DERBY County missed an 88th-minute penalty as they suffered a first home defeat of 2013 against Crystal Palace at Pride Park last night – but it was a match from which they deserved at least a point, if not all three.
The Rams successfully nullified the threat of Glenn Murray, their destroyer-in-chief back in November, but Palace have a selection of lethal weapons in their armoury, and Yannick Bolasie fired the Eagles into an early lead.
However, after an even first half-an-hour, Nigel Clough’s men dominated the remaining 60 minutes, but were continually thwarted by visiting keeper Julian Speroni.
And it was the Argentine who kept out Conor Sammon’s late spot-kick, tipping his shot onto the bar to leave Derby without a win in six.
Clough made three changes from last Saturday’s defeat to Watford, as Gareth Roberts replaced Michael Hoganson at left-back, and Jake Buxton returned at centre-half, allowing John Brayford to return to right-back, with Kieron Freeman missing out through injury.
The other change came up front, as new signing Chris Martin made his full debut against his former club, relegating Michael Jacobs to the bench with Jamie Ward moved to the left wing.
The first-half was action-packed, with Craig Bryson kicking things off by shooting wide following a quick throw from Ward, before Wilifried Zaha got free down the right and stung Adam Legzdins’ palms.
Another shot from distance by Bryson was on target but well dealt with by Speroni.
Richard Keogh then did well to cut out a loose ball before giving it straight back to Scott Dobbie, who set up Bolasie for a shooting chance, but the Rams skipper redeemed himself with a sliding block.
The Rams were then undone in the cruellest fashion as an attempted cross was charged down by Eagles skipper Mile Jedinak.
The ball rebounded all the way back downfield to find Bolasie suddenly in the clear, and the winger rounded Legzdins before firing into an empty net.
The goal was harsh on the home side, but it almost got even worse as Jedinak ran onto a loose ball and slammed a shot off the bar.
The visiting captain, resplendent in a white facemask, was proving a real problem for the Rams, acting as a defensive shield for the Palace backline by winning a number of headers and tackles to prevent any quick breaks.
However, Derby were getting some joy in the wide areas, and nice play down the right saw Brayford’s cross only cleared as far as Ward, but his half-volley was scrambled behind by Speroni.
Martin then had two chances to continue his 100 per cent scoring record at Pride Park, but after his first shot was blocked, his second flew wide.
Just after the half-hour mark, Paul Coutts got to the byline and his ball into the area eventually found its way to Bryson, but his powerful drive was saved by Speroni.
That sparked a frantic final 15 minutes to the half, as Martin was gifted an even better chance than Bryson’s when he picked up a loose ball inside the area but also hit his shot straight at the busy Palace goalkeeper.
The Eagles immediately broke down the other end and only a brave tackle from Gareth Roberts prevented a good chance, before Sammon failed to make the most of good work from Ward, who then saw his own shot from distance easily dealt with by Speroni.
Derby were flying now, and Brayford made a staggering run down the right to reach a great through ball, before cutting inside former team-mate Dean Moxey like a nippy striker and blasting a shot off the crossbar.
However, Palace still posed a considerable threat on the break, especially with the pace of Zaha and Bolasie, the latter of whom raced clear again but shot wide.
Ward then hobbled off with what looked to be a hamstring problem, Jacobs replacing him, before Palace almost made it 2-0 just before the break.
Bolasie was sent one-on-one with Legzdins, and after a brief stand-off between the two, the Palace striker lobbed the Rams keeper, but luckily Bryson had got back to head off the line.
There was no let-up after half-time as great interplay between Martin and Jacobs saw the latter decide to feed Sammon rather than shooting himself, but the Irishman’s shot from six yards was brilliantly charged down by Speroni.
Palace added to their attacking threat with the introduction of yet another talented academy graduate in Jonathan Williams, and the youngster burst through to force a fingertip save from Legzdins, before Jacobs’ free-kick was narrowly missed by a leaping Sammon.
Jacobs was then inches away from the equaliser himself as he met Coutts’ cross with a stinging volley that edged heartbreakingly wide.
Brayford burst into the area for a second time and his low drive cut through a crowd of bodies but could not beat Speroni, before the full-back sent a long free-kick into the area, which Martin flicked it goalwards with the back of his head, but Speroni was on hand yet again.
Then, two minutes from the end of normal time, lively substitute Mason Bennett got down the left and sent in a low ball to Sammon, and after he laid it off to Ben Davies, the midfielder – who had only entered the field minutes earlier – was fouled by Jedinak.
With regular penalty-taker and top-scorer Ward off the field, Sammon was handed the responsibility, but was denied by Speroni, whose name was quite rightly sung by a joyful contingent of Palace fans at the final whistle.