Derby County's Under-23s produced a resolute defensive display to draw 0-0 against Everton in the Premier League International Cup at Pride Park Stadium.
Former England Under-21 international Luke Garbutt went closest to opening the scoring for the away side when his effort came back off the bar, with the Rams' best chances coming through the in-form Charles Vernam.
Offrande Zanzala started on the left-hand side and immediately caused problems with his direct running in behind, latching on to a fine through ball by Emil Jakobsen, but Nathangelo Markelo did enough to close the angle.
Vernam was dictating the play early on from a deeper midfield role and he had a long-range effort comfortably saved midway through the half, before Everton started to take control.
Right wing-back Antony Evans wasn’t afraid to venture forward and his cross found Bassala Sambou on the edge of the box, and the striker forced a good low save from Kelle Roos.
Evans went close to opening the scoring on the stroke of half-time with an outrageous effort after cutting inside, but Roos was alert to tip over.
The away side continued to dominate after the break, and Roos had to be at his best again with a flying stop to deny Dennis Adeniran’s header.
Garbutt found himself well placed to connect with a far post cross after 55 minutes, but he hit his volley into the ground and it bounced off the crossbar and away.
Derby were now sat in their defensive shape and looking for opportunities to counter-attack, and Vernam almost made the most of a rare break forward, but he struck straight at Joe Hilton after a promising run.
The forward, who travelled with the first team squad to Middlesbrough in November, looked like he was on a mission to earn the three points and he had another effort well saved with 10 minutes to go.
Evans was a threat all night and he went for goal again with five minutes to go, this time firing wide on his weaker left foot.
The Rams held firm in the late stages to earn a point that means they are well placed to qualify for the knock-out stage.
Derby County: Roos; Bogle, Stabana, Wassall, Karic; Babos, Bird, Vernam; Walker (Whittaker, 77’), Jakobsen (Mitchell-Lawson, 62’), Zanzala (Cresswell, 87’).
Substitutes not used: Barnes, Knight, Taylor, Rashid.
Everton: Hilton; Markelo, Gibson, Foulds; Evans, Adeniran, Walsh, Garbutt; Bowler (Donkor, HT), Sambou (Mathis, 83’), Henen.
Substitutes not used: Renshaw, Iversen, Mampala.
Everton’s wing-backs looked to break forward at every opportunity and the breakthrough almost came down the left-hand side just before the hour mark.
Garbutt was there to meet a deep cross but he didn’t get the connection he would’ve liked, although Derby had to rely on the woodwork to save them from going behind.
Vernam has been impressive in recent weeks and that continued here, time and time again he drove at the Everton backline with pace and power.
On a number of occasions, Hilton had to be alert in the Everton goal to keep out the Rams’ number 10.
There are three big games coming up for the Rams as we approach Christmas.
Chelsea come to St George’s Park next Monday (11th December), before travelling down to Boreham Wood’s Meadow Park to face Arsenal on the Friday (15th December).
The final game before the break is the last game of the Premier League International Cup group stage, as Derby take on Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday 19th December.