Robbie Savage's last-minute dramatic fall when seemingly hardly touched by Derby's Danny Higginbotham brought Leicester a winning penalty at Pride Park. It may not have been an incident from which Savage should himself have taken so much pride, but it certainly eased the pressure on his manager, Peter Taylor.
Savage was pushed and pulled by the Derby players and at the end insisted on milking the applause of Leicester's fans and defying the wrath of the home crowd. For several minutes stewards and the police refused to let him into the plastic extension of the packed tunnel which was home to a struggle.
Jim Smith, the Derby manager, insisted that Savage had dived to win the match. "I don't think either penalty, ours or theirs, was a penalty, but he went looking for a dive and that's what he did. It's always the same player. It happened last week at Ipswich. Referees should know their players, but if I'm honest, I think this one tried to balance up our penalty with theirs.''
Taylor, however, said that the penalty was, in his opinion, justified. "Savage would have caused them problems if they had let him go on, and he could have gone down twice before that.'' He said the trouble in the tunnel afterwards was caused because "there were a lot of people in there and staff and security people lost control". He said some players were involved, but would not name them. He will be making a report. Smith said he was in the dressing room at the time, but that none of his players had been involved.
In any event, Derby lost a match they had begun by dominating. They needed to be a lot more positive in attack than they had been in earlier matches, but on the day, of course, that was a shared ambition. Derby seemed, at first, the most capable of achieving the objective.
As early as the fourth minute Georgi Kinkladze, who had already mystified Leicester's midfield with his sparkling footwork, neatly found Fabrizio Ravanelli just inside the penalty area. Ravanelli turned the ball inside to Deon Burton, who eluded Lee Marshall and sent a low drive past Ian Walker.
Taylor came ranting to the touchline but no amount of advice could bind the deficiencies of his defence. Ravanelli and Kinkladze's ability to discover space seemed likely to allow Derby to build on their solid foundation. It was a false impression.
Half an hour of largely unfruitful and often inaccurate effort by Leicester suddenly changed complexion. A driving run from deep in his own half by Jordan Stewart preceded a corner by Savage, Andy Oakes palmed out and Stewart shot firmly back into the goal area. The former Derby player, Dean Sturridge, backheeled the equaliser.
Derby's earlier confidence in their defensive ability dramatically fell away when, just after the hour, Ade Akinbiyi and Matthew Jones attacked them from the right side, eventually releasing Sturridge. None of the Derby players covered his diagonal run across the penalty area. As Oakes tried to narrow the angle, Sturridge cannily slipped the ball behind him.
Derby's commitment to giving more support to the fading Ravanelli increased vulnerability at the back. Nevertheless, Leicester found themselves facing a concerted 85th minute attack in which half a dozen Derby players forced their way into the penalty area. Marshall challenged Burton, who fell. There was some doubt over whether the ensuing penalty, put in by Ravanelli, was justified, but nothing compared with the suspicion over the winner.
Savage was running across the Derby penalty area pursued by Danny Higginbotham. There appeared no contact, but the referee, Graham Barber, saw Savage fall spectacularly and was convinced in his own mind of his penalty decision. Higginbotham remonstrated with Savage, who walked away. Craig Burley and Ravanelli chased after him, tugging at his shirt and others joined in. Nevertheless, the penalty award had to stand and Muzzy Izzet fired in against a wall of derision.
Derby County 2
Burton 4, Ravanelli pen 86
Leicester City 3
Sturridge 30, 64, Izzet pen 90
Half-time 1-1 Attendance: 26,863