Derby’s bold survival fight in the Sky Bet Championship continued after they snatched a dramatic 2-2 draw at Reading.
Rams manager Wayne Rooney missed the game. He had felt unwell and remained at home, with his club saying that a Covid test had proved negative.
His side flattered to deceive in a lacklustre first-half display and went behind in the 37th minute when Junior Hoilett curled home from distance.
Hoilett struck again 11 minutes into the second half when he pounced from close range.
But Derby staged a remarkable late fightback, first reducing the deficit in the 86th minute through substitute Colin Kazim-Richards and then equalising through defender Curtis Davies in added time.
Derby were deducted 12 points in September for entering administration and nine points in November for EFL financial breaches, but they had hit form towards the end of 2021, with consecutive victories over Blackpool, West Brom and Stoke.
Struggling Reading had won only twice in 10 outings prior to this game and had not played since December 11 – a 1-0 defeat at West Brom – due to widespread Covid issues in their camp.
Derby, 11 points adrift of Reading, and safety, started sluggishly as the hosts exerted pressure high up the pitch, but the Rams were soon into their stride, with Max Bird firing over with an ambitious effort from 20 yards.
Reading replied forcefully and almost went ahead in the 18th minute. John Swift crossed from the left and Andy Carroll rose high to send a powerful downward header into the turf.
It appeared to be destined for the net but Derby goalkeeper Ryan Allsop made a superb sprawling save.
Home keeper Luke Southwood did well to push wide a deflected shot from Luke Plange before Reading went ahead eight minutes before the break.
Southwood launched a long ball forward, Carroll flicked it on and Hoilett beat Allsop with the sweetest of attempts from just outside the area.
Plange should have done better with a close-range header that flew over the home crossbar, but Derby immediately showed more forward intent after the interval.
Nathan Byrne found space on the right flank but his low, skidding cross failed to find an available team-mate.
Southwood then saved smartly from a fierce Tom Lawrence effort as Derby desperately sought the equaliser.
But they fell further behind in the 56th minute, when Tom Holmes nodded on a deep free-kick from Alen Halilovic.
Hoilett was lurking at the far post and, after controlling the ball cleverly, squeezed his shot through the legs of Allsop.
Derby pulled a goal back four minutes from the end when Southwood fumbled a high ball, which then hit Kazim-Richards and rolled into the net.
The Rams rallied and Davies then powered in a header from a Byrne cross to snatch the leveller one minute into added time.
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