Date: 11th April 2009 at 6:52pm
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Wednesday continued their poor home form by falling to defeat in a dull game against Derby County.

It had to be former Sheffield United man Rob Hulse, subject to abuse throughout, who did the damage, with his near-post header on the stroke of half-time giving Nigel Clough’s men all three points to all-but secure their Championship status.

The majority of the 24,000-plus crowd inside Hillsborough were given a leaflet highlighting the reduced season ticket prices for next season.

But while those ‘offers’ were the subject of booing from a section of the Wednesday support, those in limbo over purchasing a season ticket for next season certainly won’t be rushing to the ticket office following another dour showing on home soil.

Owls boss Brian Laws made two changes to his side from the victory at Norwich City last week.

Striker Luke Varney was ineligible for selection as part of his loan deal from the Rams, James O’Connor coming in to the centre of midfield to allow Marcus Tudgay to join the attack, while Frank Simek returned the defence following Tommy Spurr’s suspension.

Going into the game, the points were needed more by the Pride Park club rather than Wednesday, and it showed in a dull opening to the clash.

The Rams looked the more hungry for the points, and looked quicker and sharper to the second balls as Wednesday made a sluggish start, maybe a sign that some players are already looking forward to their summer holiday’s.

Former Nottingham Forest man Kris Commons was the first to get a shot on goal, if only testing Lee Grant early on.

But for Derby edging the play somewhat, the Owls carved out the best opportunities in front of goal in the first half.

The early Derby chances were from long range – and Gary Teale forced Grant into a fine save to stop the Scot’s long-range volley going into the top corner.

Wednesday failed to get into gear at the top end of the pitch, with Jermaine Johnson going on some typically mazy runs which came to nothing, while Sean McAllister failed to cause any problems on the right, playing out of position.

It was former Derby man and Wednesday’s top scorer Tudgay who had arguably the best early effort, when he was well positioned inside the box but took too long over slotting the ball into the back of the net and the visitors cleared the danger.

Potter came even closer to carving out some magic when his free-kick from the edge of the box came crashing back off the woodwork.

And Johnson was also a whisper away from making contact to a teasing ball across the box as Wednesday gathered momentum with the first half drawing to a close.

But they were dealt a sucker-punch on the stroke of half-time as the Rams took the decisive lead.

Teale put in a dangerous cross and Hulse rose highest to divert a header by Grant and into the back of the net to send the Rams in ahead.

Half-Time: Wednesday 0-1 Derby

With the attacking options at Nigel Clough’s disposal many will have expected the visitors coming out for a second goal and not sitting back on their lead.

But they did anything but – and three early injuries in the first seven minutes of the half slowed the game down somewhat.

Wednesday came racing out of the blocks though and had another golden chance to score, this time Hulse doing his defensive duties by clearing off the line when Tudgay looked odds-on to score from a Potter cross.

The game fizzled out for the next ten minutes, with neither side carving out any clear-cut chances in front of goal.

And that prompted Laws to make a double substitution after just 55 minutes.

Francis Jeffers and James O’Connor were both replaced by Akpo Sodje and Leon Clarke respectively, with the new duo going up front and Tudgay dropping back to the right wing.

And the changes prompted somewhat of a revival in the Wednesday attack – with the front two causing the Derby defence more problems in their first five minutes together than the team had done in the rest of the match.

Both got involved and Clarke nearly produced a leveller when his neat back heel fooled two defenders and put Tudgay through on goal, only for the former Ram to power his shot just over the woodwork.

Sodje and Clarke were both making their presence known in attack as the threat on the Derby goal became more intense and Grant become more of a spectator.

Laws introduced more attacking threat in the returning Etienne Esajas not long after, replacing the relatively quiet Johnson, and the Dutchman made a good impression on his comeback.

He found his way by two Derby defenders with some skill before unleashing a powerful effort which the Rams stopper could only parry.

But as the game wore on, the more the hosts got desperate in their attacks and the more they reverted to the long-ball forward, which more often than not ended up with the visitors clearing the danger.

Clarke had a number of half-chances which he fluffed, and Wednesday just didn’t seem to have their shooting boots on – something far too common on home soil in recent matches.

Full-Time: Wednesday 0-1 Derby

Owls: Grant, Simek, Hinds, Wood, Buxton, O’Connor (Clarke 55), McAllister, Potter, Johnson (Esajas 68), Jeffers (Sodje 55), Tudgay. Unused substitutes: Beevers, Boden.

Derby: Bywater, Connolly, Albrechtsen, McEveley, Nyatanga (Todd 46), Teale, Commons (Savage 79) Pearson, Eustace, Bannan (Sterjovski 61), Hulse. Unused substitutes: Price, Villa.