Derby County stretched their unbeaten run in the Sky Bet Championship to nine matches, as Craig Bryson’s eleventh goal of the season was cancelled out by Martin Paterson’s 86th minute leveller.
Although Chris Martin had a first-half spot kick kept out by Alex Smithies, the Rams’ misfortune in front of goal did not last, as Bryson converted the forward’s intuitive lay-off after half-an-hour.
However, a barrage of attacks in the second half from the hosts finally culminated in an equaliser, as Paterson’s looping volley from 20-yards arrowed into the net in a frantic finale.
It was a highly-charged Boxing Day atmosphere at the John Smith’s Stadium, which soon spilled out onto the pitch as Huddersfield’s Murray Wallace was booked for a high tackle on Jamie Ward inside six minutes, before the Northern Ireland international locked horns with winger Adam Hamill following a keenly contested challenge.
The Rams, who went into the game chasing their fourth consecutive away victory, pressed high up the pitch as Ward and Simon Dawkins occupied the forward channels, restricting the Huddersfield wing-backs’ attacking presence, whilst Bryson continually pressurised the Terriers’ three central defenders.
The first clear cut opportunity of the half fell to the Rams, with Andre Wisdom’s low pass into the penalty area picking out Martin. The former Norwich City striker evaded the offside trap, prior to showing quick feet and firing a snap shot goalwards that was well kept out by Smithies.
With Richard Keogh sidelined through injury, Manchester United loanee Michael Keane was handed his first start under Head Coach Steve McClaren, whilst central defensive partner Jake Buxton was installed as captain in the Republic of Ireland international’s absence.
And although it was Keane’s maiden start in the Derby back-four, the England Under-21 international displayed no sign of a lack of understanding, producing a brilliantly timed last ditch tackle on Danny Ward, as the former Bolton Wanderers forward burst towards goal.
However, other than Ward’s foray into the Rams’ penalty area, it was McClaren’s men who posed the most threat going forward, as Buxton had a goal-bound effort hacked clear, before Derby were handed a golden opportunity to take the lead in the 26th minute.
Keane drilled the ball into the feet of Martin who released Ward down the right. The former Sheffield United striker cut inside, running into the penalty area at full pelt before being clumsily bundled over by Joel Lynch.
The Rams’ leading marksman, Martin, took responsibility from the spot, but was denied by Smithies not once, but twice, as the shot-stopper palmed the initial effort clear, prior to plucking the ball out of the air as the striker sent the rebound towards goal. The 13-goal frontman subsequently dropped to the floor and thumped the turf in sheer frustration.
But the grimace on Martin’s face soon faded. On the half-an-hour mark, the former Crystal Palace loanee intelligently played Wisdom’s cross into the path of Bryson, who calmly rolled the ball past Smithies from inside the six-yard box, in off the post, to grab his eleventh of the campaign.
Nine minutes later the Scottish international again proved an integral component in a Derby attack, as the midfielder produced a fine cutback that led to Lynch sticking out a toe and diverting the ball onto the inside of his own post.
In the second-half, Derby started the brighter of the two teams with Dawkins and Ward both having long-range efforts at goal, but at the break, Mark Robins tweaked his system, implementing more of an attacking game plan, which meant the Rams’ duo had to show more discipline and provide defensive cover when required.
Another Robins amend almost directly led to a Huddersfield equaliser, as substitute Duane Holmes perhaps should have done better when he side-footed a rebound over the crossbar from inside the penalty area.
Bryson then produced a superb block at the far post when Paterson looked certain to score, prior to Oliver Norwood sending an exquisite curling effort inches wide of goal, as the pressure began to mount on the visitors.
And the Rams’ resilience was eventually broken in the final four minutes, as Paterson sent a superbly controlled volley past Grant to earn the hosts a point that their intense pressure arguably deserved.
A towering header from Lynch and a dipping long-range drive from Ward that was expertly tipped over the crossbar by Grant, almost won it for Robins’ men, but Derby held on to ensure their unbeaten run remained intact.
Derby County: Grant (GK), Wisdom, Keane, Buxton, Forsyth, Eustace, Hughes (Cisse 76’), Bryson, Dawkins (Russell 71’), Martin (Sammon 84'), Ward.
Subs not used: Legzdins (GK), Bennett, Freeman, Whitbread.
Huddersfield Town: Smithies; Wallace, Gerrard (Lynch 22’), Smith; Dixon, Hogg (Holmes 58’), Clayton, Norwood, Hammill (Scannell 80’); Ward, Paterson.
Subs not used: Bennett (GK), Woods, Gobern, Stead.