THE opening day of the season has been kind to Derby County in recent years, writes TOM SLOAN,
Rams boss Nigel Clough, left, can look back on bright beginnings against Birmingham City last year, away at Leeds United the year before and at home to Peterborough United in 2009/10.
And it looked like a fourth opening day win was there for the taking against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.
Clough's swashbuckling side stormed into a 2-0 lead with Nathan Tyson's first league goal for the club a year after signing from Nottingham Forest and Jake Buxton's brave header.
Although Chris O'Grady pulled one back before half-time, Derby clung on against intense pressure before Reda Johnson popped up with the equaliser as stoppage time loomed.
It was a sickener, pure and simple.
Wednesday's pressure eventually told and they got what was probably a deserved point — and could have had more if they had made the most of their opportunities as wave after wave of attacks were repelled, largely by the excellent Buxton.
But coming after two injury time goals denied the Rams a place in the second round of the League Cup against Scunthorpe United on Tuesday evening, it was a bitter pill to swallow.
However, Derby did not lose and go to Bolton Wanderers tomorrow night looking to build on a point gained against an Owls outfit still riding high after their promotion from League One.
Wednesday will probably end the season nearer the top than the bottom of the Championship with their brand of high tempo, physical football.
Clough made two changes after the defeat on penalties to Scunthorpe, with Jamie Ward replacing Theo Robinson up front and Jeff Hendrick coming in for Michael Jacobs.
Will Hughes moved to the left of midfield to allow Hendrick a place alongside Craig Bryson.
Two ex-Rams were in the Owls matchday 18 — but Stephen Bywater and Chris Maguire could only make the bench, a familiar tale for Maguire after his difficult time at Pride Park.
As the sides shook hands before kick-off it was clear Derby were in for a battle as the visitors were clearly a much taller, bigger side.
Derby had a reasonable shout for a penalty on seven minutes when Anthony Gardner appeared to trip Ward as he chased onto Frank Fielding's goal kick.
But referee Scott Mathieson was not vaguely interested despite the former Tottenham Hotspur man failing to get anything on the ball.
Four minutes later, however, the Rams had the lead with Tyson's first league goal for the club.
Gareth Roberts hit a teasing cross from the left and Ward — the smallest player on the pitch — got up to flick the ball on to Tyson, who took a touch before finishing neatly into the bottom corner from six yards.
It was a cool finish from the former Forest man.
Wednesday were enjoying a lot of space as they attacked and they broke on 14 minutes following a Derby corner.
But Michail Antonio scuffed his shot well wide as the hosts scrambled back.
Buxton doubled the Rams' advantage on 26 minutes. A corner was cleared to Bryson on the edge of the area and his mis-hit shot flew through to corner taker Paul Coutts. He looked up and lifted a ball to the far post and Buxton met it with a diving header across goal and into the bottom corner.
Fans are too keen to point out Buxton's limitations — a slight lack of pace on the turn being the main one — but often miss the fact he has more desire and determination than virtually anyone in the Championship.
Tyson almost made it 3-0 just after the half-hour — with Buxton again involved. Coutts' free kick was nodded down by Buxton and Tyson turned and hit a shot from eight yards which the onrushing Chris Kirkland, a passenger in the opening two goals, blocked.
Wednesday then pulled one back with an absolute cracker from the much-travelled O'Grady.
Antonio found the big striker in a bit of space near the right corner of the Derby box and he just blasted one across Fielding and into the far top corner. It was a brilliant, unstoppable effort.
The Owls were right back in it but Hughes almost extended the Rams' lead just before half-time with a cross that Kirkland had to tip over.
Ward tested Kirkland with a free kick from 20 yards just after the break but it was a rare chance as the visitors turned up the heat.
Fielding had to tip over an O'Grady effort just after the hour and the big striker, in acres of space in the box, then missed his touch a minute later when it looked like he would bury it from 12 yards.
Substitute Gary Madine had the ball in the net on 71 minutes but an offside flag ruled out his effort as he connected with Lewis Buxton's cross.
Clough attemped to shore things up by bringing on James O'Connor and Valentin Gjokaj for debuts. The defenders sat in midfield in an attempt to repel the waves of attacks. It was the right thing to do, but Derby struggled to keep possession.
Hendrick cleared a shot from Miguel Llera with his knees after a corner caused chaos in the Rams box.
But the pressure eventually told as a Buxton cross was headed down by Madine for Johnson to hammer home from close range.
And with two minutes of injury time played it could have got worse for Derby when O'Grady got in on the right of the box and blasted a shot which Fielding did well to touch away and save a point when five minutes previously it looked like all three were there for the taking.