David Jones’ 94th minute free-kick was all that separated Brian Laws’ battling Owls side and Billy Davies’ second-placed Rams in an end-to-end encounter at Pride Park on Saturday which left the Owls without a win in 2007.
It’s the second time the Rams had picked up last minute winners against Wednesday, with Paul Peschisolido and Steve Howard ensuring 10-man County came from behind to pick up three points in the last minute in the reverse clash at Hillsborough.
But the result was probably just for the hosts, who created the better chances in front of goal and could have been ahead on several occasions before Davies finally managed to break the deadlock with just about the last kick of the game.
Wednesday boss Brian Laws made just one change to the side that drew with Manchester City last Sunday with highly-rated Madjid Bougherra returning from suspension to partner Lee Bullen in the centre of defence at the expense of Graham Coughlan who returned to the bench.
Derby started with just one of their three new signings with Gary Teale starting on the right, and the former Wigan man began causing all kinds of problems for young Owls defender Tommy Spurr at left-back.
And it was the Scotsman who made the first chance of the match for the hosts as his run earned their first corner of the match on five minutes. David Jones swung it dangerously in to the Owls box but Kenny Lunt was on-hand to steer the in-form Arturo Lupoli’s header off the line.
Wednesday had their fair share of posession in the centre of the park but they failed to turn it in to chances in front of goal, with the returning Dean Leacock and former Doncaster Rovers defender Darren Moore proving one of the toughest tests of the season for the Owls’ forwards.
And it was Billy Davies’ men who threatened again after 20 minutes as Teale again caused Spurr problems on the right wing before providing an inch-perfect cross which Steve Howard could only flick wide of Mark Crossley’s post.
Wednesday began to find their feet in the final third of the pitch and Chris Brunt had the Owls first effort on goal as he lashed a powerful low drive from 25 yards just wide of Stephen Bywater’s goal.
And the warning shot led to former Ram Marcus Tudgay going even closer minutes later after a good passing move involving the in-form Steve Maclean and Deon Burton. The striker would have maybe found the back of the net during his rich vein of form of former months, but Tudgay could only steer his effort wide of the goal.
But the hosts finished the first half the stronger of the two sides and Brian Laws was probably glad to hear the half-time whistle after Lupoli saw an effort go wide and Jones also saw a dangerous free-kick well blocked by the Owls wall after the highly-rated Giles Barnes was felled on the edge of the box after he waltzed through the Owls midfield.
Half-Time: Derby 0-0 Wednesday
The second-placed Rams may have ended the first-half in the ascendancy but it was certainly the Owls who came out all guns blazing in the second half as they looked to take the game to their hosts and break the deadlock.
Some great passing by Wednesday in the centre of the park almost saw Kenny Lunt give the Owls the lead after his quick feet at the edge of the box forced Derby stopper Bywater in to a superb save to tip the ball wide for a corner.
And the save forced a trio of corners for Wednesday in front of their 4,300 following behind the goal which tested the Derby defence with the aerial presence of Bullen and Bougherra, but to no avail.
And on 53 minutes Steve Maclean was inches away from continuing his fine goalscoring record after Marcus Tudgay broke free on the right hand side and produced a dangerous cross in the Rams box.
Both sides made changes as they saw an opportunity to sneak a goal and take all three points, with the hosts bringing on new signings Stephen Pearson and Craig Fagan, while Brian Laws introduced Wade Small in to the Owls attack, surprisingly to replace Chris Brunt with Marcus Tudgay moving over to the left of midfield.
And it was Derby who looked the more dangerous in the closing stages as Dean Leacock missed a header from point-blank range while Darren Moore went close and Lupoli saw his effort well saved by Crossley – who was getting his fair share of abuse from the Rams fans for his time at rivals Nottingham Forest.
Despite the Rams looking more dangerous in the final 15 minutes, Wednesday had their fair share of the ball but failed to show any cutting edge in front of goal to the frustration of the Owls fans.
Brian Laws made one last throw of the dice by throwing on former Bradford City loanee David Graham in to the Owls attack to replace Steve Maclean.
But it was the majority of the near-29,000 Pride Park crowd who went home the happier after £1m man David Jones rattled home a long-range free-kick four minutes in to added time after Tommy Spurr had conceded a foul at the edge of the box.
It was hard on Wednesday for all their hard-work, but probably just rewards for a Rams side who continued to push to break down a stubborn Owls defence, and who created the better chances in front of goal.
Full-Time: Derby 1-0 Wednesday
Derby: Bywater; Edworthy, Leacock, Moore, Camara; Teale (Bisgaard 72), Barnes (Fagan 63), Jones, Johnson (Pearson 65), Lupoli; Howard. Subs: Johnson, Malcolm.
Wednesday: Crossley; Simek, Bougherra, Bullen, Spurr; Tudgay, Whelan, Lunt, Brunt (Small 69); Burton, MacLean (Graham 90). Subs: Adamson, Coughlan, Folly.
Brian Laws told BBC Sport:
‘It was a rash challenge from Tommy. He’s young, he’s naive, he’s tried to win the ball.
‘Any football played was played by Sheffield Wednesday.
‘It was just the last pass in the final third that let us down. Apart from that, we were excellent.’
Billy Davies told BBC Sport:
‘We turned the screw in the second half but there was always a possibility they would hit us on the counter with their attacking options.
‘That’s as good a test as we’ll get all season. We should have scored before we did and it’s a good three points.
‘They are a good away side but I don’t think anyone can deny us the points.’