AN Incredible match at the end of an incredible few days of upheaval saw Derby County climb off the canvas to earn a point as new head coach Steve McClaren, who watched on from the directors’ box, rallied the team at half time.
McClaren has taken over the hot seat from Nigel Clough who was sacked on Saturday night and he saw Derby claw their way back to record a 4-4 draw against Ipswich Town at Pride Park.
A nightmare first-half display had left the Rams floored and truly shell-shocked.
They conceded four goals to trail 4-1 and looked out for the count.
But McClaren’s words of wisdom and a double substitution helped them to roar back in the second half in a show of great character and bravery.
A double from Craig Bryson, captain for the night, and a Jamie Ward goal sent fans in what was the lowest crowd for a home league game this season wild with delight.
Academy manager Darren Wassall was in charge of the team and the side showed three changes to the team beaten by Forest.
Clough’s big summer signing Johnny Russell dropped to the bench as did midfielder John Eustace while skipper Richard Keogh served a one-match ban.
In came Conor Sammon, Ben Davies for his first league start of the season and new loan signing Zak Whitbread, who has arrived from Leicester City for three months.
Youngsters James Hanson and Max Lowe – two of Wassall’s protégées – were on the bench.
The quality of Derby’s crossing was awful in the defeats by Reading and Forest, but Craig Forsyth whipped in a good ball early on which as just too high for Chris Martin, whose header went high over.
But when you talk about quality delivery, Ipswich left back Aaron Cresswell rarely disappoints and Ipswich scored twice in four minutes from his set plays.
He curled a sixth-minute free kick to the back post where Christophe Berra rose with Whitbread and the Rams defender, on his debut, headed into his own net although he claimed he was pushed.
If that was poor defending what followed in the ninth minute was shocking.
Cresswell sent over a corner and Daryl Murphy was allowed to rise unchallenged and score with a booming header.
Stunned supporters were still able to drum up a round of applause in the ninth minute in appreciation of the job Clough did in his four years nine months at the club before he was shown the door.
The ninth minute was chosen because Clough as known as “the number nine” in his playing days and wore that number on his training gear.
An inability to defend seemed to be catching because Derby pulled a goal back in the 12th minute when Whitbread powered a header into the top corner from Davies’ swinging corner.
But the Rams conceded a third soft goal a minute later as the right side of the defence was shredded by an Ipswich move involving Murphy, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Paul Anderson for Cresswell to squeeze his shot from a tight angle underneath Lee Grant.
Derby used a 4-4-2 formation, a system that only serves to highlight their defensive weaknesses across midfield, and Ipswich looked like they might score each time they attacked.
And sure enough they did in the 34th minute.
And it was another Murphy header from another Cresswell corner.
It made you wonder if the “defending set plays” page in the pre-match dossier had gone missing or whether one had been inserted at all.
David McGoldrick almost scored with another header and Derby, shapeless and too easy to breach, were a shambles at this stage.
Chants of “sack the board” came from a section of the home support and new first-team coach Paul Simpson, who had been watching from the stand, was spotted down by the side of the dugout passing instructions to Wassall.
Sammon, to his credit, worked tirelessly as he always does and Ward was denied by Dean Gerken shortly before the break, although he could have picked out Sammon for a possible tap in.
Ward then brought the wrath of the crowd on himself when he tried an ambitious effort only for the ball to fly high over.
The boos that arrived on the half time whistle were not a surprise, nor were the changes made a half time. Sammon and Davies did not emerge for the second half and on came Eustace and Mason Bennett, Eustace to add a defensive mindset in the middle of pitch and it was a surprise not to see him start.
Derby burst from the blocks after the interval and a neat move released Bryson who slotted his finish low past Gerken to pull a goal back.
There was finally an injection of urgency in the Rams’ play. A switch of system also helped, and made the side more fluid ahead of Eustace and Bryson.
Eustace started to win the battles in midfield that Ipswich had dominated first half and play developed from there. Bennett also had a positive effective with his strength and pace, and willingness to get at defenders.
The crowd was now right behind the team and Ward reduced the deficit further when he turned home Will Hughes’ low centre from close range after a clever back heel by Martin had put Hughes in, a lovely move.
Game on after it had looked to be game over.
Bryson’s volley was charged down as Ipswich dug in, desperately at times, and Derby’s display after the break made what happened in the first half all more baffling, disappointing and frustrating.
Ward sent a volley staright at Gerken from the edge of the box and with the visitors aching for full time, Derby struck an equaliser two minutes from the end of normal time.
Gerken failed to get near a high ball to the back post, Ipswich failed to clear and Bryson drilled his shot into the net to almost lift the roof off Pride Park.
GRESLEY lost their FA Cup second round qualifying tie against Brackley Town 1-0 at the Moat Ground. Visit www.burtonmail.co.uk/sport/Gresley-FC for a full report.