Derby County's modest aim of avoiding the lowest final points total in modern times – Sunderland's 15 two seasons ago – would have received a useful boost had they been able to hold on to a rare lead last night. Sun Jihai's own goal right at the start of the second half put them in front for once, but Manchester City's Daniel Sturridge equalised on his Premier League debut to leave Paul Jewell's side with only eight points from 24 games, seven short of Sunderland's unwanted record.
The club's new American owners will at least have been encouraged by the levels of effort and commitment in a breathless match, as were an appreciative home crowd and Jewell. "We've shown a bit of pride and restored a bit of dignity," he said.
City's Sven Goran Eriksson hopes to announce one or two more signings today, City having last night captured the 19-year-old Ecuador striker Felipe Caciedo from FC Basle for £5m, but here he rued "a missed opportunity" and another unlucky goal to follow Sunday's bizarre one at Sheffield United.
Four changes apiece had reflected the dissatisfaction of both managers with their teams' FA Cup defeats by Championship opposition, though neither defence looked any more solid. Derby had given one of their worst performances of even this desperate season in losing 4-1 at home to Preston and early on their fragile confidence seemed understandably affected. The hapless – some have said hopeless – central defensive combination of Claude Davis and Darren Moore were ripped asunder half a dozen times in the first 30 minutes, before improving slowly like their team.
Darius Vassell, playing through the middle with Sturridge, was wasteful on several occasions, beginning when Davis, initially booed by his own supporters, played a weak back pass that the former England striker pulled wide. Played in again by Martin Petrov's fine cross, Vassell then allowed Lewis Price to smother the ball.
In small increments, however, Derby managed to give the country's longest suffering fans some encouragement. The lively Robbie Earnshaw's overhead kick cleared the bar and he then drove Craig Fagan's pass against the base of a post. Within half a minute of the second half starting, Derby swept forward through Miller and Hossam Ghaly, and as Richard Dunne fell over, Kenny Miller hit a shot that was heading wide until Sun deflected it past his stranded goalkeeper.
Petrov was a threat down City's left and when Dean Leacock made the classic error of allowing him in behind after 63 minutes, an equaliser arrived. Elano, on as substitute for Kelvin Etuhu, sent the Bulgarian racing along the flank and Sturridge met his cross just ahead of Marc Edworthy to score. It was a bittersweet moment for Sturridge's uncle Dean, the former Derby striker, who was summarising the match for a local radio station.
Goals: Sun og (46) 1-0; Sturridge (63) 1-1.
Derby County (4-4-2): Price; Leacock, Moore, Davis (Todd, 69), Edworthy; Fagan, Savage, Ghaly, Pearson (Barnes, 83); Earnshaw (Villa, 88), Miller. Substitutes not used: Hinchliffe (gk), Robert.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Hart; Sun, Dunne, Corluka, Ball; Etuhu (Elano, 55), Ireland, Gelson, Petrov; Vassell (Mpenza, 79), Sturridge (Geovanni, 72). Substitutes not used: Schmeichel (gk), Hamann.
Referee: S Bennett (Kent).
Booked: Derby: Ghaly; Manchester City: Corluka.
Man of the match: Earnshaw.
Attendance: 31,368.Reuse content