Derby County 1 Sheffield Wed 0: Jones delivers decisive blow

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The Independent Football

David Jones' spectacular winner deep in stoppage time must have Derby believing they can do no wrong. On an afternoon during which their considerable pressure barely stretched to bringing saves from Mark Crossley, they went level on points with the leaders, Birmingham City, thanks to early pay-back on their transfer-window investment.

Jones, on loan since November, is very much the "other" piece in Billy Davies' substantial January spending, having had his move from Manchester United made permanent at £1m. His curling free-kick was tough on a Sheffield Wednesday side who underlined their own re-emergence by surviving without undue discomfort for 93 minutes and looking the more threatening in open play.

But Derby are a team with a cutting edge and a serious winning habit. This was their fourth victory in a row and the second home game running they have won late. They also secured three points at Hillsborough in September with Steve Howard's injury-time goal.

"David Jones has a wonderful left foot and that's what he's capable of," Davies said. "He's a tremendous young talent and we see that from him every day in training. That's as good a test as we will have because they are a side on the front foot."

The presence of 4,000-plus visiting fans in Pride Park's second biggest attendance of the season reflected recent form, particularly Wednesday's four straight away wins. The tempo befitted two promotion aspirants and there were chances for both, if not many on target.

Arturo Lupoli, having last weekend become the first Derby player since 1996 to score a hat-trick, was close to another break-through when his header to Jones' corner was blocked on the line by Kenny Lunt.

Davies decided only Gary Teale of his three midweek arrivals should start and the former Wigan winger immediately looked a valuable supplier for Howard, who guided two headers wide before Lupoli finished miserably on his weaker right foot when played clear by Jones.

Wednesday were rich in counter-attacking potential, Steve MacLean cleverly picking out Marcus Tudgay with a flighted pass, which the former Derby man struck wide on the volley. Neither goalkeeper was forced into a save until Stephen Bywater went down to push wide Lunt's 20-yarder two minutes after half-time.

Davies was not prepared to stand idly by. In the space of two minutes soon after the hour, he sent on his two other new recruits, Craig Fagan and Stephen Pearson, with Giles Barnes one of those to make way. Derby were committing more men forward and Lupoli almost did the trick when he hit the outside of the post and possibly Crossley's fingertips with a cross from an acute angle.

Unbridled joy was soon to come. Tommy Spurr was booked for fouling Fagan outside the area on the Wednesday left and Jones' exquisite shot beat Crossley high at his near post. Davies celebrated extravagantly and was admonished by his counterpart, Brian Laws, who presumably considered the ritual disrespectful. Wenger v Pardew it was not, however, and any differences were resolved at the end. "I have every sympathy with the players because they deserved a point," Laws said. "We matched them all over the park."

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