A late leveller from Steve Davies denied Southampton all three points as the hosts were held 1-1 by Nigel Clough’s side.
The second-half substitute struck with seven minutes remaining, as he latched onto a scuffed Martin Albrechtsen shot before firing past the helpless Kelvin Davis in the Southampton goal.
Davies’ late strike cancelled out Chris Perry’s opener, with the 35-year-old defender putting the Saints ahead with an hour played.
In all fairness, Derby were good value for their point as they missed a number of chances to take the lead, with Rob Hulse guilty of wasting their best opportunities. After this result, the Rams drop a few places to 17th, while Southampton remain in the bottom three, two points off safety. Had the south coast club won tonight, they would have moved out of the bottom three for the first time this year.
From the off, it was clear that Derby were looking for a point, playing with a five-man midfield and with Rob Hulse operating as a lone striker. Southampton, on the other hand, were desperate for a win, setting their stall out to attack.
The hosts were soon on the back foot and had Simon Gillett to thank when he made a last-ditch tackle to deny Hulse a goalscoring opportunity after Jan-Paul Saeijs had been dispossessed.
Hulse’s early chance seemed to spark Southampton into life, as they responded with a string of corners, before Morgan Schneiderlin went close with a fierce effort from 25-yards out. Much to the delight of the travelling fans, the ball flew just over the bar.
Nigel Clough’s defensive tactics were frustrating Mark Wotte’s side, as the Saints struggled to break a compact Derby side down, whilst the visitors always looked dangerous on the break.
Lone striker Hulse twice went close with headers, the first looping over and the second going just wide of Davis’ upright.
As the game wore on, Southampton began to force a few chances with Andrew Surman having an effort blocked and Marek Saganowski forcing Stephen Bywater into a good save.
With the Saints finding chances few and far between during the first-half, Head Coach Mark Wotte decided to bring on Adam Lallana for Morgan Schneiderlin at the interval in a bid to improve his side’s performance.
However, the switch appeared to have little impact as Derby began brightly, creating several chances in the first few minutes of the second period. Hulse went close yet again, with his initial shot being parried by Davis, but he snatched at the rebound and hit the ball into the side netting.
Hulse was made to pay for his double miss six minutes later when Southampton took the lead with their first attack of the half.
The Saints forced a corner on the right and when Jason Euell nodded down Gillett’s corner, defender Perry was on hand to crash the ball home off the underside of the bar from close range after 59 minutes.
Just four minutes later, the Saints should have doubled their lead after David McGoldrick broke clear down the right, before crossing for Surman, but the England Under-21 international inexplicably shot wide from an unmarked position in the box. The miss summed up Surman’s night and the versatile midfielder will want to put this performance behind him.
With just over ten minutes remaining, it looked as though Perry’s strike would be the decisive moment in the game, with Derby struggling to create any chances worthy of note.
However, the visitors persistence finally paid off when Albrechtsen dragged his shot across the face of goal, only for substitute Davies to latch onto it and produce a neat finish to beat the helpless Davis in the Saints goal.
With Southampton in desperate need of the three points, the hosts threw everything they had at Derby in a bid to find the winning goal. Their pressure almost paid off, with the Saints having three shots in the space of 30 seconds!
Adam Lallana crashed into the post from close range, Gillett saw the rebound blocked by Lewin Nyatanga and then Rudi Skacel had his effort from the loose ball blocked by Andy Todd as Derby hung on.
In truth, a point doesn’t do alot for either side. Derby have all but guaranteed Championship survival for this season, and so the best they can hope for is a mid-table finish.
Southampton, on the other hand, could really have done with holding on for what would have been a vital win, especially considering a number of their relegation rivals dropped points.
If Mark Wotte’s side are to beat the drop, then surely three points is a must on Saturday as QPR are the next team to visit St Mary’s.
It’s not all doom and gloom for the Saints though, with Championship saftey very much in their own hands. The south coast club still have to play Blackpool (A), Charlton (H), Watford (A) and Nottingham Forest (A), and if they are able to pick up maximum points against their rivals, then there is a good chance that they will beat the drop for a second consecutive season.
Davis, James, Saeijs, Perry, Skacel, Schneiderlin (Lallana 46), Gillett, McGoldrick, Surman (Wotton 69), Saganowski (Paterson 90), Euell.
Subs not used: Bialkowski, Liptak.
Bywater, Connolly, Albrechtsen, Nyatanga, Todd, Sterjovski (Ellington 63), Savage, Eustace (Kazmierczak 86), Teale, Hulse (Davies 77), Barazite.
Subs not used: Carroll, Villa.