A big Boxing Day fixture against old rivals Leeds United was the challenge for Derby County this afternoon, and they overcame it…just!
Jamie Ward struck the 67th minute winner for the home side, as they continued their triumphant streak over United, making it six straight victories, but it was only Derby’s second win in nine matches, the home fans must be hoping their side can kick on now and reproduce the early season form, that saw them challenging for top spot. The win leaves the Rams 14th in the Championship, and only 5 points off reclaiming a place in the play-offs, the season isn’t quite over yet for Nigel Clough and his team yet then!
In what was a tightly contested game from start to finish, Derby were perhaps just the better team, surprising considering both teams starting positions. Derby’s star men were goalkeeper Frankie Fielding and match-winner Jamie Ward, who put the finishing touches at the second attempt, after opposing keeper Andy Lonergan’s parry from Ward’s first shot on goal. It was deserved for both the Rams and Ward, as he struck the left hand post in the first half, and has been the one player who shines in every match he’s played this season.
In what was a massive game for players and supporters, the action didn’t let down, with Leeds winger Robert Snodgrass, not welcoming himself in the best way. ‘Diving’ for a free-kick and waving his hands around trying to get, first the referee and then the linesman to give his opponent, Gareth Roberts, a yellow card. He didn’t succeed, but the chorus of boos from the home support followed his every touch and movement. In all honesty, Snodgrass played awfully, perhaps as a result of his constant belittlement, and could’ve well been sent off, for a good 4/5 fouls. Luckily, for both sides, the referee was woefully inconsistent, and angered both sets of fans over the course of the 90 minutes.
Derby dominated from early on, with Leeds only able to get near the Rams penalty box on the counter-attack, at intermittent periods. Ward and Nathan Tyson, finally back from injury, were proving to be a handful for the Whites defence, who were fortunate not to go into half-time one, or maybe even 2-0 down. Leeds came out after the half-time break looking more threatening, but still couldn’t stop bursts into the box from Ward and eventually youngster Callum Ball, who was unlucky with a shot from 10 yards out that dragged wide. Ross McCormack, Leeds’ top goalscorer, had a couple of long-range strikes, that saw the start of some great saves from Frankie Fielding, who was on top form after a couple of dodgy weeks in goal. The breakthrough finally came in the 67th minute, as Ward was slotted through by Craig Bryson, who tapped in from a slight angle.
The introduction of Theo Robinson, was welcomed by the fans with chants of ‘Theo, Theo!’, however, only minutes later, those same fans were moaning at his lack of urgency and crucial instincts that could’ve killed the game off. Robinson’s pace was put to good use on the counter as Derby looked to get the second and seal the win. His wayward shooting and decision-making let the Rams down though, and could’ve led to the ‘inevitable equaliser’. Leeds won a few corners, and chucked a couple of long-range balls into the box, as they tried to desperately get their goal. Fielding once again stood up and produced three brilliant saves, saving his side single-handedly. The referee finally gave in after one minute longer than the initial four given, and Rams fans could celebrate another victory, and a first clean sheet in 15 matches! The visit of West Ham on Saturday will probably provide a tougher challenge than the disappointing Leeds side, but it’ll be one that both players and fans should relish.
Derby County: Fielding, Brayford, Roberts, Barker, Shackell, Bryson, Bailey, Green, Tyson (Robinson 65), Ward, Ball (O’Brien 90) Subs not used: Legzdins, B Davies, Priskin
Leeds United: Lonergan, Kisnorbo, Lees (Connolly 42), White (Nunez 74), O’Dea, Brown, Clayton, Pugh, Becchio (Keogh 68), Snodgrass, McCormack Subs not used: McCarthy, Vayrynen