Leeds United stretched their unbeaten run to six games when they battled to a 2-2 draw against promotion favourites Derby County at Elland Road.
Steve Evans’ men came from behind to lead 2-1 with goals from Sol Bamba and Chris Wood, but were forced to settle for a point after Derby sub Tom Ince struck 12 minutes from time.
Jeff Hendrick had initially put the visitors ahead on 13 minutes and they had looked in control early on before being drawn into a real contest by a Leeds team that made their head coach proud.
United played to a set plan with wide men Sam Byram and Stuart Dallas tucking in a little to contain the threat of a talented Derby midfield and the tactic worked well after a hesitant start when Leeds seemed to be giving their opponents too much respect.
Derby looked like a team that could go top with a win in the first 15 minutes as they knocked the ball about with confidence and deserved their early lead given them by midfielder Hendrick, who raced past Liam Bridcutt in the box then nutmegged the returning Bamba before cleverly chipping the ball past keeper Marco Silvestri.
Leeds gradually got a foothold and came close on 21 minutes when another of their returning players, Tom Adeyemi, headed over following a good move down the right and a great through ball by Bridcutt.
A succession of fouls and yellow cards saw the game become disjointed for a spell before Adeyemi flicked a header wide from a Byram cross.
Leeds then equalised a little out of the blue on 42 minutes when Derby keeper Lee Grant came a long way for a free-kick and could not clear. Byram latched onto the loose ball, but his shot was blocked before Dallas chipped the ball in and Grant could only parry straight to Bamba, who gleefully fired home from close range.
Derby responded and Jonny Russell shot over then Silvestri had to be quick off his line to smother at the feet of Andreas Weimann.
The second half started with chances still at a premium despite some promising approach play. Dallas saw a 25-yard shot well held by Grant and was unlucky to be hauled back by Cyrus Christie after racing clear down the wing - an action that brought a rightful booking for the Derby right-back.
Weimann had a shot well blocked by Scott Wootton following a low pull back by Derby sub Chris Martin and a Russell cross-shot was cleared near the home line, but it was Leeds who scored next.
Byram got in a superb cross from the right and Wood was there in the middle to head home his eighth goal of the season.
Three minutes later Lewis Cook produced a skilful touch to free up space on the edge of the box, but his shot went well wide.
Derby responded and levelled 12 minutes from time as Ince took the ball in his stride with just about his first touch after coming on as sub and fired home, low into the corner of the net.
Russell fired over a minute later as the visitors went for a winner and Martin saw a shot deflected over.
But Leeds also looked to win it and Liam Cooper’s header was cleared before Luke Murphy’s 20-yard free-kick almost sneaked in at the near post.
Cook shot over from the edge of the box to end further pressure and it ended with honours even, probably a fair result on the night.
United boss Evans thought his side had deserved to win.
He said: “It’s a sign of the times of how far we’ve come in the last two months that you can hear a pin drop in the dressing room because we’re gutted to draw with Derby, a team near the top of the league.
“We had to show a lot of courage, passion, commitment and it was a fantastic Elland Road tonight. We’d have loved to have seen it out.
“It was a piece of quality from Thomas Ince to take a point away.
“I am extremely proud of my players.”
Leeds United 2
(Bamba 42, Wood 71)
Derby County 2
(Hendrick 13, Ince 78)
Tuesday, December 29, 2015
Sky Bet Championship
Leeds: Silvestri, Wootton, Bamba, Cooper, Taylor, Byram (Phillips 88), Adeyemi (Cook 63), Bridcutt, Murphy, Dallas, Wood (Doukara 75).
Derby: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Shackell (Shotton 36), Warnock, Russell, Johnson, Hendrick, Butterfield, Weimann (Ince 76), Bent (Martin 62).
Referee: Mark Heywood