DERBY COUNTY battled hard at Carrow Road to deservedly claim a share of the spoils with a 1-1 draw against fellow promotion chasers Norwich City.
Cameron Jerome capped off a dominant first half display by opening the scoring on the half hour mark, but Steve McClaren’s side pressed, harried, chased and fought their way back in the second half.
A touch fortuitous, Jamie Hanson, making his first team bow, sent in an inswinging corner that John Ruddy failed to hold on to as the ball fell from his grasp and into the back of the net for the Rams' equaliser on 66 minutes.
Lee Grant pulled off two sublime saves in the final 10 minutes of the contest as Norwich pushed for a late winner, but they could not a way past the last of the visitors' backline.
This performance earned that fortune, though. Derby were never at their footballing best, but industry and work rate stood out in East Anglia as they fought their way to an important draw in the first of three games against sides that, like Derby, are pushing for promotion to the Barclays Premier League.
With seven wins in eight games, Norwich came into the contest as one of the form side’s in the Sky Bet Championship and started against the Rams on the front foot.
After only four minutes, Bradley Johnson exchanged passes with Graham Dorrans before leathering a left foot shot wide of Lee Grant’s near post, before Alexander Tettey fired over from outside the area with another strike from range.
Jonny Howson tried his luck on 17 minutes after picking up possession in the middle of the park and with time and space; the former Leeds United midfielder bent a curling effort into the arms of Grant.
Derby were holding their own, though, and created a chance on 18 minutes that bettered any that the home side had carved out in the opening exchanges.
Hanson took an inswinging corner that was cleared only as far as Will Hughes on the edge of the area and the 19-year-old took a touch to set the ball before lashing a fierce drive narrowly over the top of Ruddy’s crossbar.
At the other end, the home side responded by creating their best chance of the opening 25 minutes through their top goalscorer Jerome.
A pass in the middle of the park split the Derby defence wide open and the pacy forward was played through on goal, but, stretching and being pressured by Richard Keogh, he could only toe poke his effort wide.
On 30 minutes, though, the forward did get on the scoresheet as Norwich continued to lay siege on the Rams’ goal.
A neat exchange of passes saw the ball played down the left by Hoolahan and Jerome converted Martin Olsson’s precise low cross across the six-yard area at the far post for the breakthrough.
That was how it remained into the half time interval as Norwich controlled the remaining 15 minutes with relative ease and although Derby began the second 45 minutes the brighter, Norwich created the better openings.
Steve Whittaker, scorer of the late equalising goal back in the reverse fixture between the two sides back in December, volleyed an effort wide from a half cleared corner before the full back had another effort beaten away by Grant.
It took until the 61st minute for Derby to register their first shot on target as Tom Ince pick pocketed a Norwich midfielder, but his effort from range, although easily saved, was gathered at the second attempt by Ruddy.
Five minutes later and with the Rams growing into the game, they got back on level terms in somewhat bizarre circumstances.
Hanson, head bandaged after a clash of heads with Tettey, stood over the ball on the left hand side and his inswinging was directed deep into the six-yard box.
Ruddy failed to gather as he stuck out one hand to try and claim the ball, but it slipped from his grasp and bobbled across the line for the equaliser.
With a little over 12 minutes remaining and with the game evened out, Grant came to Derby’s rescue to keep the scores level.
A needless foul on the right from Raul Albentosa gifted the Canaries a free kick and Hoolahan’s delivery was met by the head of Sebastien Bassong, but the Derby 'keeper got down low to palm effort away from danger.
The 31-year-old then produced another fine save from Gary Hooper, the Norwich substitute, with five minutes remaining and with 60 seconds remaining, Jerome headed over Whittaker’s centre of the right.
Johnson skied over from another cross from the right just as five minutes of added time was held up, but Derby held on to claim a point that their battling display richly deserved at Carrow Road.
Norwich City: Ruddy; Whittaker, Martin (C), Bassong, Olsson; Howson, Tettey, Dorrans (Hooper, 79), Johnson; Hoolahan; Jerome
Substitutes not used: Rudd (GK), Cuellar, Andreu, Loza, Redmond, O'Neil
Derby County: Grant, Shotton (Christie, 70), Keogh (C), Albentosa, Forsyth; Hanson, Hendrick, Hughes (Bryson, 76); Ince, Ward (Warnock, 82), Russell
Substitutes not used: Roos (GK), Dawkins, Lingard, Thomas