Goals from Nottingham Forest loanee Lyle Taylor and top scorer Scott Hogan were not enough for Birmingham City to secure all three points as Krystian Bielik scored on his return to rescue a point for Derby County in a 2-2 draw at a packed-out Pride Park.
The visitors were in cruise control with around 20 minutes left in the game before a late resurgence from Derby, buoyed by a brilliant solo goal from Luke Plange, had Lee Bowyer's side desperately holding on towards the end.
Then, up stepped Bielik, who scored a stunning overhead kick to secure a point for the Wayne Rooney's Rams with virtually the last kick of the game.
Story of the game
The two teams emerged from the Pride Park tunnel to a spine-tingling atmosphere with not a single empty seat in sight. The hosts initially set up with youngster Plange up top on his own with skipper Tom Lawrence just in behind, yet, despite the rasping atmosphere, the Rams started slowly and were quickly punished.
The scene was set for Taylor, just loaned into the Blues from Derby’s East Midlands rivals Forest, to score, and he did just that. A simple pass into the forward’s feet just inside the box from Onel Hernandez was enough to create an opening, which Taylor capitalised on slotting the ball into the bottom right past Ryan Allsop.
Taylor had an opportunity to double his and his team’s account merely ten minutes later as he peeled away at the back post and latched onto a Hernandez cross to force a top save from Allsop.
The home side’s first real chance came when they finally found some space down the wing – Jason Knight bombing down the left to cut back to Max Bird – who opened up his body too much and skewered a shot wide of the right post.
Clear-cut opportunities were hard to come by for Rooney’s side, with Birmingham swarming the midfield whenever the hosts tried to play through them, leaving Plange isolated up top and without service.
Derby tried to play out from the back whenever they could; however, the build-up play was too slow and laboured to cut through Birmingham’s high press and break forward in transition.
It was a frustrating half for the Rams, and it could have been much worse had Blues top scorer Scott Hogan converted his one-on-one chance. Luckily for Derby, Allsop was alive to the danger, with his backline seemingly pausing for a split-second expecting an offside flag to be raised as Hogan received the ball.
Derby started the second half with more vigour, with most of their attacking play coming down the left with Craig Forsyth backing up Knight; however, the killer delivery was not quite there to begin the half.
Birmingham scored the next goal to give themselves a two-goal cushion despite the strong start from the Rams. Hogan, who should have scored in the first half, made no mistake with his finish on this occasion, steering Ryan Woods’ cross calmly into the net to sink the packed-out crowd further.
Shortly after, Hogan was fortunate enough to find himself with another goal-scoring opportunity, picked out by his forward-partner Taylor with a ball across the Derby six-yard box. However, the former fluffed his lines and was left with his head in his hands as the ball sailed wide of the goal.
Krystian Bielik received rapturous applause from the Derby faithful as he returned to the Pride Park pitch after a long injury lay-off, and that seemed to lift his team’s performance immediately after.
Bird had a goal-bound effort blocked out for a corner, which the midfielder then whipped in for Curtis Davies to connect with, but the 36-year-old’s header flew just wide of Neil Etheridge’s left post.
Colin Kazim-Richards’ touches were limited coming on as a second-half substitute, but he probably had his side’s best attempt of the half when a sent a venomous strike sailing towards goal from just outside the area.
That was before a heroic block from Kristian Pedersen denied captain Lawrence which stopped a certain goal and a way back into the game for the hosts with just over ten minutes left in the game.
Derby continued to push for a way back into the game, and it required a bit of individual brilliance from Plange to bring that breakthrough. The young forward collected the ball near the edge of the area, cut onto his right foot and bent the ball into the bottom left with just one step onto the ball.
Then came Bielik's wonder of an overhead kick which had Pride Park rocking to its seams and shook their opponents to the core as Rooney's plucky Derby pulled another unlikely result out the bag.
Man of the match
With five aerial duels won and three completed tackles, Roberts played excellently for the most part but could not stop Derby’s late onslaught in search of a way back into the game.