Darren Bent stepped off the substitutes bench to score a late header as Derby County fought back to claim a 1-1 draw against their top six rivals Sheffield Wednesday.
In what was his first appearance since February, Bent converted a deep cross with eight minutes remaining after Darren Wassall, the Derby Head Coach, had thrown caution to the wind in a bid to get back into the contest.
That came shortly after Barry Bannan, the former Rams loanee, had superbly opened the scoring for a Sheffield Wednesday side aspiring to follow Derby by cementing their play-off berth.
Though there was only two goals over the course of the afternoon, the meeting at the iPro Stadium was a fine advert for Sky Bet Championship football, played at a relentless pace.
With both sets of fans playing their part in a terrific early atmosphere, the meeting between fifth and sixth in the second tier started at a rapid pace as both sides looked to size each other up early on.
Chris Martin forced Kieren Westwood into an early save after a loose ball broke into his path, whilst the returning Will Hughes, making his first start since the opening day, stuck in a vital foot to deny Gary Hooper a clear shot on Scott Carson’s goal.
Both creative and strong in possession, the standout qualities shown in the first 10 minutes of the contest in Derbyshire was the grit determination from both sets of players to chase their opposite number down and limit time on the ball.
However, far from drab, an entertaining meeting had chances aplenty created.
Kieran Lee scuffed an effort wide after charging through the middle of the park, whilst at the other end, Jacob Butterfield forced Westwood into a routine save from range.
On 21 minutes, with the game just as stretched as it was from the start, Bannan forced Carson into his first save of the afternoon with a strike from the edge of the area, before Jason Shackell hooked the loose ball away.
The pendulum swung again soon after that. Westwood was next to be called into action as he back pedalled to tip behind Craig Bryson’s firm drive, but that proved to be the last clear chance of a lively and frantic first 45 minutes as both sides began to show more control in their play.
The early stages of the second half, however, saw Carlos Carvalhal’s begin to shadow proceedings with Fernando Forestieri, Aiden McGeady and Alex Lopez influential in all their good work going forward.
Forestieri forced Carson into arguably his save of the season in the early stages, as the ‘keeper leaped across his goal to turn behind his drive after Hughes had blazed wide at the other end having showed neat footwork to drag the ball away from two challengers.
After that, Westwood produced two fines save to keep the contest scoreless, first denying Bryson’s first time effort from Cyrus Christie’s cut back, before rushing out to deny Johnny Russell after the Scottish man had been smartly played through by the full back.
The ball bobbled around alarmingly in the area from the save as Christie claimed back possession with a wall of Wednesday men surrounding him, but after picking out Martin, the forward could only slam his shot high over the crossbar.
The iPro Stadium had become a cauldron of noise, the football had been top quality from both sides and the only thing it had lacked was a goal and with just over 20 minutes remaining, it came.
With a degree of control restored by the visitors after a period of high pressure, Carvalhal’s side pressed forward and after Bannan picked up possession, he bent a high effort over Carson and into the back of the net via the underside of the crossbar.
The visitors oozed confidence and with the clock ticking down they looked the more likely to add to the scoreline as Forestieri cracked the top of the crossbar from a free kick.
Wassall responded by going for the jugular and introduced Bent and Nick Blackman from the substitutes bench and within a minute, his changes had the desired effect.
Charging forward, Russell picked up possession on the left and delivered a teasing cross towards the back post where Bent was lurking and the forward rose above Daniel Pudil to convert past Westwood – his first touch of the game.
Despite plenty of huff and puff from both sides, the contest eventually petered out as two of the division’s played out a hard fought draw.
Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh (C), Shackell, Olsson; Hughes (Hanson, 75), Bryson, Butterfield (Blackman, 81); Ince (Bent, 81), Russell, Martin
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Buxton, Camara, Weimann
Sheffield Wednesday: Westwood, Loovens (C), Hooper (Joao, 72), Lees, Lee, Lopez, Hunt, Pudil, McGeady (Matias, 68), Bannan, Forestieri (Helan, 86)
Substitutes not used: Wildsmith, Nuhiu, McGugan, Sasso
Attendance: 31,825 (3,069 Sheffield Wednesday supporters)Tweets by @ dcfcofficial