Derby County were held to a 0-0 stalemate by Bolton Wanderers at the iPro Stadium, as the Rams failed to find the back of the net for the third consecutive Sky Bet Championship fixture.
The Rams finished the game having had 18 shots at goal compared to the visitor’s eight, but not one found a way past Hungarian goalkeeper Adam Bogdan, as the Bolton back line stood firm, like Millwall’s at the weekend, to shut out and frustrate the hosts.
It was a high tempo, expansive start from Steve McClaren’s side, with first-team coach Paul Simpson encouraging both Jamie Ward and Simon Dawkins to run at the Bolton full-backs whenever the opportunity arose.
The Rams welcomed Chris Martin back into the starting line-up for the visit of the Trotters, after the 25-year-old served his one match suspension against the Lions on Saturday, and it was the former Norwich City forward who came closest to an early opener.
In the sixth minute, Craig Bryson, Craig Forsyth and Dawkins overloaded the left-hand side, with left-back Forsyth eventually crossing towards Martin, but the ball narrowly evaded the striker’s outstretched right boot as ‘keeper Bogdan claimed.
Ward’s inclusion in the Rams’ starting line-up was the Northern Ireland international’s first start since the 1-0 victory over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, and the 27-year-old ran the Bolton defenders ragged in the opening 45 minutes, as though he had a point to prove.
It was his exquisite pass that slipped in Jeff Hendrick, who squared for Martin, but the forward was adjudged offside as he forced Bogdan into a terrific reflex stop, with the fluent passing move met by an enthusiastic round of applause from the Derby faithful.
Ward’s work rate was exceptional down the right, tirelessly running at Alex Baptiste, and the former Sheffield United player was proving to be the catalyst of the majority of the Rams’ attacks, with one free-kick in particular causing havoc in the visitor’s penalty area.
The Trotters went into the game having won their previous three League encounters, scoring 11 goals in the process, and Dougie Freedman’s side did occasionally threaten Lee Grant’s goal in the first-half, with Andre Moritz’s stinging drive proving the most notable, which the former Burnley shot-stopper batted away.
However, it was Derby who were playing with more vigour and verve, as Ward, Martin, Dawkins and Hendrick continued to fluently interchange positions, pulling the Bolton back-four out of position and creating pockets of space.
The Rams ended the first-half on top with Ward and Dawkins linking up superbly on the edge of the penalty area before the former fizzed a half-volley inches past the far post. Right-back Andre Wisdom then dragged a left-footed shot wide after another flowing move, with the home side’s efforts duly rewarded at the break by a rapturous applause from the home supporters.
The match continued in a similar vein following the interval with the Rams asking plenty of questions of Bogdan and Freedman’s back four, but unfortunately with the same fruitless outcome.
Bryson tested the ‘keeper with a fierce swerving drive while Dawkins cut inside and saw his deflected shot fall harmlessly into the arms of Bogdan, as the Rams continued to get into the right positions, but the final ball or final shot were lacking.
McClaren urged his side to press higher up the pitch, and the former England boss was proactive in his substitutions, bringing on Patrick Bamford, Conor Sammon and later Johnny Russell, as they searched for an elusive winning goal.
The substitutes almost combined instantly, with Russell crossing for Sammon, who glanced a header wide, before the Scotsman flashed a header over from Wisdom’s cross. The momentum continued to build, but the Rams struggled to break down the fluorescent orange wall that was forming in front of them.
Along with the changes in personnel, McClaren instructed Wisdom and Forsyth to effectively play as wingers, with Jake Buxton and Richard Keogh holding the fort at the back. With such an attacking emphasis, Derby remained vulnerable on the counter attack, and were almost caught out in the final minutes when Lukas Jutkiewicz forced Grant into a fine save. The Rams' hearts were firmly in their mouths moments later when Danns cut inside and shot at Grant, who spilled initially, but gathered at the second attempt.
There was still one more chance for Derby in stoppage time, but Sammon shot straight at Bogdan from 15-yards out after being teed up by Bryson's backheel, to end what proved a frustrating evening for the hosts.
Derby County: Grant (GK); Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Eustace (Bamford 74'), Hendrick, Bryson; Ward (Sammon 79'), Dawkins (Russell 82’), Martin.
Substitutes not used: Legzdins (GK), Naylor, Whitbread, Thorne.
Bolton Wanderers: Bogdan (GK), Hutton, Knight, Ream, Baptiste, Medo, Spearing, Danns, Davies (Lee 65') , Moritz (Trotter 53’), Jutkiewicz (Wheater 90').
Substitutes not used: Lee-Barrett (GK), Hall, Vela, Mason.
Attendance: 23,435 (692 visiting supporters).