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Report: Derby County 3-3 Bristol City

Bristol City saw a 3-0 half-time lead wiped out at Pride Park as hosts Derby County recovered to salvage a point from a crazy game in the East Midlands.

Matty Taylor’s first City goal was followed up by a Tammy Abraham brace to put the visitors in dreamland at the interval.

Even with 15 minutes left City looked comfortable, with Darren Bent’s diving header an isolated moment of concern, but Tom Ince pulled another one back before Bent struck the equaliser from the penalty spot nine minutes from time.

Taylor’s first start was one of two changes for Lee Johnson’s side, who returned to winning ways against Rotherham United last time out.

Elsewhere, Josh Brownhill slotted into an orthodox 4-4-2 formation, with Marlon Pack and Lee Tomlin dropping to the bench.

There was certainly no intention to sit back and defend, as City got on the front foot early when Jens Hegeler’s piledriver was painfully blocked by Craig Bryson after the visitors had forced the game’s first corner.

Derby responded through a familiar source. Ince scored four times against the Robins last season and wasted no time in darting down the right, cutting inside and unleashing a fierce left-footed shot pushed behind by Fabian Giefer.

But it was City who struck first when the man of the moment opened his account in red and white after 14 minutes.

After Taylor’s initial snapshot was deflected for a corner, David Cotterill’s delivery was met by Aden Flint.

When the big defender’s header towards the bottom corner was blocked on the line, Taylor was quickest to react and lash home the loose ball from close range.

Less than a fortnight ago it would have been unthinkable, but now the travelling City fans were chanting the name of the former Bristol Rovers marksman loud and clear.

You’re never as vulnerable as when you’ve just scored – as the saying goes – and City had to survive an instant scare to stay in front.

Ince found Bent, who slipped the ball to his left for Abdoul Camara to strike and again force Giefer into a fine save.

It was the second time City had relied on the German, but in general play Johnson’s side were well on top.

More chances were to follow for the visitors. Cotterill’s deep cross was stabbed wide by Joe Bryan, before some fantastic interplay involving Abraham and Brownhill saw the latter denied by Scott Carson with only the keeper to beat.

There was a swagger about City’s play and Derby could have no complaints when Abraham doubled the lead with his landmark 20th goal of the season.

Taylor’s willingness to run beyond the home defence was instrumental, as the striker crossed from the byeline and Carson’s fingertip could only deflect the ball into the path of the onrushing Abraham to score with a typical poacher’s finish.

Steve McClaren was far from impressed and made a double substitution on the half-hour in a bid to turn the tide, introducing Jacob Butterfield and Ikechi Anya for Craig Bryson and Bradley Johnson.

But his team were already deflated and unable to respond. Six minutes before the break two became three, as Cotterill vacated his right flank – not for the first time – and slipped a clever pass to Bryan, whose first-time cross was helped back across goal by Taylor and tapped in by Abraham.

When Camara’s desperate attempt to reduce the deficit in the final minute of added time sailed high and wide, the locals departed for their half-time refreshments en masse, while the referee’s whistle soon after was greeted by loud boos and a feeling of disbelief among Rams supporters.

Johnson would have been only too aware of the perils of an early Derby goal, but one did not look forthcoming and frustrations grew when Anya and Ince both failed to control simple balls before Carson booted one into touch under no pressure.

However, when Chris Baird was afforded too much space down the right and saw his inviting cross headed in by Bent, City could have been forgiven for feeling the heat on a freezing day in the East Midlands.

To deflate the hosts again by restoring the three-goal lead would surely have killed the game and only Taylor knows how he didn’t succeed in doing so.

The excellent Bryan produced another perfect cross, this time drilled low and hard across the six-yard box, but somehow the ball looped up off Taylor’s foot and over the crossbar from point-blank range for a very bad miss.

City may not have quite put the result beyond doubt but they had halted a bit of Derby momentum and did not really look troubled as the clock ticked down into the last 15 minutes.

Still there were chances on the counter-attack. Taylor released Bryan, who had a clear route to goal but elected to shoot early as white shirts retreated and just dragged his shot fractionally beyond the far post.

City may have been comfortable but a nervy finale was lying in wait when Anya crossed from the right and Ince made it 3-2 out of nothing with a rare header.

By this point Johnson had introduced Milan Djuric for Taylor to add some extra physicality to his line-up, but Derby finally had the crowd on side and were not about to let up.

The comeback was complete nine minutes from time when Ince twisted and turned in the box to draw a foul from Scott Golbourne, prompting Bent to hit the penalty with just enough power to beat Giefer, who got a decent hand to the ball.

There was plenty of time for a winner and both teams threatened to provide it. Bailey Wright headed over from Flint’s cross, while Butterfield rifled a shot from distance that flew only inches wide, ensuring City were left with a point they might have taken before the game, but certainly not midway through it.