10-man Derby County held Millwall to a 1-1 draw at the Den this evening with former Ram Scott Malone cancelling out Festy Ebosele’s opener.
Malone hammered in an equaliser against his former side in first-half stoppage time, less than two minutes after Ebosele’s first professional goal had given the Rams a deserved lead while Nathan Byrne was given his marching orders for two bookings just after the hour mark.
The teenager was one of three changes made by Wayne Rooney, who also brought in Lee Buchanan and Graeme Shinnie – with the latter available after serving a one-match suspension.
George Evans was the only absentee due to injury but Rowett had to do without captain Shaun Hutchinson due to illness.
Millwall’s new-look back three was nearly exposed inside the opening 10 minutes when Jason Knight cut inside Daniel Ballard far too easily and drove along the bi-line before delivering a low cross that was deflected into the path of Ebosele.
Luckily for the hosts, George Saville was in the right place to smother the 19-year-old’s effort.
10 minutes later Ballard was left looking foolish again as a sumptuous ball forward allowed Sam Baldock to break into the penalty area before cutting inside the Arsenal loanee but this time it was Jake Cooper that arrived to make the block.
Some slick linkup play between Baldock and Tom Lawrence allowed the latter to set Knight through on goal in the 24th minute but the 20-year-old’s indecision allowed the defence to get back and extinguish the danger.
The Lions, meanwhile, were restricted to breakaways and long-range efforts – with Malone’s sliced volley over the bar just before the half-hour mark looking like it might end up their best effort of the half.
A minute before the break, Rooney’s side took a deserved lead through Ebosele, the 19-year-old bagging his first senior goal for the club with a composed finish after some brilliant work from Tom Lawrence.
Derby’s pressing allowed them to win the ball high up and their skipper toyed with the defenders – faking and feinting – before teeing up Ebosele.
Their lead would last little more than a minute, however, as Malone pulled Millwall level against his former club, collecting Jed Wallace’s pass on the left before firing an effort from the edge of the box under Kelle Roos.
The Lions’ pair nearly linked up for a second five minutes into the second half. Jed Wallace easily won a foot race with Curtis Davies to collect a ball through on goal but saw his effort saved by Roos with Malone’s subsequent volley blocked by the experienced Derby defender.
The late equaliser and halftime break appeared to work wonders for Rowett’s side, who were playing with a much better tempo.
Derby remained a threat going forward, however, and were it not for Ballard’s diving header, Ebosele’s searching cross would almost certainly have been tapped in at the back post in the 58th minute.
Saville should have put the hosts ahead three minutes later when Jed Wallace’s pull back found him in stride and with the goal gaping but he shoveled his effort wide.
A frenzied second period got even more dramatic in the 64th minute when Derby went down to 10 men. Byrne, who had been booked for tripping Mason Bennett before the break, was shown his second yellow card for a trip on the former Ram as he looked to break forward.
Benik Afobe missed a golden opportunity to capitalise seconds later when he failed to get anything on Jed Wallace’s stunning cross but the 10 men of Derby kept pushing and it was the visitors that had many of the chances as we neared the final whistle.
12 minutes before the end, Afobe nearly produced a moment of magic to put his side ahead but he didn’t quite get a full connection on his bicycle kick and Roos got down well to parry.
Millwall ramped up on the pressure in the final 10 minutes but, while riding their luck at times, Derby showed why they have one of the best defensive records in the Championship.
When Malone connected sweetly with a long-range volley in the dying embers of the game it seemed as though the left wing-back might have the final say against his former club but it sailed inches over the top and the points were shared.
FULL TIME: Millwall 1-1 Derby County