Football: Prior's rare prize

Sheffield Wednesday 0 Derby County 1 Prior 54 Half-time: 0-0 Attendance: 24,440
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The Independent Online
SPENCER PRIOR was brought in by the Derby manager Jim Smith to give him someone to nod the ball to out of defence but his headed goal condemned Wednesday - who had their goalkeeper Pavel Srnicek sent off - to their first defeat of the new year.

Given the contrasting styles of these sides, whose only shared feature seemed to be an inability to pass accurately, it was a fair bet that goals were going to be difficult to come by.

Derby's three-man defence allowed Wednesday's strikers, Andy Booth and the in-form Benito Carbone, little space and their packed midfield stifled the flow of the home side's patient approach work. Equally, Derby's reliance on long balls in the direction of Dean Sturridge and Kevin Harper made little impression on a Wednesday defence who have conceded only one goal this year.

So it was no surprise that 17 minutes had elapsed before either goalkeeper was seriously troubled. Derby's Russell Hoult, deputising for the injured Mart Poom, swung to his right to deflect Carbone's 25-yard strike and at the other end Srnicek spilled a powerful drive from Jacob Laursen before it was hoofed away.

Even so, both sides might have broken the deadlock had not poor finishing let them down. Carbone broke clear, but for once his trademark chip failed to come off and the ball sailed over the bar, and the Italian was involved again when he knocked back a corner from the far post only for Booth to bundle the opportunity wide.

Such was the impotence of Derby's front runner that they were forced to rely on the centre back Horacio Carbonari, who forced an excellent save from Srnicek with a blistering 25-yard free-kick and contrived to put the ball into the stand from almost under the crossbar from the resulting corner.

The return of Derby's captain Igor Stimac after three months out with an ankle injury seemed poor consolation for the absence of the suspended Paulo Wanchope. When Dean Sturridge departed at half-time their attacking options looked even more limited, so it was perhaps inevitable that they should promptly take the lead. Wednesday failed to clear a corner, as Harper knocked the ball back from the byline for Prior to score his first goal for nearly three years with a firm header.

Minutes later Wednesday's plight worsened when Srnicek raced out of his area, body- checked Derby's substitute Malcolm Christie and was sent off.