Theo Robinson strike grabs deserved point as Derby County hit back against 10-man Cardiff
TOP-scorer Theo Robinson struck to earn Derby County a point in a 1-1 draw against Championship leaders Cardiff City at Pride Park last night.
Cardiff led through Heidar Helguson's early goal but they had to play the final half an hour with 10 men after Craig Noone was sent off.
He was dismissed after he picked up two yellow cards in as many minutes around the hour mark.
The red card gave the Rams a lift but they were already pressing for an equaliser, which arrived when Robinson grabbed his eighth goal of the season.
The crowd noise went up a few notches, especially when the fourth official's board showed six minutes of added time, but the Rams could not find a winner.
Substitute Nathan Tyson came very close when his header from Will Hughes' cross was cleared off the line by Craig Conway.
It was another spirited effort by Derby against a strong Cardiff outfit and the Rams again showed that, at home, they are a match for any team in the division.
Hughes shook off a slight ankle injury to line up for his 17th consecutive start and manager Nigel Clough resisted the temptation to hand "super-sub" Tyson a place in the side.
Tyson has been hammering on the door of the first team after hitting three goals when coming off the bench in recent weeks, including winners against Ipswich Town last month and Birmingham City at the weekend.
Robinson continued up front alongside Conor Sammon and Derby were unchanged.
Cardiff were without injured defenders Ben Turner, Andrew Taylor and Kevin McNaughton, while on-loan midfielder Simon Lappin was suspended after being sent off on his debut.
Only 10 of Cardiff's 37 points had been collected on their travels – a stark contrast to their 100% home record – but they did win at Barnsley on Saturday and had their sights on a fourth victory in a row.
Cardiff boss Malky Mackay warned his players of Derby's attacking threat in home games and the Rams again set off at a good tempo, with Paul Coutts heavily involved.
From a Coutts corner, Richard Keogh's header was cleared by Noone, who was stationed on a post, but Derby conceded a soft goal after 10 minutes.
They never cleared fully following a long throw and did not stop the cross. What happened next appeared to do so in slow motion as Mark Hudson's looping header from Noone's centre caught out Adam Legzdins.
The keeper back-pedalled and touched the ball on to the bar, only for it to drop to Helguson, who finished from close range.
To their credit, Derby's heads did not drop. Michael Jacobs whipped a right-foot shot beyond the far post before good work by Sammon created two promising moments.
A neat turn in the box by the centre-forward saw him clip over an inviting centre but there was no white shirt on hand. Sammon then linked smartly with Craig Bryson, whose dart into the area ended when he was crowded out.
Gareth Roberts limped off with a calf problem and Derby's utility defender, James O'Connor, took over at left-back but Cardiff's organisation and practical defending started to frustrate the Rams, who could not get Hughes on the ball enough in the first half.
Cardiff asked Helguson to drop a few yards and on to the toes of Hughes in order to prevent him receiving possession. Such attention is to be expected as opponents become more and more aware of the youngster's influence.
Coutts, who drifts in from the right at times, continued to take the fight to Cardiff and was denied an equaliser nine minutes before half-time.
Robinson moved into the area and after his cross was blocked, he spotted Coutts, whose first-time shot arrowed towards the corner of the net until David Marshall stuck out his right hand and pushed the ball away.
Buxton headed over from a Coutts corner but there had been few clear-cut chances in the opening 45 minutes.
Derby injected more pace into their play at the start of the second half and changed their shape in a bid to stretch the visitors and unsettle them from their compact formation.
Robinson went to the right and Coutts switched to central midfield with Bryson and Hughes in more of a 4-3-3 system.
Craig Bellamy blazed a shot high over in Cardiff's first attack of the half before they were reduced to 10 men after 62 minutes when Noone was sent off.
Noone was booked for a foul on John Brayford and, a minute later, he upended O'Connor for his second yellow card. It was no more than a late challenge and therefore a touch harsh.
Derby set about making their numerical advantage count.
Jacobs, who did not have the best of nights, sliced a right-foot shot well wide before he was replaced by Tyson.
But it was Robinson who pulled the Rams level after 69 minutes.
Sammon did well to control a hefty pass from O'Connor. The striker turned and picked out Bryson's dart into the area and his low ball into the six-yard box was gleefully turned in by Robinson.
There was a scare when Legzdins was beaten to a high ball by Helguson, whose header dropped wide – a let-off for Derby and the goalkeeper – but the question was whether or not the Rams could find a second and winning goal.
Brayford's stinging drive was pushed behind by Marshall and the referee waved away loud claims for a penalty for handball when Peter Whittingham, on his 250th start for Cardiff, leaned into a cross from Coutts.
The supporters in the corner of the ground and the players were adamant it was a penalty, the referee thought differently.