DRAW NO DIS­AS­TER FOR EI­THER HOPE­FUL

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP -

NEI­THER side has much use for draws in this tight­est of sea­sons, but Derby are within their rights to take pride in this un­likely come­back.

Shorn of strik­ers and a goal down to the di­vi­sion’s most in-form out­fit, the Rams – never the most ro­bust of sides – looked set for an­other meek sur­ren­der. But they showed ad­mirable fight in the 30 min­utes af­ter half-time and de­served the stroke of luck that pro­duced their equaliser.

They will need to show a lot more in the fi­nal weeks of the sea­son, but with Chris Martin and Dar­ren Bent on the come­back trail, there is rea­son for op­ti­mism.

Ruddy’s howler and a duff half-hour aside, the Ca­naries can take heart too.

Their per­for­mance – es­pe­cially in the first half – was Pre­mier League stan­dard, full of high press­ing, clever move­ment and slick pass­ing.

If their fin­ish­ing had matched it, three points would have been theirs and not many sides will be able to with­stand what Derby did.

“I kept is as late as pos­si­ble, but I had no hes­i­ta­tion in putting him in.”

Han­son’s heaven was Ruddy’s hell, but Ca­naries boss Alex Neil re­fused to point the fin­ger.

“John’s been fan­tas­tic since I came here,” said the Scot, who has now over­seen five wins and a draw from the last seven games. “He’s made cru­cial saves in big games and he’s one of the main rea­sons we are where we are.

“It’s go­ing to be high­lighted more be­cause he’s a goal­keeper. But to be hon­est, watch­ing the re­play you can see Jeff Hen­drick ac­tu­ally has hold of John’s arm. He’s try­ing to catch a swirling 40-yard ball with one hand, which isn’t easy.

“But th­ese things hap­pen and re­gard­less of that in­ci­dent, we did more than enough to win the match.”

It’s dif­fi­cult to ar­gue – few could have imag­ined Derby would es­cape with a point af­ter 45 min­utes which il­lus­trated just how much they miss the in­jured Chris Martin.

It isn’t just goals; the Nor­folk boy and for­mer Nor­wich player holds up play, buys free-kicks, nags, nig­gles and of­fers his de­fend­ers a per­ma­nent out­let.

Lack­ing that fo­cal point, the Rams sim­ply could not come up for air against a Nor­wich side hell-bent on pour­ing for­ward and, with Wes Hoola­han in typ­i­cally imp­ish form, it was only a mat­ter of time be­fore they cracked.

In fair­ness, it took a bril­liant move to undo Derby’s de­fence. Alex Tettey played a one-two with Bradley John­son, then found Hoola­han who slid a sub­lime ball into the path of Martin Ols­son. The Swede’s first-time cross was inch-per­fect and Jerome – burst­ing into space – couldn’t miss from four yards.

Yet the yel­low tide never quite burst Derby’s banks. Em­bold­ened, the Rams com­peted with far greater in­ten­sity af­ter the break and got their re­ward when Han­son – nick­named ‘Bruiser’ and by then sport­ing a ban­dage fol­low­ing a clash of heads with Tettey – lev­elled the scores.

But as Neil said, the home side should still have tri­umphed. Seb Bas­song’s header was clawed off the line by Grant and, deep into in­jury time, Jerome missed a pair of stone-cold sit­ters, first head­ing over from 12 yards be­fore some­how clear­ing the bar from six.

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

FIRST BLOOD: Cameron Jerome scores for Nor­wich

STAR MAN STEVE

N WHITT

AKER Nor­wic

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