Rotherham United surrendered a two-goal lead to draw 3-3 with automatic promotion hopefuls Derby County in a thrilling clash at the AEESEAL New York Stadium tonight.
Goals either side of half-time from stand-in captain Paul Green, Ritchie Smallwood and Matt Derbyshire put the Millers in control and Steve Evans relegation-threatened side looked on course to a seal a third successive home win.
But Rotherham were forced to settle for a share of the spoils following a double from Tom Ince and a late strike by Darren Bent.
Midfield man Rob Milsom was a surprise inclusion in the Millers starting line-up. Milsom came in for his first Championship start fof the season as boss Steve Evans changed his team for the first time in five matches. Conor Newton was the player to make way.
The Millers were without skipper Craig Morgan, who the club said was ill, and his place at centre-half was taken by Scottish international Kirk Broadfoot.
There were also starts for attacker Danny Ward, with loan striker Conor Sammon unable to face his parent club, and Jack Hunt, who came in for Frazer Richardson at right-back.
Richardson, after damaging his arm in last week’s match at Blackburn, was on the bench.
The visiting Rams, who could go top with a win, were without top scorer Chris Martin and winger Johnny Russell, but were still able to name a strong side including former England centre-forward Darren Bent and attacking midfielder Tom Ince, son of former Manchester United star Paul.
Rotherham made a bright start, with Derbyshire seeing a goalbound effort blocked before steering a lob narrowly over the bar.
Ince forced Adam Collin into a smart stop after being teed up by Jeff Hendrick.
However, the Millers should have taken the lead in the 13th minute when Ward rose highest to meet Ben Pringle’s great free kick but his header was kept out by Lee Grant.
Moments later, Rotherham were indebted to Collin for ensuring it remained goalless as the shot-stopper produced a fine reaction save to thwart Darren Bent, with Paul Green clearing the ball away from near the goalline.
But Derby, pushing for automatic promotion, started to turn the screw and Jamie Ward, formerly of Sheffield United, cut in from the left flank and unleashed a fierce low shot which Collin superbly saved.
Ward then missed a gilt-edged opportunity to put the Millers ahead, drilling a right foot effort wide after good play by Will Hughes.
Just after the half-hour mark, Rotherham suffered a big blow when Hunt was taken off on a stretcher after picking up an injury. The defender was replaced by Frazer Richardson.
Evans men quickly responded to that setback by taking the lead in the 35th minute courtesy of Green. The midfielder, skippering the Millers against his old employers, tapped in after Kirk Broadfoot headed Pringle’s centre back into the danger zone.
The hosts joy was short-lived as Derby equalised a minute later as Ince cut in from the right and curled an unstoppable shot out of Collin’s reach.
Four minutes before the interval, Rotherham survived a big scare when Ince’s teasing delivery flashed across the face of goal and just evaded Bent in the centre.
Ward combined well with Derbyshire before firing over on the stroke of half-time.
Rotherham regained the lead four minutes after the re-start as Smallwood curled in a delightful free kick after Ezekiel Fryers was brought down near the left of the penalty area.
Things got even better for the Millers in the 55th minute as Derbyshire pounced on sloppy defending by the visitors to slot in his fourth goal in his last five outings.
Steve McClaren, the Derby County boss, made a triple substitution before the hour mark, throwing on Craig Bryson, Simon Dawkins and Jesse Lingard. His alterations almost paid off, with Lingard some how failing to convert Dawkins pull-back.
It took an outstanding stop by Grant to tip over Derbyshire’s rasping 20-yard drive as Rotherham pressed for a fourth.
But they got picked off at the other end and Ince made no mistake from 12 yards following Craig Forsyth’s cross.
The pendulum appeared to have swung Derby’s way and Hawkins sliced a shot from distance narrowly off target.
The Rams piled on the pressure and levelled things up in the 83rd minute, with Bent nipping in to touch in Lingard’s centre.
In the closing stages, Derbyshire could have snatched all three points for the Millers but he nodded over from close range following a good run by Ward.
Rotherham United: Collin, Hunt, Broadfoot, Arnason, Fryers, Pringle, Smallwood, Green, Milsom, Ward, Derbyshire. Subs: Loach, Wood, Bowery, Richardson, Newton, Hammill, Clarke-Harris.
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Buxton, Keogh, Forsyth, Mascarell, Ince, Hughes, Hendrick, Ward, Bent. Subs: Roos, Bryson, Dawkins, Lingard, Thomas, Shotton, Thorne.
Referee: Nigel Miller. Co Durham.
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