Derby County failed to build on a fast start against bottom club Ipswich Town and missed an opportunity to climb into the Championship’s top six.
Tom Lawrence fired the Rams into second-minute lead but rather than build on their advantage, they laboured and struggled in a 1-1 draw at Portman Road.
Ipswich, to their credit, did not perform like a side propping up the table .
They were full of spirit and fight, and they levelled early in the second half through substitute Jon Nolan two minutes after he came off the bench.
Derby had a go late on, and went close, but they would not have deserved to nick the three points because for most of the game they were short on ideas and cohesion.
It was a disjointed and disappointing performance.
Going into the match unbeaten in five, and with three consecutive clean sheets, a more vibrant display was expected.
Having said that, it is another point on the board and the key in this division is to keep the tally ticking over. The Rams are seventh, and outside the play-off places only on goal difference.
Frank Lampard delivered a surprise in the three changes he made to the team as Bradley Johnson was handed his first appearance since the defeat at Stoke at the end of November.
That was the night Johnson was involved in an unsavoury scuffle with Stoke’s Joe Allen. The Rams player was later banned for five matches for allegedly biting Allen.
Johnson, who is out of contract in the summer, was one of two changes made in midfield. The other saw new signing Andy King make his first start since arriving on loan from Leicester City on deadline day.
Out went Tom Huddlestone and Craig Bryson. Did the fact this was the second of Derby’s three matches in eight days have a bearing on the team selection? It seemed that way with the Brighton FA Cup tie kicking off early on Saturday.
Huddlestone dropping to the bench meant Derby had three England internationals among the substitute – him, Ashley Cole and David Nugent.
Lawrence, who shone during a loan spell at Ipswich in 2016-17 , returned to the side after missing the victory over Hull City with a calf injury, and out went Florian Jozefzoon, who was quiet against Hull.
Ipswich, with eight defeats in their previous nine games, made four changes to the team that lost to rivals Norwich City at the weekend. In came Myles Kenlock Teddy Bishop, Flynn Downes and Collin Quaner, out went Luke Chambers, Cole Skuse, Jon Nolan and Freddie Sears.
There was a minute’s applause prior to kick-off in memory of legendary goalkeeper Gordon Banks, who died earlier this week.
Derby’s record at Portman Road offered them encouragement. They had won four on the spin in Ipswich’s back yard and it took them only two minutes to go ahead.
Johnson’s chip into the box was headed across goal for Lawrence, whose volley from 10 yards appeared to deflect off Ipswich defender Jonas Knudsen to wrong foot Bartosz Bialkowski.
Lawrence’s celebration was cut short as he pulled up injured, but the Welsh international was able to continue after treatment, and the early goal was just the start Derby wanted against struggling opponents .
Not the start Ipswich wanted, but they responded and Quaner sent a shot flashing wide of Kelle Roos’ near post before Fikayo Tomori made a fine block to charge down Will Keane’s effort.
Derby’s shape was more 4-2-3-1 than the usual 4-3-3, with Johnson and King in central midfield, and Duane Holmes, Harry Wilson and Lawrence forming the trio behind Martyn Waghorn, who made his first return to the club from which he joined the Rams in the summer.
Waghorn picked up a yellow card after a tussle with Matthew Pennington, and Derby stuttered along despite the early goal. Their passing was off and this left them scratching for any control of the contest. They missed the composure Huddlestone can offer.
Trevor Chalobah’s header from Alan Judge’s free kick drifted narrowly wide and although a flick-on by Waghorn saw the ball hit Tomori and trickle past a post, Derby needed to get in at the break and talk about keeping the ball better.
There was not much sign of that in the opening minutes of the second half and Ipswich punished Derby with an equaliser after 55 minutes.
Quaner drove forward to the edge of the area and rolled a pass into the path of Nolan, who drilled a shot from 15 yards low past Roos.
The warning signs had been there for Derby, and Ipswich believed there was more than a point in the game for them. They pushed for a second goal and were denied when Holmes made an excellent headed clearance off the line from Knudsen.
Chalobah then sent a shot wide as Derby continued to labour. Matthew Pennington, who the Rams wanted to sign on loan, was a handful at corners although the home side needed Bialkowski to push away Richard Keogh’s header late on, with neither David Nugent nor Tomori able to capitalise as the ball bobbled around the box.
Bialkowski tipped over Waghorn’s header and Nugent saw a header rebound off the bar as the Rams applied pressure in the closing minutes. There was also a late chance for Nugent but he shot tamely straight at Bialkowski.
It was all too little, too late and the Rams had to settle for a point but now it is a case of moving on quickly because the games are coming thick and fast.