League Leaders Held By Resilient RamsA beautiful day marked the occasion of third placed Derby County hosting league leaders Southampton on Saturday afternoon, the sun was shining and both sets of fans were out in their thousands as Pride Park saw its first sell out of the season. Much to the Southampton fans disappointment, Adam Lallana, arguably The Saints' most creative midfielder, didn't appear in the starting line up to face a Derby side with little injury worries. Surprisingly, Saints' skipper Dean Hammond was amongst the substitutes for the second time this season.
The two thousand plus southerners who made the trip up north were noticeably vocal as the game commenced, However, The Rams' forward Theo Robinson silenced the away section in the third minute as The Saints defence failed to clear their lines. Right back Frazier Richardson looked in trouble when Derby striker Jamie Ward got the better of him on the left until centre half Jose Fonte came sliding in with a tackle which looked successful until the ball fell to a County midfielder who slotted the ball into the box for Ben Davies to strike the ball at goal when Saints' number one, Kelvin Davis, parried the ball into the path of Theo Robinson (who appeared to be offside) to give the hosts the lead.
Nigel Adkins got the response he was looking for from his men, as the early goal seemed to give the away side a wake up call, midfielder Richard Chaplow forced future England hopeful Frank Fielding into a reflex save with a low shot from 10 yards out.
It appeared to be the visitors piling on the pressure and creating the most chances, Saints' top scorer Rickie Lambert threatened to put Adkins' side level. Brazilian Gully Do Prado also firing just over the bar in an attempt to raise the noise of the travelling faithful.
Gully then whipped in a corner for The Saints which lead to 6 ft 2 central defender Jose Fonte to head the ball towards the goal, only to be turned over the bar by Steven Davies of all people.
Southampton top goal scorer, Rickie Lambert, had an opportunity to put his side level when a free kick was awarded in his favour just outside the area. The free kick was smashed into the wall and kindly broke to Chaplow, who couldn't arrange his footing in-time for the shot which was blasted into the stand.
Referee, Mark Brown blew the whistle to indicate the end of the first half and it was the home side who had the advantage at the break. Arguably the wrong side were ahead at half time but the Saints fans showed no signs of giving up as the bellowing chant of "Yellows!" could only drive on the away side.
Once again, Southampton looked the team more likely to score the second goal of the game when the second half kicked off, Rickie Lambert once again at the heart of the action as he turned Mark O’Brien in his own area but only to hit a tame effort at Frank Fielding.
Former Burnley left back, Danny Fox then attempted to put a cross into the box to feed David Connolly an opportunity but the Derby defence cleared with ease and came away with the ball, much to Fox's frustration as he then sprinted to win the ball back and clattered Craig Bryson to earn himself nothing but a yellow card.
Steve De Ridder, Saints winger, was brought on for Chaplow with half an hour to produce a goal to level the away side.
Eventually, The Rams just couldn't hold off the pressure as star man Lambert continued to press before a one-two with David Connolly gave top scorer, Lambert, the chance to turn onto his favoured right foot and place the ball powerfully into the bottom corner as he jogged off to celebrate with the sea of yellow travelling supporters on the sixty first minute.
Almost immediately after the goal, Lambert again was through on goal and perhaps should have scored although his shot was off target after losing balance from just 8 yards out.
Derby appeared to find their feet again and progressively came back into the game in the second half making the event more even to the delight of the home fans. However both teams didn't show any signs of this game being a friendly encounter as Portuguese Jose Fonte reacted fiercely after a clash of heads when leaping for a header which the referee deemed to be a foul against the Southampton centre half.
With De Ridder's influence showing The Saints to be openly attacking, Adkins decided to bring on Skipper Dean Hammond to balance things in the midfield for Frazier Richardson, who looked to have picked up a slight injury.
As the scoreboard showed a minimum of fifteen minutes remaining, The Rams became more involved in the game as they pressed The Saints into conceding free kicks and corners. Morgan Schniederlin was dispossessed on the wing and clearly felt frustration with himself as he decided to sprint back towards the ball and swipe Jamie Ward's legs from underneath him to earn the French midfielder his 1st yellow card of the season.
One of the major talking points of the game was Steven Davies' clash of heads with Jose Fonte. The Derby striker didn't seem to make much movement after his fell to the ground, 7 minutes later, the striker who has five goals in eleven games this season, was stretchered off the field to an applause by both sets of fans.
Five minutes later the home side thought they had a winner when Jason Shackell rose to meet a Ben Davies corner but his effort was headed off the line by Guly.
Rickie Lambert found himself in referee, Mark Brown's book as he kicked the ball away with aggression due to being flagged offside.
Nigel Adkins gave Dan Harding a short run out for the last couple of minutes to cap his return from injury in hope to get a winner for The Saints but the game ended in what both parties may argue a draw was the fairest result.
The Saints player ratings:
Kelvin Davis 7 - Made some decent saves and kicking looked an improvement.
Frazier Richardson 7 - Good game, got forward a lot and defended well until subbed.
Jose Fonte 8 - Gave away some needless free kicks but solid throughout.
Jos Hooiveld 6 - Gave the ball away too many times, didn't win enough headers.
Danny Fox 7 - Decent performance but gave the ball away a couple of times, made a rash challenge.
Guly 8 - Solid performance, won some vital headers and looked lively.
Jack Cork 8 - Another great performance, used the ball well, did a good job at right back when required.
Richard Chaplow 7 - Good link up play with the front two, missed some good opportunities though.
Morgan Schneiderlin 8 - Battled well in the middle but gave away a free kick to earn a yellow card.
David Connolly 8 - Chased every ball, worked hard and linked up well with Lambert.
Rickie Lambert 9 - Won nearly every header and capped off a good performance with a nice goal.
Steve De Ridder 8 - Looked fast and skillful when he came on and created some chances for the forwards.
Dean Hammond 7 - Looked like a difficult game to come into the centre midfield late on but secured the draw.
Dan Harding - Didn't really have enough time to get on the ball and create anything on the left side of midfield.