callum Paterson (Sheffield Wednesday).
Harvey White (Derby County) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Marvin Johnson (Sheffield Wednesday) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Marvin Johnson (Sheffield Wednesday).
Tom Barkhuizen (Derby County) wins a free kick on the right wing.
Jaden Brown (Sheffield Wednesday) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by James Collins (Derby County).
Callum Paterson (Sheffield Wednesday) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Harvey White (Derby County).
Tyreeq Bakinson (Sheffield Wednesday) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Craig Forsyth (Derby County).
Corner, Derby County. Conceded by Cameron Dawson.
Attempt saved. Lewis Dobbin (Derby County) left footed shot from a difficult angle on the left is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Eiran Cashin with a headed pass.
Attempt saved. David McGoldrick (Derby County) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Korey Smith.
Substitution, Sheffield Wednesday. Sam Durrant replaces Fisayo Dele-Bashiru.
Attempt missed. Josh Windass (Sheffield Wednesday) left footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the right. Assisted by Jack Hunt.