DERBY COUNTY missed out on the chance to return to the top of the Sky Bet Championship, letting a 2-0 lead slip, as Birmingham City fought back through two stoppage time goals.
The Rams had looked comfortable, with goals from Jamie Ward and Tom Ince giving them a commanding lead, but a Paul Caddis penalty in stoppage time and a last gasp equaliser from Clayton Donaldson rescued a point for the visitors.
Jamie Ward opened the scoring after 20 minutes, poking the ball home from close range via the post after the Blues’ keeper, Darren Randolph, had palmed Johnny Russell’s curling effort into his path.
It was little more than the Rams deserved from an opening period in which they dominated possession and created more chances to score than their opponents, who had failed to hit a shot on target.
Derby doubled their lead just three minutes after half time as Ince danced around Jonathan Grounds before bending the ball beyond Randolph and into the bottom corner.
But a dramatic finish saw Caddis half the deficit from the spot before Donaldson levelled the score from close range with almost the last kick of the game to ruin Derby’s afternoon.
The first chance of the game fell to City when Rams’ skipper, Richard Keogh fouled Lee Novak on the edge of Derby’s box, but David Cotterill’s free kick was deflected high and wide.
Derby soon found themselves on the front foot, working the ball well and finding Ince on the edge of the Blues’ area, but the winger’s left-footed shot was well blocked.
And it was the Rams that drew first blood after 20 minutes through Ward who netted via the post after Randolph had made a good save to keep out a sublime curling effort from Russell.
Minutes later, Will Hughes almost doubled Derby’s lead, smacking a powerful left-footed shot from the edge of the box, which beat Randolph and thumped against the crossbar.
Chances were at a premium for the remainder of the first half save for a couple of speculative efforts and wayward headers and as the whistle was blown to signal half time, the teams left the pitch with Derby leading 1-0.
Within minutes of the restart, the Rams had the second goal they were searching for, as Ince’s quick feet took him past City’s Grounds, leaving him time and space to place a shot into the far corner.
Just moments later, it could have been 3-0 as Russell tried to convert Jeff Hendrick’s cross, but he was denied as City’s defenders combined to narrowly clear the ball off the line.
At the other end, the visitors had an opportunity to haul themselves back into the game when Ward conceded a free kick around 25 yards from goal, but Cotterill’s powerful effort sailed wide.
Birmingham had another chance around fifteen minutes from time, but as Blues’ sub, Donaldson, wound up to shoot, Cyrus Christie got across well to make a vital challenge.
The Rams broke away at the other end through substitute, Jesse Lingard, who delivered a fantastic ball from the left, but Hughes wasn’t able to connect with it properly and his shot was easily gathered.
Derby were turning the screw and a confident Ince looked to punish the visitors as he turned towards goal and hit a powerful strike, but it was always rising and whistled just over.
But in the first minute of stoppage time, Ince up-ended Robert Tesche in the box and Caddis converted the subsequent penalty to reduce the Rams’ lead and leave fans sweating.
And their worst fears were realised when a goalmouth scramble in the dying seconds saw Donaldson stab the ball home from inside the six-yard box to earn the visitors a point and cost the hosts two.
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Albentosa, Forsyth, Mascarell, Hendrick, Hughes (Bryson 80), Ince, Ward (Lingard 73), Russell (Dawkins 83)
Substitutes not used: Roos (GK), Buxton, Thomas, Shotton
Birmingham City: Randolph, Caddis, Spector, Kiernan, Grounds; Tesche, Davis, Cotterill, Shinnie (Thomas 64), Dyer (Gray 73), Novak (Donaldson 64)
Substitutes not used: Doyle (GK), Robinson, Reilly, Zigic