Derby County battled out a goalless draw with newly relegated Aston Villa at the iPro Stadium in front of the Sky Sports cameras.
How that was the case after this 90 minutes was anyone’s guess as Nigel Pearson’s side were indebted to the woodwork on two occasions and a goalline clearance to prevent Villa from breaking the deadlock.
Far better in the second half, the Rams penned Roberto Di Matteo’s side back, but could not force a breakthrough as they settled for their second consecutive goalless draw in the Sky Bet Championship on home soil.
It also meant that the visitors wait for an away win, which is now past the year mark, continues as both sides collected their fifth point of the 2016/17 season.
Arguably the biggest test of the season so far for both outfits, the first 15 minutes of the televised clash lacked intensity from either side in an opening that was starved of chances by two stubborn line-ups.
All four corners of the ground came together as Derby's supporters responded to the boisterous Villa faithful chanting the name of their former striker Dalian Atkinson following the former forward's sad passing earlier this month – a touching moment in an otherwise tight and cagey start on the pitch.
Despite the lack of early opportunities, Villa looked the more likely and enjoyed stronger spells of prolonged possession, with one such eventually leading to the first chance of the contest.
On the edge of the Derby penalty area, the visitors passed and moved the ball around with confidence as they sought a way through the hosts’ defence.
They couldn’t on this occasion, but Ross McCormack showed his quality with a strike range that Scott Carson got crucial fingertips to, sending it on the crossbar and away from danger as the Rams survived.
Rudy Gestede, who had largely been anonymous, was next to try his luck with a trademark header from a corner, but this his firm connection was much more routine for the Derby ‘keeper and was easily claimed.
Jack Grealish was looking lively and shaped some room for a shot from a tight angle, but was once again denied by Carson, whilst the woodwork came to Derby’s charmed life a second time around as Gary Gardner’s cross shot cannoned off the far post after beating Carson.
Throughout the entire first half, Pearson’s side only had two shots at Pierluigi Gollini’s goal – the first an overly ambitious half volley from Tom Ince and the second a left foot drive from the same man that flew wide.
Villa had been comfortably the better team and Derby needed to show a response.
That’s exactly what happened in the early stages of the second 45 minutes – Pearson, the Derby boss, reacting by throwing Abdoul Camara into the equation to add more drive to his side in place of Jacob Butterfield.
The impact was instant. Ince forced Gollini into his first save of the contest at his near post and Ashley Westwood had to be alert to clear Richard Keogh’s header from a corner off the line.
Chris Martin, leading the Derby attack, glanced a Cyrus Christie cross wide and Russell saw a snapshot from 25 yards take a deflection and go out for a corner in what had been a prolonged spell of domination from the hosts.
Di Matteo’s side weathered the storm and had the best opportunity to break the deadlock on 66 minutes after Tommy Elphick, the captain, saw a goal bound header hacked off the line by Will Hughes.
In a frantic finish with chances falling for both sides, Ince sent a free kick agonisingly wide for Derby, whilst Libor Kozak, the substitute, should have done better with an unmarked header at the far post from a Villa set play.
Despite heavy late pressure from Derby, they could not find their way through a stubborn Villa back line as both sides played out an entertaining and hard fought draw.
Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh (C), Shackell, Forsyth (Baird, 66); Hughes, Ince (Bent, 77), Bryson, Butterfield (Camara, 46), Russell; Martin
Substitutes not used: Grant, Johnson, Pearce, Blackman
Aston Villa: Gollini, Elphick (C), Bacuna, Ayew, Chester, Gestede (Kozak, 28) (Green, 84), Westwood, Gardner, Cissokho, Grealish (Amavi, 84), McCormack
Substitutes not used: Baker, Richards, Hutton, Bunn
Attendance: 31,205 (3,070 away supporters)