ROTHERHAM United came within a whisker of adding Derby County to their list of Championship scalps as they were pegged back by a late revival from the Premier League hopefuls during a six-goal thriller at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Following a slow opening, Paul Green gave the Millers the first-half initiative but Derby hit back immediately through Tom Ince.
The home side stunned the visitors by opening a two-goal advantage just before the hour mark thanks to Richie Smallwood’s free-kick and Matt Derbyshire’s smart finish.
However, Ince halved the deficit with his second of the evening soon after before England striker Darren Bent ensured that honours were shared during a pulsating affair.
Following their narrow defeat at the hands of Blackburn last time out, the Millers made four changes to their starting line-up for the visit of the high-flying Rams.
Scottish international Kirk Broadfoot returned to the heart of the home rearguard at the expense of skipper Craig Morgan, who was ruled out because of illness while Crystal Palace loanee Jack Hunt returned to the right-back slot as Frazer Richardson had to settle for a substitutes berth after suffering a shoulder injury at Ewood Park.
In the home engine room, Rob Milsom was given a chance to impress as he was given his first start of the campaign as Conor Newton made way while Danny Ward was handed a striking berth alongside Derbyshire as Conor Sammon was ineligible to face his parent club.
The Millers had the first sight of goal when the visitors failed to deal with a Kari Arnason long throw decisively and Broadfoot looked to stab goalwards but Rams’ skipper Richard Keogh threw his body at the ball and with faint appeals by the home fans he may have used his hand in the process, the Irish international managed to scuff the ball to safety.
Moments later, Derbyshire attempted an opportunistic lob from distance which cleared the crossbar before Ince scuffed an effort from the edge of the box into the grateful hands of Adam Collin in the visitors first foray of note.
Just before the quarter hour, Green was cynically upended by Jake Buxton and from the resultant free-kick, Ben Pringle swung an inviting centre which saw Ward rise highest to glance a point-blank header which fortunately for the visitors was straight down the throat of Lee Grant.
Minutes later, the home side had their hearts in their mouths when Derby probed around the home box which paved the way for Bent to make something out of nothing to thread a low effort which Collin half-saved and although Ince was lerking menacingly for a tap-in, Green kept his nerve to calmly steer the ball to safety.
Moments later, Jamie Ward stung the palms of Collin with a fierce drive from just outside the box and the ex-Blade was in the thick of the action in the Rams’ next attack when Broadfoot’s error saw Will Hughes advance menacingly towards the home box to release Ward, who calmly cut inside Hunt to curl an effort which whistled past the post.
The move was Hunt’s last involvement of the evening as his desperate attempt to block Ward’s effort saw him pick up a sickening injury, which resulted in the right-back leaving the field on a stretcher.
Despite the blow, the Millers stunned the visitors’ by making the breakthrough 10 minutes before the interval.
After Ward showed tenacity to win a corner, Pringle’s initial corner was headed away by Bent and Pringle returned the ball with interest and with the Derby defence at sixes and sevens, Broadfoot kept his cool to calmly head the ball across goal and Green ghosted in unnoticed to stab the ball into the corner of the goal.
However, the Millers’ joy soon turned to despair as Derby equalised within a minute of the opener.
There looked little danger as the ball was worked into the right channel from the kick-off but Ince injected pace into the move to cut inside from the flank before firing a dipping left-footed effort which swerved in the air to beat the outstretched hand of Collin before nestling in the bottom corner of the goal.
The ex-Blackpool winger was proving a thorn in the Millers’ side as he turned provider moments later as he swung a tantalising free-kick which evaded the attentions of Collin as it shaved the upright aswell as missing the outstretched leg of Bent with the goal gaping.
With half-time approaching, Danny Ward tried his luck from distance with an ambitious effort which blazed harmlessly over the bar before Keogh got on the end of Ince’s bobbling corner but Collin was well-stationed to keep out his goalbound header.
Half-time:- Rotherham United 1 Derby County 1
The Millers were quick out of the blocks following the interval and after Ward was denied a free-kick, referee Nigel Miller blew the whistle soon after as Fryers tumbled over the challenge of a retreating defender on the edge of the box.
From the resultant free-kick, Richie Smallwood made the Rams pay with a delightfully struck effort from the left-hand side of the box which sailed over the clutches of Grant to nestle in the far corner of the goal.
The Millers were visibly lifted by regaining the lead and they took the game by the scruff of the neck when they added a third five minutes later.
There looked little danger until Omar Mascarell’s weak back header left Keogh exposed and after he failed to hack the ball clear, Derbyshire pounced on the hesitation to advance into the box before drilling a low effort which squirmed under the body of Grant to find the heart of the visitors’ goal.
Steve McClaren looked to breathe life into his side by making a triple substitution and it was two of those who combined to almost bring the Rams back into the game when Simon Dawkins drilled a low centre which presented Jesse Lingard with the chance to tap into an unguarded goal but he fluffed his lines as he failed to make contact with the goal at his mercy.
Just past the hour mark, Derbyshire made something out of nothing to fire a rasping effort which brought the best out of Grant, who made an acrobatic save at full stretch before Derby got themselves back into the game.
Following a period of visitors’ pressure, Craig Forsyth weighed up his options before swinging a delightful centre which found Ince at the far post, who calmly stroked the ball towards goal as the ball went in via the upright.
The Millers were fearing the worst and Dawkins missed a gilt-edged chance to level matters when he missed his kick with the goal gaping after Ince had sneaked around the back before Bent glanced a header across the face of goal moments later.
Conor Newton and Adam Hammill were introduced into the fray to halt the visitors’ momentum and Derbyshire had faint appeals for a spot kick as he was felled under the challenge of Buxton in a rare foray by the home side.
However, the visitors’ pressure finally paid dividends when they levelled matters with eight minutes remaining when Lingard stepped on the gas to leave Smallwood in his wake before sliding the ball across goal and Bent showed his predatory instincts to nip infront of Collin to toe-poke the ball home.
With the game entering the dying minutes, Ince came within a whisker of his hat-trick when a cross-cum-shot had Collin nervously scurrying across goal before Derbyshire had the Millers’ fans off their seats when he bundled the ball home following an aerial challenge with Grant as Danny Ward clipped the ball into the box but referee Miller inevitably chalked off the goal for a foul.
With seconds remaining, the Millers duo again combined to great effect when Ward dug out a cross despite being crowded out near the corner flag and Derbyshire leapt highest to power a header which narrowly cleared the crossbar as both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils following a thrill-a-minute affair.
Full-time:- Rotherham United 3 Derby County 3
Teams:- Rotherham- Collin, Arnason, Broadfoot, Green, Milsom (Hammill 77), Pringle (Newton 71), D Ward, Derbyshire, Fryers, Hunt (Richardson 30), Smallwood. Unused:- Loach, Wood, Bowery, Hammill, Clarke-Harris.
Derby- Grant, Christie, Forsyth, Buxton, Keogh, Hendrick (Bryson 60), J Ward (Dawkins 59), Hughes, Ince, Mascarell (Lingard 59), Bent. Unused:- Roos, Thomas, Shotton, Thorne.
Referee:- Nigel Miller
Attendance:- 11035 (2601).