A late added time strike from James Wilson denied Derby County their fifth win in six games as they drew 1-1 at promotion-chasing Brighton & Hove Albion.
Andreas Weimann had struck the Rams in front as he made an immediate impact off the substitutes bench and after Lewis Dunk had been sent off, it looked as though Darren Wassall’s side were on course for the biggest win of his tenure to date.
Deep into added time, though, Wilson struck after Derby failed to deal with a corner, denying the visitors a hard earned three points in front of a record-breaking Amex Stadium crowd.
The result, however, did confirm Wassall’s side a fifth placed finish at the very least and also ensured they will now meet Hull City in the Play-Off Semi-Finals in just under a couple of weeks.
Back to the start of this contest, though, and backed by a carnival like atmosphere at a rocking Amex Stadium, there was no surprise that the Championship’s form side started on the front foot as Chris Hughton’s side sought to ease any pre-game nerves with an early goal.
The Seagulls’ Player of the Year, Beram Kayal, was first to try his luck, hitting a deflected low drive narrowly wide of Scott Carson’s near post, whilst Anthony Knockaert saw his own effort taken over the crossbar by the trailing leg of Will Hughes.
At the other end, however, Derby had the clearest sight of goal in the early stages.
Starting with Carson, two passes later the ball was at the feet of Tom Ince after Craig Bryson superbly picked him out with a volleyed pass, but the wideman could only screw his effort into the side netting after he had been quickly closed down by Bruno.
Later, and with the hosts well on top, Jason Shackell, crucially, turned over a goal bound free kick from the impressive Knockaert, but that aside, the Rams’ goal had not been seriously tested as the contest approached the half hour stage.
On 33 minutes, Tomer Hemed glanced a header wide following a free-flowing Brighton move and on the cusp of the interval, Dunk saw his own header deflected wide after leaping to attack a corner from the left.
From the start of the second half, Wassall’s side attempted to impose themselves on the contest with a series of long-range efforts.
Ince, Will Hughes and Johnny Russell all forced David Stockdale into routine saves with shots from outside the area, but after the quick flurry, chances dried up in a tense meeting on the south coast.
Hughton, the Brighton boss, responded by introducing Wilson and Kazenga LuaLua to try and reignite the encounter and the latter tried his luck almost immediately, sending a dipping volley into Carson’s waiting arms.
Soon after, though, Wassall responded by making his own change, with his proving far more effective.
On for Ince, Weimann’s first and second touches were crucial as he latched on to Hughes’ superb through ball to first force Stockdale into a save, before tucking away the rebound to send the travelling contingent into delirium.
Ten minutes later and things got worse for the hosts as Dunk was given his marching orders for a late foul on Bryson 30-yards from goal, but with the contest seemingly petering out, Derby looked on course for a huge victory.
Wilson had the last word, though, deep into injury time as he crashed a loose ball under Carson after the Rams had failed to clear their lines from a corner, forcing the visitors to settle for a draw, which could, and probably should, have been more.
Brighton & Hove Albion: Stockdale; Bruno (c), Goldson, Dunk, Rosenior; Knockaert, Stephens, Kayal, Skalak (LuaLua, 67); Hemed, Baldock (Wilson, 67)
Substitutes not used: Maenpaa (GK), Greer, Bong, Sidwell, Murphy
Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh (C), Shackell, Olsson; Thorne, Bryson (Butterfield, 90), Hughes (Buxton, 90), Ince (Weimann, 70), Russell, Martin
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Bent, Blackman, Guy
Attendance: 30,292 (1,633 Derby supporters)Tweets by @ dcfcofficial