Equaliser holds Pre­ston at bay

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Colin Hen­rys

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.

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