DERBY COUNTY recovered from two goals down to draw 3-3 with Rotherham United in a pulsating encounter at the New York Stadium.
The first half was largely dominated by the home side and the Millers rewarded their high intensity play by taking the lead through former Rams midfielder Paul Green.
Derby hit back instantly through Tom Ince’s sublime curling effort, before two sloppy moments of defending gifted Steve Evans’ Rotherham a two goal cushion with Richie Smallwood and Matt Derbyshire adding quick fire strikes.
The Rams, though, refused to give up as Ince’s low drive off the inside the post brought the scores back to 3-2 and Darren Bent’s flicked finish made it 3-3 in South Yorkshire.
Despite reverting to the same side – Bent’s inclusion aside – that drew with Bournemouth, the opening five minutes were spent inside the Derby half without really troubling the visitors’ backline.
Kari Arnason delivered a couple of long throws as early testers, but a penalty shout aside, Derby dealt with the early Rotherham pressure.
Steve McClaren’s side carved out the first real opening as Ince scuffed a first time effort into the arms of Adam Collin after Craig Forsyth pinched the ball back in the left wing position.
That aside, Rotherham continued to enjoy the early stages of the contest as they pressed the Rams high up the pitch with ferocious intensity.
Ben Pringle, a former Ram, whipped a free kick in from the right that Danny Ward headed into the arms of Lee Grant, whilst at the other end, Jeff Hendrick’s cut back on the right was met by Darren Bent, but the forward saw his effort well saved by Collin.
On 25 minutes, with Derby still looking to make their mark on the contest, Jamie Ward sent a skidding effort into the arms of Collin and flashed another wide after a swift breakaway as the Rams began to grow into the contest.
After a lengthy stoppage for an injury to Jack Hunt, Rotherham picked up where they left off and took the lead with 11 minutes of the half remaining.
Pringle caused the initial havoc with another dangerous set play and after the Derby backline failed to clear, the ball was headed back across goal for Paul Green, another former Ram and Captain for the evening, to flick into the back of the net.
It was the wake up call Derby needed and they levelled matters no more than a minute later.
From back to front, the Rams moved the ball with purpose and after Ince was found on the right, the 23-year-old wideman turned and hit a sublime curling effort beyond the outstretched Collin and into the back of the net.
McClaren’s side controlled the contest up to the interval and threatened to go in lead as Richard Keogh, the Derby Captain, rose highest to head a corner from the right, but Collin, back tracking, plucked the effort from out of the air.
Into the second 45 minutes and the Rams found themselves having to come from behind again as Richie Smallwood curled a high free kick into the area and over the Grant.
Things got worse for Derby on 54 minutes as Matt Derbyshire nicked the ball off the toe of Mascarell and smashed a low shot beyond Grant to make it 3-1 to the Millers.
McClaren signalled his discontent by making a triple change and Derby immediately upped the anti in an attempt to get back into the game.
Jesse Lingard scuffed a shot well wide inside the six-yard area, but on the break, Derbyshire forced Grant into a fine save with a dipping effort from inside the area.
It proved to be a key save in the contest as four minutes after the hour mark, Derby cut the deficit to 3-2 as Ince squeezed Forsyth’s left wing cross in off the inside of the post.
From that moment on, Derby assumed total control of the contest – pushing the home further and further back in their search for an equaliser.
Simon Dawkins miscued a shot in the six-yard area and Bent failed to connect with a cross from the left before their pressure eventually told on 82 minutes.
A tactical change from McClaren had Lingard manoeuvred out to the left and the wideman, on loan from Manchester United, showed a sublime turn of pace to escape three players before crossing to Bent in the middle to flick beyond Collin.
For all Derby’s huff and puff they could not find the elusive fourth goal, though, that would have taken them back to the top of the Sky Bet Championship on a hard fought night in Yorkshire.
Rotherham United: Collin; Hunt (Richardson, 31), Broadfoot, Arnason, Fryers, Smallwood, Green, Milsom (Hammill, 77), Pringle (Newton, 71), Ward, Derbyshire
Substitutes not used: Loach (GK), Wood, Bowery, Clarke-Harris
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh (C), Buxton, Forsyth; Mascarell (Lingard, 59), Hendrick (Bryson, 59), Hughes; Ince, Ward (Dawkins, 59), Bent
Substitutes not used: Roos, Shotton, Thomas Thorne
Attendance: 11,035 (2,601 away fans)