Football / FA Cup: Warhurst caps thriller with late equaliser: Derby's stirring fightback denied by stand-in striker's outstanding form

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Derby County . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Sheffield Wednesday. . . . . . . . . . . . .3

TWENTY-FOUR hours after the Mancunian madness, here was just what the doctor ordered. A rattling good sixth- round tie, in the very best traditions of the FA Cup, leaves the First Division side still in with a gambler's chance of a place in the semi-finals.

Derby, twice behind and often outplayed, staged a rousing fightback to lead 3-2 after 84 minutes.

To the dismay of romantics everywhere, it was not to be. The underdogs had hurt the Premier League team, but they bit back hard for Paul Warhurst to earn them a replay with his 11th goal in the last 10 games.

The odds will favour Wednesday when they meet again at Hillsborough on 17 March, but Derby will take heart from their success in scoring three times against the England goalkeeper, and in an away record which is far more impressive than their patchy home form.

The likelihood, however, is that Wednesday will advance to meet the winners of the Sheffield United-Blackburn replay. They were much the more accomplished team, whatever the scoreline may suggest, and the prospect of an all-Sheffield semi adds to their motivation.

The first instalment of Blackburn v Sheffield United had bored us to death, Manchester on Sunday had frightened the life out of many present. To the relief, and gratitude, of the game's friends everywhere, day three of the quarter-finals produced the real fervour and flavour of the Cup with none of the ugly antagonism of Maine Road.

Derby is a football town, the old Baseball Ground an arena steeped in tradition. The atmosphere was red hot, but in an inspirational rather than malevolent sense.

For a long time it was Wednesday who were inspired, with Chris Waddle doing the inspiring. The winger England forgot was at the centre of everything in the first half, when the force was with the big battalions.

After 12 minutes he combined crisply with Warhurst on the edge of the area to play in Mark Bright, who was bearing down on goal when Mark Patterson took his legs from under him. John Sheridan buried the penalty, and the Premier League team were up and running.

Derby were on the back foot, conceding corner after corner, and the home crowd's early enthusiasm gave way to moans and groans and the time honoured exhortation to 'Get stuck in'.

It was the sort of stuff which pointed up the pre-match evidence of a contretemps between Lionel Pickering and his manager, Arthur Cox. Having invested some pounds 12m in his home-town team, Pickering had expected a smooth passage to promotion. Mid-table anonymity, 25 points behind Newcastle United, is not quite what he had in mind, and the unease within the club was reflected in Cox's comment that 'Derby are on the up again. If Mr Pickering cannot see beyond the end of his nose, then so be it.'

Wednesday's first-half superiority will scarcely have improved the patron's vision. Derby lifted their supporters with an equaliser out of nothing after 29 minutes, but were behind again after 36.

Derby's, in fairness, was the goal which will linger longest in the memory, Shane Nicholson fastening on to Martin Kuhl's short free- kick and exploding the shot past Chris Woods from fully 30 yards.

The response should have been demoralising for the First Division team, Wednesday carving them open time and again with some lovely one-touch stuff exemplified when Warhurst exchanged passes with Waddle before running on to stab in the first of his two goals.

Downhearted? No way. Derby turned round to dominate the second half, their sleeves-rolled determination wrenching the initiative away from their more gifted opponents.

They were level after 55 minutes, when Marco Gabbiadini burst past Carlton Palmer before drilling the ball home with a velocity which brooked no argument. They were ahead after 75, when Paul Kitson rose above the rest to head in Nicholson's cross.

Pandemonium. With only six minutes left Pickering was peering beyond his proboscis, all the way to Wembley, only for Warhurst to bring the gaze back down to nostril level by sweeping in Nigel Jemson's inviting cut-back from the right.

Derby County: Taylor; Patterson, Forsyth, Nicholson, Short, Pembridge, Williams, Kuhl, Kitson, Gabbiadini, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Goulooze, Comyn.

Sheffield Wednesday: Woods; Nilsson, Worthington, Palmer, Harkes (Jemson, 80), Anderson, Wilson, Waddle, Warhurst, Bright, Sheridan (Hyde, 58).

Referee: G Ashby (Worcester).

(Photograph omitted)