DERBY COUNTY fought back from two goals down to extend their unbeaten run to six games with a 3-3 draw at relegation fighting Millwall.
Jeff Hendrick’s sublime volley with five minutes remaining completed a second half comeback after the Rams had found themselves 3-1 down and a mountain to climb in the early stages of the second half after Lee Gregory had completed his hat trick.
The Lions’ forward seized on a poor defensive error to open the scoring before he added Millwall’s, and his second, with a penalty before Tom Ince halved the deficit.
Gregory restored the two goal cushion, again for the spot, before Chris Martin converted his own spot kick and Hendrick’s ninth goal of the season rescued a point in south-east London.
With so much at stake for both sides, the opening stages at The Den were cagey – resulting in a lack of clear cut opportunities for either side.
The home side, largely, played to frustrate Steve McClaren’s side as they starved Conor Sammon of service, extinguished any passes out to the wide positions and when they did pick up possession, quickly hit the Rams on the break.
The first sign of its effectiveness was there to see after 15 minutes when Aiden O’Brien was sent clear through the middle, but instead of playing the ball to the better placed Jimmy Abdou on the right, he shot straight at Lee Grant.
Ryan Shotton’s decisive touch prevented Nicky Bailey an effort on goal, but it proved to be a short reprieve for the Rams as another defensive error proved costly.
A miscued clearance by Grant bounced kindly at the feet of Gregory, who beat the ‘keeper with a deft finish that Craig Forsyth could not quite keep out as he charged back in an attempt to clear off the line.
It got worse 10 minutes later, as the home side were awarded a penalty by David Coote, the referee, after Richard Keogh was adjudged to have handled Lee Martin’s shot from the left.
Gregory assumed control of the ball and sent Grant the wrong way to send the home crowd into delirium.
With half time approaching, though, Ince gave the Rams a lifeline as he curled in a sublime free kick, left of centre, that beat David Forde to halve the deficit.
Four minutes after the break, the visitors had it all to do again as Coote pointed to the spot again after Jeff Hendrick pushed a Millwall man in the back from a set piece.
Gregory kept his cool to convert the spot kick, and with it, complete his hat trick as Millwall scored three goals in a league match for only the second time of the 2014-15 campaign.
With a mountain to climb, the Rams looked to claw back the scoreline immediately as Ince and Johnny Russell, the substitute, both saw efforts saved, before Simon Dawkins blazed over erratically from the edge of the area.
Chris Martin was introduced soon after and he was given the chance to make it 3-2 after Coote pointed to the penalty spot for a third time after Ince was hauled down in the area.
The returning forward dispatched the spot kick, sending Forde the wrong way, to spark a frantic end to the content in south-east London.
Starting with Millwall, Grant had to make a number of key saves to keep the McClaren’s men in the game.
O’Brien saw an left foot strike turned over by the ‘keeper, before the 32-year-old flicked over Martyn Woolford’s header as the Lions penned Derby firmly inside their box.
The Rams survived the onslaught and got back on level terms in emphatic fashion.
From the left, Russell picked up possession and chipped a ball to the back post to Ince to knock down into the path of Hendrick to crash beyond Forde with an outstanding volley.
With six minutes of added time shown, the Rams nearly secured all three points as Ince danced his way inside and sent a dipping curling shot that flew just wide of the far post.
The result leaves the play-off picture wide open going into the final game of the season, but the Rams will only need a point against Reading to seal their top six berth.
Millwall: Forde (GK), Dunne (C), Hooiveld, Martin (Gueye, 90), Gregory (Fuller, 78), Bailey, Woolford, Harding, O'Brien, (Cowan-Hall, 90) Abdou, Nelson
Substitutes not used: Archer (GK), Powell, Taylor-Fletcher, Thompson
Derby County: Grant (GK), Shotton, Keogh (C), Forsyth, Warnock (Albentosa, 64); Hendrick, Dawkins (Martin, 64), Hughes; Ince, Lingard (Russell, 45), Sammon
Substitutes not used: Roos (GK), Christie, Ward, L Naylor