Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis described the reaction of his players as “fabulous” after they hit back to earn a 1-1 draw at Derby.
Pulis lost central defender Aden Flint with a hamstring injury in the warm-up and that appeared to unsettle Boro as Derby roared into a second-minute lead.
Jack Marriott’s quick pass released Harry Wilson, who beat Darren Randolph with an instinctive finish from just inside the area.
Boro worked their way back into the game and after Wilson was forced off with an injury early in the second half, Jordan Hugill equalised with a 53rd minute header from a George Friend cross.
Danny Batth should have scored two minutes later but headed straight at Scott Carson and Derby regained the initiative and had a chance to win it four minutes from time.
A quick break gave David Nugent a clear chance but he fired straight at Randolph from 18 yards and Boro closed down the game to earn the praise of Pulis.
He said: “We were disappointed to lose Aden just before kick-off, that was a massive blow, and I think we started like it.
“We were very much on the back foot at the back, they got the goal after two minutes but the response of the players was fabulous and I think we took control then for long periods and Danny Batth’s chance was the best of the game and he should score.
“The players have worked tremendously hard, especially after such an early setback. To give them a leg-up you think ‘blimey, this is going to be a long afternoon’ but they showed great character and the midfielders swarmed all over Derby at times.”
But Derby manager Frank Lampard thought George Saville was lucky to escape a red card for a tackle on Marriott just before half-time.
Saville was booked but Lampard said: “It felt like a red card to me at the time and it was a dangerous tackle so I think they slightly got away with that one.
“We played really well for the first portion of the game, it was a great team goal and we slightly let them off the hook after that.
“We came off it, we got a bit sloppy with our passing first half and gave Middlesbrough a feeling they were in the game.
“We were looking after the ball so well but we came off that and they got their equaliser which I was disappointed with because we worked on it but we allowed them to do it.
“Small details can be the difference so it’s a big lesson for the players on that one.”