A theatre short of material

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Derby County . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Luton Town . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .1

THE Baseball Ground has always evoked great expectations. Not the biggest stadium, nor the most lavish. But, like Upton Park, it has, down the years, been a theatre of high drama.

Roy McFarland, the new manager, talks boldly of bringing the Premiership to the old arena next season. With the help of an able No 2 and an experienced hand on the pitch, he believes he can nurture his young players into a promotion-winning side.

David Pleat, the Luton manager, too, sees only a road forward, even if he cannot quite stem his melancholic tendencies: 'Another game, another weekend, another defeat; next week we might win.'

Whether McFarland has the raw material to build a permanent fortress in the top people's League appears doubtful. The recent experiences of Swindon, Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough suggests a chasm has opened between the Premiership and the First Division. Watching these teams on Saturday, you could not imagine either living with the likes of Coventry and Queen's Park Rangers, let alone Manchester United and Arsenal.

Derby have, up front, two apparently resourceful and dangerous players in Marco Gabbiadini and Paul Kitson yet even a side as modest as Luton were able eventually to contain Gabbiadini, and Kitson, whose instincts gave Derby their opening goal after Luton's American goalkeeper Jurgen Sommer fumbled a centre, garnished the first half with delicate skills but was too peripheral in the second.

Mark Pembridge, confronting his former club, was more intent on waging war than reminding Luton of his football acumen.

Pleat had genuine cause to be satisfied with the unrelenting endeavours of Paul Dickov, the striker on loan from Arsenal. He frequently embarrassed Derby's defence and might have been rewarded with a goal. But then, this was a day when so many expectations went unfulfilled.

Goals: Kitson (17) 1-0; Johnson (72) 2-0; Williams (89) 2-1.

Derby County (4-4-2): Taylor; Kavanagh, Wassal, Short, Forsyth; Johnson, Harkes, Pembridge, Simpson; Kitson, Gabbiadini. Substitutes not used: Hayward, Coleman, Sutton (gk).

Luton Town (4-1-3-2): Sommer; Linton, Peake, Dreyer, Johnson; Harper (Campbell, 78); Telfer, Hughes, Oakes (Williams, 73); Dickov, Hartson. Substitute not used: Petterson (gk).

Referee: J Kirkby (Sheffield).