Derby were 3-2 down and Martyn Waghorn had just placed the ball on the penalty spot when news drifted into Pride Park from South Wales.
Cardiff City had scored a late equaliser against Rotherham and Waghorn could beat Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Keiren Westwood then his team would be on course to escape relegation.
Wayne Rooney can’t hide his delight as Derby dramatically secured their Championship status
The Derby bench erupts with two-goal Martyn Waghorn leading the celebrations at survival
Derby’s Martyn Waghorn slams home the penalty to make it 3-3 during a dramatic final day
Kamil Jozwiak is brought down for the penalty that ultimately earned Derby a draw
Sheffield Wednesday’s Adam Reach can’t believe it after Derby are awarded a penalty
Derby manager Wayne Rooney urges his team on during the tense closing stages
It has been a torturous first season in management for Wayne Rooney but it all boiled down to these desperate, nerve-wracking closing minutes.
There were more than six minutes to play at Pride Park when the Cardiff game ended and Rotherham’s relegation was confirmed.
Rooney’s team were safe but they still had to fight and protect the point. One more goal for Wednesday and they would be safe and their hosts would be relegated into League One in 1984.
Patrick Roberts, who had scored Derby’s second to put them 2-1 up, early in the second half, sprinted clear with only Westwood to beat but the Owls ‘keeper smothered the chance at his feet.
Six minutes of stoppage time were shown and Wednesday had Derby pinned back inside their penalty area. They clung on and rejoiced when Mike Dean blew the final whistle.
Sheffield Wednesday players celebrate as they go 3-2 in front thanks to Julian Borner
Borner was practically on the goalline when he nodded home to put Wednesday in front
Derby’s Graeme Shinnie can’t believe it as Sheffield Wednesday level the game at 2-2
Wednesday will go down with Rotherham to complete a miserable season for South Yorkshire, with Sheffield United also demoted from the Premier League.
Ultimately, their six-point deduction was the difference and it must have been a bitter pill for boss Darren Moore, who returned to touchline in a bid to inspire his players having been absent for the previous four games, suffering with pneumonia following a bout of Covid.
Outside the stadium, Derby fans gathered in the drizzle to support their team. The noise drifted over the pitch as the contest unfolded but, from South Wales, came the news of Rotherham’s early goal, to take the lead against Cardiff.
At this stage, both teams at Pride Park were going down.
Wednesday made a bright start. Barry Bannan fired wide after a good move by the visitors but Derby fought back and were on top when they thought they had scored in the 10th minute.
Martyn Waghorn slides on his knees to celebrate after heading Derby level just after the break
Waghorn rose highest to steer a header away from Wednesday keeper Keiren Westwood
Patrick Roberts celebrates with Jason Knight and Tom Lawrence after scoring Derby’s second
It was a stunning curled finish by Roberts from outside the box to hand the home side the lead
Nathan Byrne’s corner was flicked on and Waghorn looked certain to score as he arrived at the back post. Waghorn sprang high and headed the ball but it flashed wide and his momentum took him crashing into the goalposts.
The Derby substitutes and coaching staff thought it was a goal. They all leapt out of their seats in celebration. It was perhaps a sign of the tension but it was Waghorn in the net. The ball was in the seats.
He required a lengthy spell of treatment and the delay would have repercussions.
Derby did have the ball in the net before half-time. Colin Kazim-Richards tapped in the rebound from close range after Kieren Westwood could only parry a low drive from long range by Patrick Roberts.
There was a burst of music on the public address system which must have proved confusing for those outside the ground because there was a flag up against Kazim-Richards.
Delirious Sheffield Wednesday players celebrate after Sam Hutchinson’s first-half opener
Hutchinson pounced to score from close range in the third minute of first-half stoppage time
Hutchinson struck the hammer blow after Jordan Rhodes (on floor) bravely teed him up
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Derby County (4-2-3-1): Roos 6; Byrne 6, Edmundson 6, Clarke 5, Forsyth 5 (Buchanan 73, 6); Roberts 6.5, Shinnie 6 (Jozwiak 73, 6.5), Knight 6 (Bird 61, 6), Lawrence 6; Kazim-Richards 6.5, Waghorn 7.5 (Davies 82)
Substitutes not used: Marshall (GK); Jozwiak, Bird, Sibley, Cashin, Buchanan, Ebosele, Watson
Manager: Wayne Rooney 6
Scorers: Waghorn 49; Roberts 52; Waghorn pen 77
Booked: Kazim-Richards, Jozwiak, Waghorn, Ebosele
Sheffield Wednesday (3-4-2-1): Westwood 5; Hutchinson 6, Dunkley 5 (Harris 87), Borner 6; Palmer 6, Pelupessy 6 (Green 90+3), Bannan 6.5, Reach 6; Paterson 6.5, Windass 5; Rhodes 7 (Kachunga 79)
Substitutes not used: Wildsmith (GK); Brennan, Urhoghide, Dele-Bashiru, Hunt, Shaw
Manager: Darren Moore 6
Scorers: Hutchinson 45+3; Paterson 62; Borner 69
Booked: Bannan, Dunkley, Harris
Referee: Mike Dean 6.5
Referee Dean ruled out the goal. Sheffield Wednesday supporters were not keen on the omens when Dean was awarded this game.
He had been in charge for their last-day relegation decider in 2010 when they draw at home with Crystal Palace when a win was needed to stay up and send their visitors down.
Dean and his assistants ruled again in their favour when the Owls took the lead in the fourth minute of stoppage time at the end of the first half.
Callum Paterson launched a long throw into the penalty area, it was flicked on and bravely headed towards goal by Jordan Rhodes.
Derby goalkeeper Kelle Roos made a fabulous save, low with his left hand, but Hutchinson was alert to the rebound and stabbed in a toe-poke, his first goal of the season.
Derby thought the goalscorer was offside but the officials allowed it stand. There is no VAR in the Championship. Replays showed it was tight but Craig Forsyth was probably playing Hutchinson on.
Waghorn curled a free-kick narrowly over before the interval before equalising, four minutes into the second half, with a firm header from a cross by Tom Lawrence.
Three minutes later and they went ahead. A long ball from keeper Roos was fought down by Kazim-Richards. It was collected by Roberts who carried it forward and produced a delightful strike, curling beyond the dive of Westwood, for his first Derby goal.
Wednesday had not fought back from behind to win all season but they did respond and levelled at 2-2 in the 62nd minute.
Rhodes and Forsyth contested a long high ball into the penalty box by Adam Reach and it spilled out to Paterson who drove it low past Roos.
Derby wobbled and the visitors took the lead from a corner, not cleared, kept alive by Chey Dunkley and nodded over the line from close range by Julian Borner.
But, just as the Owls glimpsed an escape, Derby sub Kamil Jozwiak burst into the penalty area fouled from behind by Dunkley. Waghorn held his nerve, the Cardiff equaliser came through and the point was enough.
Colin Kazim-Richards looks round in dismay and sees a raised flag for offside after scoring
Derby forward Martyn Waghorn collided with the post after missing a first-half chance
Waghorn required treatment from the Derby medical team following his collision
Derby’s Craig Forsyth plays a pass in front of Sheffield Wednesday’s Liam Palmer at Pride Park
Rams manager Wayne Rooney on the touchline during a tense final day encounter