DERBY County claimed a hard-fought draw against Championship leaders Cardiff City with a spirited display from a patched-up side last night.
The Rams have recently had a worse time in Wales than Jonah, but dominated their high-flying hosts for the first-half, and were unlucky not to go ahead when Chris Martin’s goal was ruled out for a dubious offside.
The Bluebirds improved after the break to flash their promotion credentials, but it was Nigel Clough’s men who took the lead when Conor Sammon ended his barren run away from home with a well-taken 75th-minute strike.
However, Cardiff were soon level as Craig Noone capitalised on a rare error in judgement from Adam Legzdins to nod in the equaliser seven minutes from time, and Derby had to withstand heavy pressure to see out the draw.
It was the least they deserved for a spirited display from a side that showed three changes from the side beaten 1-0 by Crystal Palace last Friday, all enforced by injury.
Jamie Ward came off in that game with a hamstring problem and was replaced by new signing Craig Forsyth on the left wing.
That switch was expected, but then full-back John Brayford (hamstring) and midfielder Craig Bryson (groin) also pulled out before kick-off, handing a full debut to young defender Valentin Gjokaj at right-back, while Ben Davies started in front of him on the right of midfield, with Paul Coutts shuffling inside.
Derby started brightly, and a neat move between Sammon and Martin led to the latter dragging a half-chance wide.
Cardiff came much closer in the fifth minute as they broke from a corner at the other end, with ex-Ram Tommy Smith’s ball across the box just missed by a sliding Frazier Campbell.
Coutts then picked up on a partially-cleared ball out of defence, chested it down and unleashed a half-volley that was tipped just wide by David Marshall.
Forsyth, who had swapped sides with Davies, then battled past his marker before trying his luck from 25 yards, but shot wide.
A fantastic pass from Coutts, which curled behind the Bluebirds’ defence, found Sammon, who did well to square the ball across the area, where Jeff Hendrick’s shot was defelected wide by a last-ditch block.
A long throw from Aron Gunnarsson then met the head of Ben Turner, but his looping header was comfortably claimed by Legzdins.
After Jake Buxton shot into the side-netting from a Davies corner, the Rams had the ball in the net in the 30th minute.
Derby won possession in the middle of the field to halt a Cardiff attack, and Hendrick danced to the edge of the box before slipping the ball to Martin, but the striker’s well-taken finish was ruled out by an offside decision which looked harsh on the replay.
It would have been a deserved lead for the Rams, who had boasted by far the best of the chances thus far.
After more pressure on the Cardiff goal, Coutts saw his shot palmed away by Marshall.
However, Cardiff were dangerous on the break, and threatened to punish the Rams any time they gave the ball away, with Gjokaj lucky to get away with pulling down his man inside the area.
Then Richard Keogh was robbed while trying to shepherd the ball out of play and only two late blocks denied the hosts an opener.
Derby started the second half as they had ended the first, but gradually Cardiff were playing their way into the match, and the visitors had Jake Buxton to thank for heading away a dangerous ball that looked to be heading for the back of the net.
On the hour mark a Davies free-kick from the right was met by a glancing header from Keogh, but the Rams skipper could only nod wide.
Just after that, Campbell got to the byline before setting up an on-rushing Smith, but he could only fire the ball into Legzdins’ arms from a tight angle.
Twice in the space of a minute Buxton then came to the Rams rescue to deny Campbell, the second time blocking at his feet as the former Manchester United striker looked set to score.
And Derby made them pay with 15 minutes to go, as Davies sent a testing cross in from the right that was nicked off the foot of Martin by a defender, but when the ball fell to Sammon, he calmly fired a first-time shot across Marshall and into the back of the net for his first league goal since New Year’s Day.
However, the lead lasted only eight minutes, as Craig Conway swung a ball in from the left that Legzdins came for, but missed, and substitute Noone nodded into an empty goal.
Noone – sent off in the reverse fixture – almost doubled his and his side’s tally moments later but his ambitious strike drifted wide before Gunnarsson volleyed well over from close range and Andrew Taylor’s belter was deflected wide.