Derby County maintained their unbeaten record under Head Coach Steve McClaren, as the Rams were forced to settle for a point following a 1-1 draw with Birmingham City at Pride Park.
Jamie Ward continued his fine run of form, netting his third goal in two games when he turned the ball in from inside the six-yard box in the 39th minute.
However, a resurgent and disciplined second half performance from the visitors saw the Blues grab a draw, when Lee Novak calmly volleyed past Lee Grant in the 66th minute, with what was the striker’s first touch of the ball after coming on as a substitute.
Head Coach McClaren handed loan signings Andre Wisdom and Simon Dawkins their home debuts at Pride Park Stadium against Birmingham, with the duo replacing Adam Smith and Mason Bennett respectively from the side that overcame Watford last weekend.
The Rams went into the game targeting a third consecutive league win under McClaren, which would also see the former Middlesbrough boss win his inaugural three games of a new managerial appointment for the first time since taking charge of England in August 2006.
For the Blues, the match posed an opportunity for Lee Clark’s men to prove a point following their collapse at Elland Road last weekend, which saw Leeds United stroll to a 4-0 victory.
With a porous defence against Leeds in mind, Clark reverted to a back-four, with Paul Robinson and Fulham loanee Dan Burn forming the heart of the Blues’ defensive unit.
However, the same problems that haunted the Blues at Elland Road were apparent at Pride Park, at least in the opening exchanges, as inside two minutes, Ward got the better of the Birmingham offside trap when he latched on to Craig Bryson’s through ball. The Northern Ireland international raced clean through on goal, but could not find a way past former Motherwell shot-stopper Darren Randolph, who remained on his feet for as long as possible to reduce the gap for Ward to aim at.
Derby’s fluent opening continued as they retained possession comfortably, patiently playing the ball out from defence looking intent on handpicking their forays into their opponent’s penalty area.
For the visitors, giant Serbian forward Nikola Zigic had a header flash over the crossbar following a Chris Burke corner, but the Blues’ efforts at goal remained at a premium, with Derby looking the more likely to carve out a clear opening to take the lead.
Tottenham Hotspur loanee Dawkins had two chances inside the first 25 minutes, firstly curling straight at Randolph after outmuscling Paul Caddis on the left, before rifling an effort into the side netting.
Sandwiched in between those two attempts, Chris Martin glanced a header agonisingly wide of goal following Ward’s measured cross from the right, but the Rams’ best opportunity of the opening half-an-hour ensued when Bryson broke free and prodded past Randolph, only to see his goal-bound effort hacked off the line by Burn.
Despite their dominance in possession and efforts at goal, the Rams suffered a scare in the 33rd minute when Zigic towered to meet another Burke corner and send a thumping header off the back of the crossbar.
However, the Serbian’s effort failed to derail the Rams, who remained composed and eventually got a goal their first-half play deserved, six minutes prior to the interval.
Bryson, who had eight assists to his name this season going into the game, drilled a cut-back across the face of goal from the left. Martin had the side’s first attempt as he flicked a right boot at the ball at the near post, which was palmed away by Randolph. The Blues’ attempts at a clearance were futile, as Ward was on hand in the six-yard box, drawn to the ball like a bee to nectar, as he swivelled well prior to stabbing the ball into the net.
The Blues’ aerial threat from corners continued to cause Derby problems in the second period, with goalkeeper Lee Grant called upon on a number of occasions to punch clear, prior to the powerful Zigic making his presence felt in the 53rd minute, when he headed narrowly wide.
With Birmingham beginning to get a real foothold in the game, McClaren introduced Conor Sammon with half-an-hour remaining, in order to relieve a spell of pressure and create a different type of problem for the Blues’ back-line to contend with.
A tactical battle ensued as Novak was deployed by Clark moments later, and the former Huddersfield Town forward stunned the home crowd when he raced onto Caddis’ hopeful punt into the penalty area, and lashed a volley past Grant with what was his first touch of the ball.
Derby responded, and almost retook the lead when Will Hughes found substitute Mason Bennett with a neat through ball. The 17-year-old took one touch prior to rolling ball goal-wards, but Burn was once again well placed to clear the danger.
However, Fulham loanee Burn was almost culpable for a Derby equaliser in the 80th minute as Sammon anticipated the central defender’s header back towards Randolph, but the former Wigan Athletic forward sent an instinctive half-volley inches wide.
Republic of Ireland international Sammon then powered a late header over in stoppage time, as the Rams had to settled for a single point, and in doing so, extended their unbeaten run to four games.
Derby County: Grant (GK), Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth, Eustace, Bryson, Hughes (Jacobs 86’), Ward, Dawkins (Bennett 66’), Martin (Sammon 60’).
Subs not used: Morch (GK), Freeman, Smith, Ball.
Birmingham City: Randolph (GK); Caddis, Burn, Robinson, Murphy; Reilly, Elliott; Burke (Gray 36’), Shinnie (Novak 66’), Ferguson (Adeyemi 88'); Zigic.
Subs not used: Doyle (GK), Bartley, Lovenkrands, Lee.