A Jekyll and Hyde 90 minutes from Derby County, involving an uncharacteristic dysfunctional first-half, and a spirited and resurgent second, culminated in an enthralling 4-4 draw with Ipswich Town.
The Rams conceded four goals in a chaotic first 34 minutes - three of which were from set-pieces, but a transformed second-half display, including a double from Craig Bryson, clawed the Rams back on level terms at Pride Park.
Academy boss Darren Wassall experienced moments of pure agony and ecstasy on the night, although his interim managerial reign of the first-team did get off to the worst possible start –as did Leicester City loanee Zac Whitbread’s Derby debut.
The 29-year-old defender, who only signed on a 93-day emergency loan on Monday morning, planted a header into his own net from Aaron Cresswell’s free-kick after just six minutes.
Cresswell’s pinpoint deliveries and direct attacking approach from left-back continued to cause the Rams problems in what was a nervy opening from the hosts.
The former Tranmere Rovers full-back was at the heart of the Tractor Boys’ second goal, as a sumptuous cross from the Liverpudlian, this time a corner, was powerfully headed into the roof of the net by Murphy after just nine minutes.
The Rams did have a sight of goal in between the visitor’s strikes, when Craig Forsyth crossed from the left, only to be headed over by a backpedalling Chris Martin.
However, Ipswich’s clinical instinct from set-pieces was matched by the Rams in the 12th minute, as Ben Davies’ corner from the right was emphatically headed in by debutant Whitbread to hand Derby a way back into the game.
But Derby’s initial euphoria was short-lived, incredibly short-lived in fact, as just 60 seconds following Whitbread’s header, Ipswich restored their two goal advantage.
Left-back Cresswell found himself in a plethora of space in the penalty, before rifling a low cross-come-shot across goal that deflected off of the unfortunate goalkeeper Lee Grant and crept into the net.
The Rams’ misery was compounded when, you guessed it, Cresswell curled in another corner and Murphy towered highest to send a header into the net for his second of the night, as Derby simply failed to attack the ball.
Wassall made two changes at the break, with Mason Bennett and John Eustace replacing Conor Sammon and Davies. The Academy manager also tweaked the formation, with Martin the main focus of the Rams’ attack and Ward and Bennett providing the width in a 4-3-3 system.
The two substitutions had an immediate effect on the side. With Eustace shielding the back four, Bryson and Will Hughes were given license to roam forward, and the former, inside two minutes of the restart, ghosted into the box and sent the ball through the legs of an onrushing Dean Gerken.
The youthful exuberance and directness of 17-year-old Bennett was giving the Tractor Boys plenty to think about, and the England youth international was unfortunate not to net his first ever league goal at Pride Park when Gerken thwarted the forward at his feet.
However, Bryson’s strike had a given both the Rams and the home crowd a real lift, and the supporters were soon handed an extra reason to roar the team on as Ward tapped in Hughes’ cut-back from inside the six-yard box to make it 4-3.
Derby continued to battle for an equaliser, with Ward in particular going close on a number of occasions, including a neat swivel and half-volley on the edge of the box that was well held by Gerken.
But their energetic and feisty second half display was finally rewarded with a point in the dying minutes. Ward’s corner was unconvincingly tipped away by goalkeeper Gerken. Whitbread had an initial header blocked, prior to Bryson firing a half-volley into the net and running over to celebrate with Wassall in the dugout.
Derby County: Grant (GK), Smith, Buxton, Whitbread, Forsyth, Davies (Bennett 46’), Bryson, Hughes, Ward (Russell 90’), Sammon (Eustace 46’), Martin.
Subs Not Used: Deeney (GK), Lowe, Hanson, Jacobs.
Ipswich Town: Gerken (GK), Chambers, Berra, Smith, Cresswell, Anderson (Edwards 71’), Hyam, Skuse, Tunnicliffe (Tabb 72’), Murphy, McGoldrick (Nouble 82’).
Subs Not Used: Loach (GK), Hewitt, Mings, Wordsworth.
Attendance: 21,037 (599 visiting supporters).