One thrust of the Dutchman's forehead allowed Derby's veteran manager, Jim Smith, to savour the fifth promotion of a career as chequered as the Croatian national shirt sported by many supporters in honour of their talismanic defender, Igor Stimac. Crystal Palace, meanwhile, were left to reflect on the fact that their destiny may not be resolved until the First Division play-off final at the end of May.
The clubs' collision at the Baseball Ground was tantamount to a play- off for Derby. Knowing that victory would send them up, they enjoyed the perfect start as Dean Sturridge scored inside two and a half minutes. Palace quickly equalised through Kenny Brown and for long periods looked the more accomplished side, only to allow Van der Laan a free header midway through the second half.
There could have been no more appropriate match-winner than the burly 27-year-old, whose display demonstrated that the land of Total Football can also produce players with the "British'' qualities of ball winning and non-stop endeavour. The former Port Vale midfielder's struggle for supremacy with the Palace captain, Ray Houghton, was the most intense of several personal battles.
When Derby were last in the top grade, Robert Maxwell held the purse strings (tightly). Since the advent of Lionel Pickering as owner, some pounds 12m has been ploughed into team building, although Smith, appointed last summer soon after being sacked by Portsmouth, shows only a small deficit on his dealings.
Derby had scored early, ending Palace's run of more than five and a half hours without conceding a goal. Paul Simpson helped Stimac's through pass on to Sturridge. Out-pacing the last defender, the striker hit his 19th goal of the season just inside Nigel Martyn's left hand upright.
Palace hit back in the fifth minute. Bruce Dyer skipped past Sean Flynn before crossing towards the penalty spot, where Brown scored the second goal of his loan from West Ham with a textbook volley.
Palace, belying Dave Bassett's reputation for long ball brutalism, never came closer than when Flynn kicked a David Hopkin header off the line shortly before half time. They could not, however, summon the penetration to capitalise on the probings of Houghton, and were to pay a heavy price for failing to police the post Flynn had protected so zealously.
After Houghton cleared under pressure, Simpson's corner passed over the pack of players in the goalmouth before finding Van der Laan lurking unmarked near the far post. The goal was so simple that the crowd did not react for a split second. That left them 24 minutes to prepare their reaction to the final whistle, an explosion of relief they may just have heard in Nottingham.
Goals: Sturridge (3) 1-0; Brown (5) 1-1; Van der Laan (66) 2-1.
Derby County: (4-3-1-2) Hoult; Rowett, Stimac, Carbon, Flynn; Van der Laan, Trollope, C Powell; Simpson (Ward 84); Sturridge, Gabbiadini (Willems, 64). Substitute not used: Carsley.
Crystal Palace (3-1-4-2): Martyn; Edworthy, Roberts, Andersen (Ndah, 73); Pitcher; Brown, Houghton, Hopkin, Rodger; Freedman (Veart, 80), Dyer (Vincent, 80).
Referee: D. Allison (Lancaster) Attendance: 17,041
Booking: Crystal Palace: Edworthy.
Man of the match: Van der Laan.Reuse content