DERBY COUNTY showed they were alive and kicking with a spectacular last-minute comeback to draw with Birmingham City.
The Rams were trailing 2-0 until the 87th minute when Luke Plange gave them a lifeline.
And with seconds remaining in the game, Krystian Bielik kicked into the top corner after a free kick from Tom Lawrence.
There were questions of offside and a possible high foot from Bielik, but manager Wayne Rooney and the rest of Pride Park didn’t care as they celebrated ecstatically.
It was a fairy tale ending to an emotionally charged contest with the Polish defender brought off the bench by Wayne Rooney to make his first appearance a year to the day since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury.
Rooney’s side have closed the gap to 21st Reading to seven points and some may now believe the miracle of avoiding relegation is a possibility.
The Rams were trailing goals from on-loan Nottingham Forest strikers Lyle Taylor and Scott Hogan before Derby staged the final fight.
Before kick-off, thousands of Derby fans marched together from the city center and demonstrated outside Pride Park to raise awareness of the club’s off-pitch situation in front of live TV cameras.
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This defiant atmosphere was also evident when the Rams players were loudly welcomed onto the field by a sold-out crowd.
But – after home striker Plange demonstrated neat footwork before giving Birmingham keeper Neil Etheridge a first chance – it was the visitors who forged ahead.
Debutant Taylor had scored in just two of his last 36 outings before being offloaded by Forest, but took just seven minutes to open his account for the Blues.
After Ryan Woods lifted the ball over the Derby back line, Onel Hernandez then escaped the attention of Curtis Davies through the right channel and fed the ball to Taylor, who fired a 12-yard shot in the bottom left corner of Ryan Allsop.
It proved a big turnaround for Lee Bowyer’s men with pantomime villain Taylor only denied a second by Allsop after meeting Kristian Pedersen’s left wing cross at the far post.
Derby finally settled down a bit and Max Bird trailed an effort wide after Kamil Jozwiak was fired in the 19th minute.
But Birmingham’s top scorer Hogan should have doubled the advantage on the stroke of half-time when he kicked the ball straight past Allsop after being sent through on goal by Hernandez.
Hogan was more decisive when he presented himself with a second chance to score his 10th goal of the season after 56 minutes as he placed a side shot past Allsop from seven yards out, having been spotted by the center of the Woods’ right wing.
He wasted again, however, moments later when – after being placed in the same position by Taylor – he swept the ball into Allsop’s goal.
Derby hadn’t threatened the away goal since the break but substitute Festy Ebosele pricked Etheridge’s palms from wide after 69 minutes and Davies missed the target from a Bird corner.
Colin Kazim-Richards was also close with a hard-hitting strike from the edge of the box and an effort from Lawrence deflected off Marc Roberts’ unintended header and more.
Plange then threw a lifeline at the hosts by curling in from 15 yards out and, responding to the urgings of a loyal home stalwart, the equalizer came six minutes into added time after Bielik was fouled by Hernandez.
Goalkeeper Allsop was sent onto the pitch for the next free-kick, but it was Davies who won Bielik’s header to show all his athleticism and beat Etheridge from 10 yards out.
The point also pushed the struggling Rams within seven points of a safe position.
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