Derby’s fight for Championship safety will go to the final day of the season after Swansea came from behind to inflict a 2-1 defeat on Wayne Rooney’s side. The result, coupled with Sheffield Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Nottingham Forest and Rotherham’s 1-1 with Blackburn, means Derby face a winner-takes-all game against Wednesday next weekend.
Derby were on course to beat the drop after Tom Lawrence’s header at the start of the second half gave them the advantage in Wales. But a quickfire comeback sparked by Derby academy product Morgan Whittaker and completed by Connor Roberts condemned the visitors to a sixth successive defeat.
Safety is still in Derby’s hands but they are hovering dangerously close to the bottom three ahead of next weekend’s final fixtures. They currently sit three points clear of the relegation zone, but Rotherham could close that gap if they win their game in hand against Luton on Tuesday.
Against Swansea, Derby took the lead two minutes into the second half. Nathan Byrne had a dangerous cross half cleared back to his feet before he curled another towards the back post, where Lawrence got in front of Roberts to head into the bottom corner.
However, Whittaker sparked a rapid turnaround after 63 minutes. A deep cross from Yan Dhanda found Ben Cabango at the back post, and Whittaker latched on to his cushioned header and squeezed a header of his own over the goalline despite the efforts of Kelle Roos.
The Derby collapse continued two minutes later as an expertly flighted pass from Matt Grimes picked out Roberts, who side-footed home a volley from the edge of the six-yard box for what proved to be the winning goal.
“We leave ourselves with one game left of the season and we have to win,” Rooney said. “We’ll certainly see who the men are and see which players can stand up and be counted for the game on Saturday.
“The players will be ready, it’s a shoot-out between the three of us and we know if we win the game, Sheffield Wednesday can’t go above us, then we have to hope Rotherham lose [or draw] one of their games.
“The players are fighting for each other. There is no lack of fight or character. The players will be ready for next week. We know what we have to do to stay in this league.”
Earlier, Sheffield Wednesday had kept their hopes alive after Keiren Westwood’s penalty save from Lewis Grabban helped the hosts to a 0-0 draw with Nottingham Forest.
Assistant manager Jamie Smith, deputising in the dugout as Darren Moore continues to recover from pneumonia, said: “Being in and around the dressing room, I can say there was no resignation in there. Afterwards, the mood was more disappointment because we had built up the importance of getting three points all week.
“It was also very frustrating to see some of the defensive mistakes but, fortunately, they did not lead to us conceding and Keiren made a great save to keep us in it.
Smith added that Moore could travel to Wednesday’s final Championship contest at Derby next weekend. “He was in communication with us at half-time and said to keep the players calm and switched on,” Smith said. “He’s a bit better in himself and might be in the stand next week.”
Rotherham gave their bid for survival a boost after battling back for a potentially crucial draw against Blackburn. Lewis Wing’s late equaliser meant Paul Warne’s side avoided a sixth straight loss and, although they remain in the bottom three, they now have their destiny in their own hands.
Victory at Luton would lift Rotherham above Derby on goal difference and out of the drop zone ahead of the league finale next weekend.
Adam Armstrong’s 26th goal of season looked like it was going to hand Tony Mowbray’s side the three points but they were guilty of being wasteful in front of goal and were punished by Wing.
Both sides missed chances throughout the game, however – just when it was beginning to look like Blackburn would hold on for the points – Rotherham drew level in the 86th minute when Wing powered a low free-kick into the bottom corner.
A chaotic finale saw Rotherham substitute George Hirst denied by a strong save by Thomas Kaminski before Blackburn threatened on the counterattack until Ryan Giles’ intervention.
Rotherham goalkeeper Jamal Blackman denied Armstrong in the final minute after he was rolled in one-on-one by Harvey Elliott as the hosts earned a point which could yet prove key in an incredibly tight three-way battle to avoid the drop.