Derby County hit back to extend their unbeaten run against Nottingham Forest to follow form
THE form book often, we are told, goes out of the window when local rivals clash but the latest showdown between Derby County and Nottingham Forest went very much to form.
When the two meet at Pride Park Stadium, it is usually a tight affair and this was no different.
Only seven goals had been scored in the previous five meetings on Derby soil. Three of the games had ended 1-0, the other two 1-1.
The latest tussle between the East Midlands neighbours also ended 1-1, a fair reflection of what unfolded on a bitingly cold afternoon.
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Both teams enjoyed good rather than dominant spells. Derby carried the fight from the start of both halves and Forest completed both halves on the front foot.
It made for a good competitive match, as you would expect, but not one of the more memorable spats.
Precious few clear-cut chances were created and there were no fireworks, neither on the pitch nor on the touchline, and no red cards either, as there had been in the previous four meetings.
There was only one yellow card. The previous four games had averaged six.
But there was more football played.
Referee Mark Clattenburg takes some of the credit for this. The Premier League official let the game flow and showed a sensible approach to any potential flashpoints.
Jamie Ward provides an edge to Derby's play.
"He can be a right so-and-so on the pitch," says his manager, Nigel Clough, and Ward was in for his first start in more than three months since he tore a hamstring in the fixture at Forest.
Also back after a four-match absence with knee trouble was Scottish midfielder Craig Bryson.
Ward and Bryson sparked the Rams' bright start.
Bryson was in a midfield three with Jeff Hendrick and Will Hughes, while Ward began on the left but was soon roaming and linking with striker Conor Sammon.
A Bryson drive fizzed wide before Ward's deflected free kick was a whisker off target.
Feeling the early pressure, Forest's technical area was almost as crowded as the midfield. Busy coaches buzzed in and out with messages from Reds boss Alex McLeish, who was tasting the fixture for the first time.
The messages began to filter through to the Forest players and they responded by carving out two chances.
Richard Keogh's over-eagerness to win the ball in the air led to a misjudgment by the centre-back and Billy Sharp set up his strike partner Simon Cox, whose fierce shot from the edge of the area crashed against the bar, possibly after brushing the fingertips of Adam Legzdins.
Cox then picked out full-back Gonzalo Jara Reyes and he blazed a shot over from a promising position.
Legzdins dealt with Greg Halford's long throw-ins and 22-year-old Forest keeper Karl Darlow dived to punch the ball away from the incoming Sammon before he covered his near post as Paul Coutts' drive swerved wide.
But it was Forest who struck first after 31 minutes.
Sharp centred towards the near post and Mark O'Brien's headed clearance dropped to Chris Cohen on the edge of the box.
He completely fluffed his attempt at a volley and was lucky as the ball somehow evaded defenders, allowing him to tuck his second attempt low past Legzdins from eight yards.
It was a sweet moment for Cohen, who suffered a serious knee injury playing against Derby in September 2011 and was out for a year. This was also the 300th start of his club career.
Brayford and Ward sent shots wide as half-time approached before Derby stepped up a gear and levelled seven minutes after the break.
Sammon displayed both his willingness to graft for the team and his strength when he hounded Forest midfielder Simon Gillett in the centre circle.
Gillett turned into trouble and you could see his panic as it dawned on him. Sammon pounced, nicked possession and roared towards the edge of box where he rolled a correctly-weighted pass to Ward, who fired low past Darlow for his sixth goal in only 11 games this season.
McLeish later revealed that Sammon's hunger for hard work figured in his pre-match team talk. "We spoke about his non-stop work and how he chases lost causes," said McLeish.
Derby, and the fans, sensed that Forest might be on the rack and a storming run from the impressive Hendrick ended with his 20-yard shot being tipped over by Darlow. From the corner, O'Brien headed over when he should have done better.
Gillett, unruffled for much of the first half, was now feeling the heat as Hendrick and co breathed down his neck. Teams find it tough to stay with Derby when they up the tempo at home and Sammon plays a big part.
You still hear grumbles from some supporters when the ball does not stick with the striker but he made a telling contribution in helping Derby earn a point.
The Rams have played better on a number of occasions this season.
The right-side combination of Brayford and Coutts was below par and too many crosses from that side of the pitch did not get beyond the first defender.
In midfield, there was plenty of desire and commitment but never full control.
Will Hughes was on the periphery in the first half. The middle of the pitch resembled a rush hour. There was no time or space for Derby's trio and the picture became more cluttered when Forest's Radoslaw Majewski dropped in the hole from his position just behind the strikers.
There was a little more room for Hughes after the break, with Ward having moved up top and Bryson to the left. The youngster was still neat and tidy on the ball but he has had and will have better afternoons.
Later, on Twitter, Hughes said: "I'll be the first to admit I had a poor game. It happens but onwards and upwards."
All players are entitled to an off-day, especially one who is still 17.
Forest, with Cox and Sharp a constant threat, finished the stronger.
Substitute Dexter Blackstock failed to make the most of a free header before Keogh and Brayford both rescued Derby.
Sharp was a menace to Derby during his days at Doncaster and he almost grabbed a winner six minutes from time. He turned on the edge of the area and his low shot flashed a foot wide, with Legzdins rooted to the spot.
Derby fans held their breath for a second, then breathed again.
They still own the bragging rights. The Rams are now unbeaten in four against Forest and retain the Brian Clough Trophy.