DARREN BENT secured a vital point for Derby County as they came from behind twice to draw 2-2 with AFC Bournemouth at the Goldsands Stadium.
Matt Ritchie fired the home side in front early on, but his strike was cancelled out by Tom Ince’s low drive just after the half hour mark of a frantic contest on the south-coast.
Callum Wilson thundered the Cherries back in front on the cusp of half time, but Bent, on as an early substitute for the injured Chris Martin, brought the Rams level once more with a high left footed strike into the roof of the net.
In a lively start to the contest, it was Derby that started the better, controlling possession, collecting the loose balls as they heaped pressure on Artur Boruc’s goal.
Tom Ince fired an early effort straight down the throat of the Polish ‘keeper before a moment of controversy opened the door for the hosts to make the breakthrough.
After Lee Grant easily gathered a deflected shot from Marc Pugh, Yann Kermorgant stood his ground as the Derby shot stopper prepared to kick up field and reached to grab the ball outside of his area.
Mark Clattenburg, the referee, awarded a free kick, but Kermorgant wasted the opportunity and blazed well over the top of the bar.
Only a further minute passed and Bournemouth took the lead.
A cross from the right was chested by Callum Wilson into the path of Matt Ritchie who smashed a low left foot drive beyond Grant and into the bottom corner.
Derby tried to reassert the dominance they showed in the opening stages of the contest as Darren Bent, on as an early substitute in place of Chris Martin, fired a volley, after a delicate lofted pass from Hughes, towards the near post that was turned away by Boruc.
Ritchie, at the other end, had an effort on the edge of the area deflected and Wilson flicked a header over the top of the bar from a deep cross from the right hand side.
Despite those chances, it was the visitors that continued to have the better of the proceedings and they grabbed a deserved equaliser on 31 minutes.
The move started with Hughes, who showed great awareness to drag the ball away from a challenge before sending a dangerous ball into Bournemouth territory.
Bent chased down a seemingly lost cause and robbed Charlie Daniels, the full back, of possession and made headway into the area. The striker took his time before slipping the ball into the feet of Tom Ince who evaded one challenge and slammed the ball into the back of the net.
Enjoying the lion share of possession, Derby carved out the chances as the clock ticked down towards the interval.
Ward sent a dipping long range shot into the arms of Boruc and Hughes had an effort deflected for a corner, but Bournemouth held strong and delivered a big blow to the Rams as they retook the lead a minute from time.
With the home side pressing, Derby failed to clear their lines and the ball fell to the feet of Wilson who controlled and thundered a shot beyond Grant and into the back of the net.
Eddie Howe’s side went in search of a third in added on time as Ritchie sent a dipping shot into the hands of Grant as the curtain came down on a frantic and fast paced half of football.
From its frenzied nature, the second half was a much more controlled affair with Bournemouth having the better of the contest.
With their possession, the home side rarely troubled Grant in the Derby goal and it was Ince who had the best chance to draw the Rams level once again.
Jeff Hendrick played a precise through ball into the feet of the wideman who, after having the ball nicked off him, won back possession, stepped inside, but saw his drive blocked by a Bournemouth defender.
Derby did eventually equalise after 68 minutes after neat work on the left set Simon Dawkins, the substitute, away on the left and he drilled a low cross into the area to the feet of Bent.
The striker controlled well and smashed a left foot shot high into the roof of the net to send the travelling Rams into delirium.
Derby took control of the game and looked the more likely to find a decisive winner.
Hughes dragged a shot wide of goal, as did Dawkins after picking the ball up in a position on the left, but nothing could separate the division’s leaders at the start of play as an entertaining clash ended a draw on the south-coast.
Bournemouth: Boruc, Francis, Elphick, Cook, Daniels, Ritchie (Pitman, 90), Arter, Surman, Pugh (Smith, 77), Kermorgant (MacDonald, 77), Wilson
Substitutes not used: Camp, Ward, Stanislas, Fraser
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Mascarell, Hendrick, Hughes; Ward (Dawkins, 65), Ince, Martin (Bent, 14)
Substitutes not used: Roos, Bryson, Lingard, Shotton, Warnock
Attendance: 11,031 (1,356 Derby supporters)