TONY Mowbray turned his ire on the officials as Middlesbrough were denied the chance to climb to eighth in the npower Championship table thanks to Paul Coutts’ last-gasp equaliser.
Lukas Jutkiewicz looked to have earned a fourth home league win of the season for the hosts as he completed his brace five minutes from time.
But Coutts benefited from a spot of pinball in the Boro box to end Derby’s losing streak at the Riverside, after Theo Robinson had put Nigel Clough’s men ahead from the penalty spot in the first half.
For the second time in a week, Mowbray was left to rue a late goal.
He had not argued with the legitimacy of Nathan Dyer’s winner for Leicester on Saturday, but was convinced a Derby player had been offside in the build-up to Coutts’ scrambled goal tonight.
“When you get yourself in front so late on the expectation is that you’ll take all three points,” the Boro boss said.
“The frustration is that the goal was offside, but we sit here at 2-2 and can’t change it now because the officials got it wrong.
“It’s frustrating when they do but you’d have to say on the balance of play that Derby deserved to take something from the game.
“Derby showed they’re a decent team, they’ve got some nice tidy footballers and counter-attack very well.
“We have to find a way of winning football matches. The first three matches were very, very tight, all decided by the odd goal.
“I think there was evidence tonight that we lacked a bit of creative spark, somebody to beat people and drive past people, but the reality is that those type of players are not available to us at the moment.
“If the officials had done their jobs properly you’d have to say that there wouldn’t have been a goal and we’d have won 2-1, but that’s football.
“That’s the fine margins of football and we have to live by them.”
An attendance of just 13,337 represented the lowest-ever turnout for a league game at the Riverside, leading Mowbray to ponder why the fans are staying away.
He added: “The crowd has been low all season, and as I’ve said since I came here, it’s disappointing to look up and see the empty seats. We will see.
“Is it the lack of entertainment, is it financial? I’m not sure it’s the fact that we’re not winning.
“We’ve got to look deep into the reasons as to why the fans aren’t coming.”
Grant Leadbitter warmed Frank Fielding’s palms and Seb Hines cut out a dangerous pullback from Robinson as a frantic 45 minutes sparked into life.
Jutkiewicz should have made Boro’s early pressure count, though, instead scooping Leadbitter’s free-kick over the crossbar before Derby took the lead in the 16th minute.
A typically tricky Rams counter-attack saw Craig Bryson wade into the area only to tumble under the attentions of Andre Bikey, leaving Robinson to confidently tuck home the spot-kick.
But Boro were completely undeterred and levelled three minutes later. Richard Keogh conceded a free-kick well within Leadbitter’s preferred range, the former Sunderland man seeing his low drive fumbled by Fielding, before raising a smile as Jutkiewicz bundled home the rebound.
The Polish striker nearly made it two after slicing Justin Hoyte’s pullback wide but Derby had weathered the storm.
There were jeers from the away end as George Friend made a hash of converting Leadbitter’s pinpoint delivery, but the travelling Rams were relieved when Luke Williams slammed the rebound across the goalmouth and out of play.
Rams boss Nigel Clough cut a frustrated figure as repeated raids were handled expertly by a well-drilled Boro defence – Jason Steele only getting a rare feel of the ball when Robinson squeezed a shot through the backline.
Soon, Bikey’s long-range missile amused and enthralled in equal measure but it remained all-square at the break.
The sting had disappeared somewhat when play resumed, Jutkiewicz showing no bite when fed by Nicky Bailey before Coutts wasted a cross at the other end.
Bailey and Jutkiewicz soon jumped for the same delivery when one man would have sufficed and the ball bobbled away from danger.
A period of crisp passing followed – with no end product - but Robinson had the slippy turf to blame as he miscued over the bar on the hour mark.
Conor Sammon replaced the ineffective Nathan Tyson with Mowbray bringing on Merouane Zemmama and Emmanuel Ledesma for Kevin Thomson and Josh McEachran.
They soon proved handy, with Coutts denying Ledesma’s rasping drive and Zemmama running out of luck following a mazy run as Boro sought a break in front of goal.
That burst of good fortune arrived 10 minutes from time through a familiar source, Jutkiewicz turning in time to notice Zemmama’s forward chip and twisting his neck to guide the ball into the top corner.
Boro were up to eighth place as it stood, but in all the excitement, they let their guard slip at a critical moment, Coutts lashing home after a goalmouth scramble with just three minutes remaining.
And it would have been Derby’s first victory at on Teesside since 2000 had Robinson tucked away the a chance before the final whistle.