OWLS FLY­ING TO­WARDS THAT PROMISED LAND

Bullen: Men­tal strength won it

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Si­mon Smed­ley

GUTSY Sheffield Wed­nes­day came from be­hind to edge out mid-ta­ble Derby and, in do­ing so, edged them­selves ever closer to a play-off place with just two matches of the reg­u­lar sea­son re­main­ing.

Steven Fletcher and Gary Hooper pro­vided the fire­power for the Owls, who are now a healthy five points clear of seventh-placed Leeds af­ter the El­land Road out­fit’s stun­ning loss at Bur­ton.

The Owls look to be head­ing for the end-of-sea­son shoot-outs in good form hav­ing se­cured a fifth straight win in front of al­most 30,000 at Hills­bor­ough.

As­sis­tant boss Lee Bullen praised the char­ac­ter and strength in the squad, some­thing that will no doubt be called upon if they are to reach the promised land of the Premier League.

“We’re re­lieved af­ter that,” he said. “We were in con­trol for the ma­jor­ity of the game – in fact Derby rarely looked dan­ger­ous at all – but it’s the re­sult that counts.

“It wasn’t re­ally much of a game to write home about, but we got there in the end.

“We needed to step it up a gear or two for the sec­ond half, but then we found our­selves a goal be­hind in the 48th minute.

“It wasn’t an ideal sce­nario, but the lads rolled their sleeves up then, pro­duced a bit of qual­ity you need, and the be­lief has shone through.

“It isn’t the first time the lads have shown that char­ac­ter and that strength to gain a vic­tory. Maybe that’s been the dif­fer­ence be­tween this sea­son and last sea­son.

“The whole men­tal­ity of the group is strong at pre­sent, and we’ll need that in the re­main­ing games.”

It was a rather pedes­trian first half as both sides strug­gled to carve out a clear-cut op­por­tu­nity. Rams striker Matej Vy­dra found space only to fire wide, while the Owls re­sponded with mid­fielder Kieran Lee crack­ing in a strike from 25 yards that only just missed the tar­get.

Barry Ban­nan volleyed wide for the hosts as they sought a break­through, but it was the Rams who stunned the home faith­ful three min­utes af­ter the restart when Dar­ren Bent headed home Ikechi Anya’s in­swing­ing cor­ner.

The Wed­nes­day rally soon fol­lowed, how­ever. Fletcher struck the cross­bar be­fore the im­pos­ing Scot then headed home af­ter sub­sti­tute Jor­dan Rhodes had nod­ded pre­cisely into his path.

Vic­tory was sealed just six min­utes later when Hooper volleyed home clin­i­cally af­ter Scott Car­son failed to grab Adam Reach’s deep cross.

The Owls were in­debted to keeper Keiren West­wood in the clos­ing stages as he palmed away Chris Baird’s vol­ley – a save which could very well prove cru­cial if his team are to seal that cher­ished top-six spot.

Rams boss Gary Rowett claimed a “stupid” spell just af­ter the restart proved very costly for his side, whose own play-off tilt ended a cou­ple of games ago.

He said: “We were far too pas­sive in our de­fend­ing in that sec­ond half.

“Sheffield Wed­nes­day are a re­ally good side and they can put plenty of pres­sure on you. We got our noses in front af­ter the break and at that point I thought we looked rel­a­tively com­fort­able.

“How­ever, a stupid ten-minute spell has proved so costly. They’ve got two balls in to the box, we’ve not de­fended them at all well, and be­fore you know it we’re be­hind.

“Again it’s small mar­gins that’s cost­ing us. We’re caus­ing our own prob­lems and that’s some­thing I’ll have to take a good look at in the sum­mer.”

PIC­TURES: ProS­ports/Ian Lyall

HOOP DREAMS: Gary Hooper wheels away af­ter scor­ing the win­ner, in­set

BAL­ANC­ING ACT: Derby de­fender Cyrus Christie avoids the slid­ing chal­lenge of Sheffield Wed­nes­day mid­fielder Barry Ban­nan

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