Christophe Berra’s stoppage time header enhanced Ipswich Town’s Play-Off credentials and cruelly denied Derby County a point that their away performance deserved at Portman Road.
The former Hearts and Wolverhampton Wanderers centre-back rose highest to nod past goalkeeper Lee Grant in injury time, in a reversal of last season’s encounter, which saw Nathan Tyson net a stoppage time winner in a 2-1 victory for the Rams.
In a pulsating opening, on loan Chelsea forward Patrick Bamford fired Steve McClaren’s side ahead inside 33 seconds, when he swept in Craig Forsyth’s cut-back.
However, Jonathan Williams levelled for the hosts when he thundered in a 25-yard effort in the 68th minute, before Berra moved the hosts to within two points of sixth placed Reading in the Sky Bet Championship with his towering header.
Derby had started the match full of gusto and energy, just as they ended their previous Championship encounter - a 5-0 demolition of local rivals Nottingham Forest.
Just 33 seconds had elapsed when Forsyth fizzed a low cross into the penalty area and Bamford was well placed to fire home and stun the hosts.
Jeff Hendrick’s lung-busting run from the edge of his own penalty area had initially sparked the attacking move and the Republic of Ireland international had a growing influence on the Rams’ play in the first-half, breaking up spells of Ipswich possession and remaining a threat on the counter attack.
Inside the opening quarter of an hour, Chris Martin could well be deemed fortunate not to have been sent off by referee Frederick Graham. The former Norwich City striker pushed Berra to the ground after the defender had blocked the forward’s run into the penalty area, which earned Martin a booking.
The 25-year-old, who was already walking on a tight-rope, was then doing so while riding a unicycle, as the striker went in late on Berra, but the referee did not feel Martin had made enough contact on the defender to warrant a second yellow card.
Other than Bamford’s early opener, chances remained at a premium in the first-half, with Aaron Cresswell’s long-range effort finding the midriff of Richard Keogh, while the aforementioned Bamford saw his shot from the right comfortably held by Gerken.
The deficiency of clear cut chances was undoubtedly down to the volume of stoppages in play, as the Rams seemed intent on thwarting Williams the opportunity to start attacks, so much so that Craig Bryson went into the referee’s book for a high tackle on the Crystal Palace loanee in first-half stoppage time.
In the second period, Bamford had two opportunities to extend the Rams’ lead in the opening 10 minutes of the restart, first lashing an effort wide of Gerken’s near post before forcing the former Bristol City goalkeeper into a fine save after being played in by Johnny Russell.
However, Ipswich stormed back as Town boss Mick McCarthy implemented a double substitution to lift the home crowd. Frank Nouble and Sylvan Ebanks Blake were thrown on, although it was the combination of Williams and Daryl Murphy that remained most prominent.
The Welsh midfielder hung a cross up to the far post that Murphy headed into the six-yard box, but to no avail, before the former Sunderland forward broke into the penalty area and forced Grant into a terrific one handed save.
The ingenuity of Williams ultimately proved the Rams’ downfall, as the Palace loanee picked up the ball 25-yards from goal before seeing his shot arrow into the bottom corner, past the despairing dive of Grant in the 68th minute.
The Rams’ confidence did not dip, as Bamford flashed a strike wide following Martin's left wing cross, prior to left-back Forsyth breaking forward in a swift counter-attacking move and finding the outside of the post with his fierce left-footed strike.
The end to end action ensued as the two Ipswich substitutes, Nouble and Ebanks-Blake combined, with the latter turning the former's cross onto the post.
But it was Town who went on to claim the winning goal in the first minute of stoppage time, as Berra rose highest to meet Cresswell's corner and send the ball past the diving Grant.
Ipswich Town: Gerken (GK), Chambers (Richardson 79'), Berra, Smith, Cresswell, Anderson (Nouble 60'), Hyam, Wordsworth, Hunt (Ebanks-Blake 61’), Williams, Murphy.
Substitutes not used: Loach (GK), Mings, Tabb, Green.
Derby County: Grant (GK); Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Thorne (Naylor 90’), Hendrick, Bryson; Bamford (Sammon 75'), Russell, Martin.
Substitutes not used: Legzdins (GK), Whitbread, Thomas, Bailey, O’Brien.
Attendance: 17,399 (611 visiting supporters).