Derby County 1 Wanderers1: Daws lead slips away
DRAWS continue to be the undoing of Wanderers as they let yet another lead slip to share the spoils at Derby.
It looked as if Dougie Freedman’s men were heading for a rare away win when they entered the last 10 minutes of the game leading through a Craig Dawson header.
They had been put under the same intense pressure they had against Nottingham Forest on Saturday – but clung on to their clean sheet for dear life until Jamie Ward punctured their resolve by nipping in with a late far-post header to give the Rams a deserved share of the spoils.
It was the 12th game drawn by the Whites in the Championship and as a standalone result, fair reward for another stubborn defensive display.
But in terms of reviving a play-off chase, it had to be regarded as a case of two points dropped. And that’s another two to add to a large collection.
Freedman had made good on his promise to keep rotating his squad, making changes to the side that drew at Forest, naming David Ngog and Craig Davies as a partnership up front for the first time, bringing Sam Ricketts in for the suspended Marcos Alonso and replacing Mark Davies with Chris Eagles.
There were a few nervous flutters early on as Saturday’s outstanding player Adam Bogdan had a rush of blood, charging off his line to clatter his own defender Craig Dawson and concede a needless corner.
Moments later, the Hungarian nearly had a kick charged down by Connor Sammon but thankfully he soon recovered his poise.
The one brief sight of goal Wanderers had was via Ngog, who hit a shot on the turn that had Adam Legzdins sprawling to make the save.
After a relatively bright start, the game quickly degenerated into a scrappy affair.
Derby’s fans sought entertainment in the regular baiting of former Ram Tyrone Mears but the 500-or-so Wanderers fans had little to warm their cockles on a bitterly cold night until the fourth official showed two added minutes of time.
There had been a half-hearted shout of handball against home skipper Richard Keogh as he challenged for a corner against Zat Knight, and one against Knight at the other end as he tangled with Sammon.
But just as the queues started forming for the half-time tea, Jay Spearing floated a free kick into the penalty box and Dawson appeared to climb highest to flick the ball into the net.
He certainly celebrated the goal but there was some debate at half time as to whether a defender – either Craig Bryson or Richard Keogh – may have helped the ball past his own keeper.
But who am I to deprive him a first goal since April 2011? I may leave that up to the dubious goals panel.
Wanderers made a bright start to the second half as Chris Eagles combined well with Ngog on the edge of the box and the French striker sent a dipping volley just over the bar.
They failed to build any head of steam, however, and by the hour mark Derby had started to grow in stature, looking the more likely side to score.
Bogdan made up for any early uncertainty with a fantastic reaction save from Paul Coutts’ snap volley.
And from the resulting corner, Ricketts was forced into a last-ditch clearance at the far post under some heavy pressure.
Just as they had down the road at the City Ground, Wanderers were having to dig deep again.
Spearing led the way with a fantastic block as Sammon looked to square across the six-yard box.
Freedman had been looking to rescue a game with his last two sets of substitutions, but this time he was looking to hold on – and it was no surprise when he called for the experience and presence of skipper Kevin Davies, taking off Ngog.
But just like Saturday, it was Bogdan who was proving the immovable object, following up his earlier stunner with another fine block to deny Coutts a second time. As the ball was ploughed back into the box, Ricketts put in another sterling challenge in on Ward.
Craig Davies had worked hard on his first start for the Whites but his night nearly ended on a sour note as he put Mears in trouble with a poor pass and the ball was worked to Sammon, whose shot grazed the far post with Bogdan beaten.
Marvin Sordell replaced Davies but the onslaught continued. Bogdan stifled a close-range volley from Sammon but the longer the pressure piled on, the more likely something was going to give, In the end, it was a cross from the left by Michael Jacobs that eluded everyone and bounced in front of Ricketts, only for the diminutive figure of Ward to sneak in and head home.
Wanderers rallied at the end, and Sordell did see one effort chalked out, but their attacking intent came too late this time to salvage the three points they so desperately needed.
The play-offs are rapidly moving to be a case of mission improbable to mission impossible.