Derby secured a play-off berth with victory at Bristol City in midweek and now Sheffield Wednesday can do likewise by capitalising on any drop in intensity from the Rams in the early kick-off on Saturday. Take the 31/10 available on Carlos Carvalhal’s men opening-up an unassailable lead on seventh-placed Cardiff.
Victory for the Owls would take them nine points clear of the Bluebirds before their home game against relegated Bolton, leaving Russell Slade’s men needing to win their remaining three matches and make up a 13-goal deficit in the process. It would also spare Wednesday a potentially nerve-shredding afternoon at Hillsborough next weekend, when Cardiff are the visitors.
Darren Wassall is making all the right noises about Derby building on recent good form and approaching the play-offs with momentum but, with those huge games lurking on the horizon, it’s much easier said than done. The Rams head into this clash on the back of four straight wins but it owes much to a convenient run of fixtures against three of the bottom four.
Wassall should be applauded for the job he has done, steadying the ship to win eight out of 12 matches in the face of an alarming collapse that echoed the harrowing events 12 months ago when Derby nosedived from an automatic promotion berth into eight position over the final ten matches. But there’s a suspicion some cracks are still being papered over.
The local media narrative would have you believe the Rams are virtually unstoppable at home, while their away form is on the mend after a succession of wobbles. The truth is, they have fluctuated between varying states in 15 or 20-minute spells over the entirety of the past ten weeks and results are just results, the product of randomness.
Last weekend, for example, Charlton had a shot cleared off the line, hit the woodwork and then had a goal disallowed contentiously, all in quick succession, before Derby went up the other end and scored the only goal of the game moments later. Afterwards, it was hailed as a complete performance that showcased all of their different qualities.
So there’s nothing to fear if you fancy siding with Wednesday. Don’t be put off by Derby’s five straight home wins. Instead, focus on the clean bill of health that Carvalhal is nearing with Gary Hooper back in action, and Sam Hutchinson and Aiden McGeady both back in training and pushing for recalls. The competition for places is just what the Portuguese needs right now.
Getting over the line isn’t always easy but Wednesday have done plenty in disappointing home draws against Ipswich and MK Dons to suggest there’s nothing fundamentally amiss with their promotion bid. Coming off in midweek to the news that Cardiff had been beaten at Brentford puts them on the brink in a fixture where expectations might be lowered just enough for them to relax.
The Draw/Sheffield Wednesday half-time/full-time option at 15/2 is also worth having. It has been the Owls’ modus operandi on numerous occasions away from home this term and a quiet start could suit their needs by lulling Derby into a false sense of security. When push comes to shove in the final quarter, the visitors surely push harder to seal the deal and avoid any further uncertainty.
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