Rams held to goalless draw at the Ricoh Arena.Derby County right-back John Brayford emerged unscathed from his return to match action, as the 25-year-old played his first minutes in five weeks in the Under-21s’ 0-0 draw with Coventry City.
Brayford was an ever-present for the Rams this season until suffering a hamstring injury prior to the side’s npower Championship fixture at league leaders Cardiff City at the beginning of March.
Although predominantly a right-back, Brayford was installed alongside Michael Jacobs in a combative role, amidst the heart of the Rams’ midfield at the Ricoh Arena, and the former Burton Albion defender came through 63 minutes, before being replaced by Academy prospect Andy Dales.
Coventry’s Under-21s’ set-up emitted an aura of the Rams, with Lee Carsley managing from the dugout, whilst former Derby left-back Jordan Stewart and loanee Callum Ball were named in the starting line-up.
And the latter, who was featuring against his parent club for the first time this season, almost got the hosts off to a soaring start when his first-time shot across goal trickled wide.
Then Billy Daniels spurned two opportunities for the Sky Blues within the space of 60 seconds. Stewart picked out the striker who took one touch before dragging an effort wide of Adam Legzdins’ near post, prior to seeing his deflected shot fall kindly into the arms of the Rams’ 'keeper moments later.
The host’s dominance was soon combated by the Rams, who glided into the ascendency themselves, with Conor Doyle, Brayford and Jacobs combining seamlessly on a testing pitch to tee up Mason Bennett down the right-hand side. The Academy striker sent a crisp delivery across the face of goal that defender Joe Henderson was forced to turn behind.
A flurry of opportunities followed for the Rams as Albania Under-21 international Valentin Gjokaj flicked Jacobs’ free-kick narrowly over, before Michael Hoganson saw his half-volley at the far post beaten away by Coventry goalkeeper Chris Dunn.
The opening stages of the second-half lacked the fluency of the first, with possession frequently interchanging between the two teams.
However, Academy striker Charles Vernam came closest to breaking the deadlock shortly after the hour mark, when his toe-poke from the edge of the penalty area dribbled agonisingly wide.
Three minutes later, Brayford was handed his reprieve, as the former Crewe Alexandra was substituted in place of Dales. The right-back lasted 63 minutes at the Ricoh in what was a positive step forward for everybody connected to the Club.
In the final 20 minutes, Ball seemed determined to plunge a dagger through the hearts of his parent club, as the striker stepped away from challenges on the edge of the box before rifling a fierce drive over the crossbar.
The Sky Blues went even closer to a winning goal moments later when Will Roberts collected Danny Philliskirk’s inch-perfect cross-field ball. However, the winger could not match the brilliance of the pass, as he guided the delivery wide of Legzdins’ far post.
Coventry continued to press in the final stages with Roberts’ stooping header forcing Legzdins into a superb reflex stop.
The former Burton Albion shot-stopper earned the Rams a point in the closing minutes as he displayed signs of immaculate agility, firstly to deny Jordan Clarke’s close-range header, before scampering across his line to keep out Conor Thomas’ viciously struck half-volley.
Derby County: Legzdins; O’Connor, Hanson, Gjokaj, Roberts; Bennett, Brayford (Dales 63), Jacobs, Hoganson; Doyle, Vernam (Smith 66)
Subs not used: Morch, Adams, Thomas
Coventry City: Dunn; Clarke, Henderson, Thomas, Stewart; Roberts, Azille-Moore, Ruffels, Philliskirk; Ball, Daniels
Subs not used: Rankin, Finch, Garner, Maund, Maddison