Martyn Waghorn was the hero as Wayne Rooney’s Derby battled back to get the point they needed to stay in the Championship and consign Sheffield Wednesday to relegation to League One after a chaotic game at Pride Park.
The Owls took the lead just before the break when Sam Hutchinson blasted in a close-range rebound.
Derby turned it around with a quickfire double after the interval through Waghorn’s header and a wonderful effort from Patrick Roberts.
Wednesday responded when Callum Paterson swept home a loose ball from inside the area before Julian Borner put the Owls back in front from a corner.
But, with Rotherham letting in a late equaliser at Cardiff that consigned them to the drop, Waghorn thumped in a penalty that proved to be enough to save the Rams and send Wednesday down.
There was little to suggest the madness that was to unfold in the second half after an opening 45 minutes with scarcely any chances or quality.
Although the quality – Roberts’ expert finish aside – hardly improved after the interval, the game totally changed as both teams took it in turns to concede soft goals.
Just when the Rams had turned it around with two goals in four minutes to lead, they dropped off completely and allowed Wednesday to go back in front and, briefly, climb out of the relegation zone.
Sub Kamil Jozwiak was taken out by Chey Dunkley in the area and Waghorn smashed home the spot-kick to level the game for the final time.
With the Owls needing victory to stand any chance of staying up, they threw everything forward in search of a late winner but they could not find one last opportunity and return to League One after nine years in the Championship.
Three bosses but little hope – Wednesday down
It looked likely to be a tough ask for Wednesday to avoid relegation after they were forced to start the season with a 12-point deduction for breaching spending rules.
The penalty was reduced to six points after successfully appealing against the sanction and the Owls moved off the bottom of the table with a 0-0 draw with Millwall on 7 November.
However, boss Garry Monk was then sacked two days later and replaced by veteran Tony Pulis.
The Welshman’s spell in charge was a disaster though and he won just one of his 10 matches before also being sacked on 28 December with the Owls in 23rd position, three points adrift of safety.
Their form initially picked up under caretaker Neil Thompson and they moved out of the relegation zone and to a season-high 20th place with a 1-0 home win over Derby on 1 January.
They moved out of the bottom three again with a 2-0 win over lowly Wycombe on 9 February but then lost the following four matches before Darren Moore was appointed their third manager of the season.
He lost his first three matches and then missed a couple of games after testing positive for Covid-19 before having to step away for an extended period after contracting pneumonia.
Moore returned to the dug-out for the game against the side he played for between 2006 and 2008 but he could not inspire his side to a win that would improbably have kept them in the division.
However, relegation on the final day of the campaign will be tough to swallow on a day when they led twice but just could not hold on.
Rooney’s Rams survive by barest margin
Although Saturday’s result proved to be enough, there remain a number of unanswered questions at Derby going into next season.
Firstly, who will own the club at the start of the 2021-22 season is yet to be decided.
Owner Mel Morris, who has put in around Â£200m since taking over in 2015, agreed a sale to No Limit Sports Limited, owned by Spanish businessman Erik Alonso, in April but it is yet to be formally completed.
Secondly, although the Rams managed to scrape over the line they failed to win any of their final seven games.
Rooney said straight after the match that his side will “get better” next campaign and on recent evidence they will certainly need to if they are to avoid another season of struggle.
- 3ForsythSubstituted forBuchananat 73′minutes
- 38KnightSubstituted forBirdat 61′minutes
- 4ShinnieSubstituted forJozwiakat 73′minutesBooked at 76mins
- 9WaghornSubstituted forDaviesat 82′minutes
- 13Kazim-RichardsBooked at 60mins
- 23DunkleyBooked at 77minsSubstituted forK Harrisat 87′minutesBooked at 90mins
- 8PelupessySubstituted forGreenat 90+3′minutes
- 10BannanBooked at 45mins
- 20RhodesSubstituted forKachungaat 79′minutes
- 7K Harris
Match ends, Derby County 3, Sheffield Wednesday 3.
Second Half ends, Derby County 3, Sheffield Wednesday 3.
Kadeem Harris (Sheffield Wednesday) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Kadeem Harris (Sheffield Wednesday).
Kamil Jozwiak (Derby County) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Corner, Sheffield Wednesday. Conceded by Kamil Jozwiak.
Substitution, Sheffield Wednesday. Andre Green replaces Joey Pelupessy.
Corner, Sheffield Wednesday. Conceded by Max Bird.
Elias Kachunga (Sheffield Wednesday) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Matthew Clarke (Derby County).
Offside, Sheffield Wednesday. Liam Palmer tries a through ball, but Kadeem Harris is caught offside.
Substitution, Sheffield Wednesday. Kadeem Harris replaces Cheyenne Dunkley.
Festy Ebosele (Derby County) is shown the yellow card.
Attempt saved. Liam Palmer (Sheffield Wednesday) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Elias Kachunga.
Substitution, Derby County. Curtis Davies replaces Martyn Waghorn.
Substitution, Sheffield Wednesday. Elias Kachunga replaces Jordan Rhodes.
Goal! Derby County 3, Sheffield Wednesday 3. Martyn Waghorn (Derby County) converts the penalty with a left footed shot to the top left corner.
Cheyenne Dunkley (Sheffield Wednesday) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Penalty conceded by Cheyenne Dunkley (Sheffield Wednesday) after a foul in the penalty area.
Penalty Derby County. Kamil Jozwiak draws a foul in the penalty area.