They gave everything, but Derby County's Under-23s were forced to settle for a point at Meadow Park as Arsenal fought back from two goals to rescue a point from an action-packed Premier League 2 Division 1 meeting at Boreham Wood.
Derby took the lead after 11 minutes, despite starting the game mostly on the back foot. Mason Bennett’s shot won the Rams a corner; he took the set-piece low and found Charles Vernam who swept his first-time effort beyond Matt Macey.
But after a period of resilient defending from the visitors, Arsenal equalised midway through the first half.
Ben Sheaf’s shot forced a low save from Josh Barnes; however Chuba Akpom was quick to react to the ball and fired home from close range.
Gunners’ defender Sheaf came close to scoring from distance after that, but he was denied again by Barnes who caught his effort on the goal-line.
Darren Wassall’s side regained the lead just before the interval with Bennett, who had brilliantly provided for the opener, showed power, pace and ruthlessness to edge the visitors back in front – coolly beating Macey after brushing his way through the Arsenal backline.
The Rams started the second half on top and Alex Babos came close to making it three. Ikechi Anya made a blistering down the right side and found the Derby captain with his cross, but Babos put too much on his effort and sent it over.
The Wales Under-21 man did, however, make it three on the hour mark. Striker Offrande Zanzala’s curling shot cannoned off the post and there was Babos to smash his effort into the roof of the net to extend the Rams’ lead.
Derby had a superb chance to get their fourth of the match, but Vernam’s shot was saved on the goal-line by Macey and it proved to be a crucial stop from the Arsenal ‘keeper.
With just 10 minutes remaining, Jordi Osei-Tutu set up a grandstand finish by getting Arsenal back into the game as his shot at the back post deflected off Babos and past ‘keeper Barnes.
Throwing everything at Derby by now, the hosts levelled the match deep into injury time with Arsenal captain Julio Pleguezuelo volleying the ball into the net deep into second half injury time.
Arsenal: Macey; Sheaf, Bielik (Eyoma, 87), Pleguezuelo; Osei-Tutu, Reine-Adelaide (Gilmour, 68), McGuane, Bola; Fortune (Coyle, 64), Akpom, Dragomir
Substitutes not used: Iliev, Omole
Derby County: Barnes; Anya, Wassall, Shackell, Lowe; Hanson, Vernam, Babos; Thomas (Guy, 79), Zanzala, Bennett
Substitutes not used: Walker, Yates, Karic, Bateman
It’s hard to ignore an added time goal on this occasion.
The Rams had done everything in their power to keep Arsenal at bay, but the Gunners’ pressure eventually told as Pleguezuelo powered an equaliser in and left Wassall’s men with very little time to respond.
From a Derby perspective, scoring just before half-time looked a massive moment after weathering heavy spells of pressure from the hosts, but it wasn’t to be in the end.
There were a number of impressive performances, but whenever Mason Bennett got the ball, he looked capable of causing danger.
His shot won the corner, which he then took to create the opener, before grabbing Derby’s second at the end of the first half. There’s no doubt he is making fine progress in his mission to break back into the first team fold.
Derby are in action one more time before for Christmas, they take on Dinamo Zagreb in the Premier League International Cup on Tuesday 19th December, where they will be looking to reach the knockout stages.
The Under-23s will then take a two and half week break for the festive period.
In the new year, Derby will return to action on Sunday 7th January 2018 against Sunderland.
Words: Jonty Colman