Substitute Leon Best’s 89th minute strike denied Derby County a winning start to life in the opening fixture of their 2013/14 campaign.
Former Dundee United forward Johnny Russell marked his maiden Rams start with a goal from the penalty spot after referee Stuart Attwell awarded the home side a spot-kick following a handball by midfielder Alex Marrow.
However, Best levelled for the visitors in the final minute of normal time, when he volleyed fellow substitute Chris Taylor’s inviting cross from the right past Lee Grant to salvage a point.
Every new campaign comes hand in hand with a fresh, overwhelming dose of optimism, and Pride Park Stadium at 4:00pm was nothing short of a cauldron swelling of buoyancy.
Although the Football League officially kicked-off on Friday evening, both Derby County and Blackburn Rovers had to wait until Sunday afternoon for their respective campaigns to get underway.
The match between the two teams marked the end of the Football League’s 125-Anniversary fixtures, which paired all 12 founding members against one another for the opening weekend of the season.
The Rams fielded four of their summer signings, with Grant, Craig Forsyth, Chris Martin and Russell all handed starts, whilst fellow new recruits John Eustace and Adam Smith were named amongst the substitutes.
Rams boss Nigel Clough named a midfield quartet of Jeff Hendrick, Craig Bryson, Will Hughes and Jamie Ward, who all interchanged positions fluently during an exciting opening 20 minutes of football.
However, despite the Rams’ fluidity going forward, an experienced Rovers’ side - boasting the attacking pedigree of Jordan Rhodes, Ruben Rochina and Joshua King - had two opportunities to take the lead in the opening eight minutes.
Firstly Rochina snatched at an effort from 10-yards out that fell harmlessly wide following left-back Tommy Spurr’s cross, prior to goalkeeper Grant reacting quickest to thwart Rhodes at the striker’s feet after Grant Hanley’s clever through ball.
But then Derby clicked into gear, as England Under-21 international Will Hughes burst forward, and although his initial pass was meant for Bryson, Ward picked up the loose ball, only to see his low drive blocked by Scott Dann.
After winger Alan Judge teased Kieron Freeman before cutting inside the defender and bending a shot inches wide, Clough changed tact and moved Russell to the right, allowing Hendrick to play centrally alongside Hughes and Bryson.
Hughes continued to be at the heart of the Rams’ attacks, and in the 21st minute, the 18-year-old’s exquisitely lofted pass picked out Ward, but the sprinkling of rain ahead of kick-off worked in Rovers’ favour, as the ball skidded off the turf meaning Ward could only toe-end the midfielder’s pass into the side netting.
As the half went on, Derby grew in confidence and stature, and nine minutes after Ward fired wide, Russell followed suit with a firm header that drifted past Jake Kean’s far post – Hughes once again the architect.
An extended period of stoppage followed as Rochina required treatment on a suspected dislocated shoulder, which led to the Spaniard’s withdrawal for Leon Best in the 39th minute.
But after the break in play, Rovers’ Marrow bewilderingly handled the ball under pressure from Jake Buxton, to hand Russell the opportunity to mark his Rams debut with a goal. The striker emphatically dispatched the resulting spot-kick, sending Kean the wrong way in the process.
The Rams almost went in at the interval two goals ahead, as on the stroke of half-time, Chris Martin turned one way, then the other, prior to seeing his snap-shot from 20-yards palmed round the post by Kean.
A riled Blackburn fought back in the opening stages of the second-half, as King’s volley into the turf was headed against the post by England Under-21 international Jason Lowe.
But the Rams weathered Rovers’ initial attacking storm, and soon poured forward in search of a second goal with Russell picking the ball off a deliberating Todd Kane, before slicing a cross-shot wide.
The Scotsman almost doubled his account and the Rams’ score-line in the 52nd when he connected with Hughes’ cross, but the former Dundee United forward headed straight at Kean.
End-end attacks followed on the hour, as substitute Best slid in to divert Spurr’s cross onto the post, prior to Hughes’ mesmerising run and pass ending in Kean palming Richard Keogh’s fiercely struck shot over the crossbar.
Clough introduced John Eustace and Conor Sammon in the final quarter in an attempt to nullify the Rovers’ attack and see the game out, but in the final minute, Best’s darting run to the near post was rewarded when converted Taylor’s cross to earn Gary Bowyer’s side a point.
Derby County: Grant (GK); Freeman, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Hendrick, Bryson, Hughes (Eustace 81), Ward; Martin (Sammon 84), Russell (Coutts 62).
Subs not used: Legzdins (GK), Smith, Davies, Jacobs.
Blackburn Rovers: Kean (GK), Kane, Dann, Hanley, Spurr, Judge, Lowe, Marrow (Cairney 77), King (Taylor 64), Rochina (Best 39), Rhodes.
Subs not used: Eastwood (GK), Dunn, Olsson, Givet.
Attending: 21,188 (746 visiting supporters).