RAMS KEEP THEIR DATE WITH DESTINY ON LAST WEEKEND
Equaliser holds Preston at bay
DERBY’S play-off destiny will be in their own hands on the final day of the season after drawing at Aston Villa, and Gary Rowett insists it is no more than their last two performances deserved.
Lewis Grabban’s late equaliser cancelled out Cameron Jerome’s strike but Derby – who also beat Cardiff in the week – remain in the top six ahead of facing relegation-threatened Barnsley next Sunday.
And Rowett called on his players to play their natural game as they bid to qualify for the play-offs and do so with momentum behind them.
“Four points from two tough games is a fantastic effort from the players,” he said. “That amount of effort and the way the players dug in shows how much they want to get into the play-offs.
“My biggest concern was that, after such a massive effort in the week, I couldn’t change five or six players and after about 25 or 30 minutes we were struggling to get out.
“Our mindset is now to go and win that final game. And if we do, that’s two wins and a draw from our final three games in difficult circumstances and that is what you’re looking for.
“You don’t want to just scrape into the play-offs, you want to get in with a bit of form.
“It’s about attacking that last game of the season for us now, but Barnsley will be scrapping for their lives so we’ve got to make sure we do our bit.”
Villa started the day still in automatic promotion contention, but Cardiff’s victory at Hull meant even victory against Derby would not have been enough.
However, assistant manager Colin Calderwood still hopes the late equaliser can give Villa a lift going into the play-offs.
“We kept going and we found our rhythm in the game towards half-time,” he said. “Second half was a good performance. Whatever you say about not winning, you have to be happy with the application of the players.
“As a coaching team we’re happy enough. Derby defended stoutly, but being able to sustain our attacking play put them under the cosh.
“Going forward it will help for next Sunday’s game, but also the play-offs which are obviously really important to us.
“We’re certainly now clear of where we are – we won’t have the disappointment of not going up automatically on the final day.
“The pleasing thing was the rhythm of our game, and how we were able to look powerful in the second half, but you have to add a note of caution – there must have been some effect [fatigue-wise] from Derby’s win against Cardiff.”
Derby led after 14 minutes, when ex-Villa man Andreas Weimann picked Neil Taylor’s pocket by the byline and pulled back for Jerome to stroke into the far corner.
Grabban should have equalised on 25 minutes, when
Albert Adomah picked him out unmarked in the six-yard box, but he mistimed his jump and headed over.
Jack Grealish then got in on the right after a clever one-two on the half-hour, chesting down and shooting low from a tight angle, but Scott Carson stuck a boot out to deflect it wide.
After the break, Derby were penned deep in their own half, and Conor Hourihane somehow shot into the ground and over in front of goal after a 70thminute corner.
Substitute Jonathan Kodjia then beat Carson to Ahmed Elmohamady’s cross on 74 minutes but headed against the post.
Villa’s pressure told with six minutes remaining, however, when Carson parried Hourihane’s fierce shot and the resultant goalmouth scramble ended with Grabban prodding in to snatch a point.