Football: Advantage Asanovic

Derby County 1 Asanovic pen 84 Sunderland 0 Attendance: 17,692
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The Independent Online
This reprise of last season's hottest First Division fixture was settled by a late penalty, releasing Derby's frustration after disciplined Sunderland had seemed destined to hold their lines, despite the first- half dismissal of defender Richard Ord.

Supported heroically by their veteran goalkeeper, Tony Coton, who pulled off a sequence of fine saves, the First Division champions kept Derby, the runners-up, at bay from the 25th minute until the 84th, when Coton was finally beaten from the spot by Croatia's Aljosa Asanovic.

There was no argument over the penalty, Asanovic clearly being pulled down by Gareth Hall after a protracted tussle for possession near the byline on the left. But the side from the Northeast may feel justice was less well served by the red card for Ord.

The centre-back seemed to have been harshly treated when referee David Elleray issued a 21st-minute booking for a foul on Marco Gabbiadini, who appeared to make a lot of the contact from the Sunderland player. Four minutes later, Ord's reaction to a free-kick given Derby's way was taken as dissent by the Harrow official, who had no option but to send him off.

Even Gabbiadini, standing within earshot, suggested afterwards that Ord's comment was one another referee might have allowed to wash over him. But Elleray has not gained his reputation for strict enforcement of disciplinary rules for no reason.

In the event, however, Sunderland were so well drilled in defence that the loss of a man seemed scarcely to inconvenience them. Kevin Ball, the captain, dropped from midfield into the back four and although Niall Quinn was left isolated up front, the objective of securing a point seemed likely to be realised.

When Derby did get a sight of goal, Coton was there to defy them, saving twice from headers by Gabbiadini, diving courageously to smother the ball at Christian Dailly's feet and then keeping out a ferocious drive by wing- back Jacob Laursen. Until the penalty, he was beaten only by a 35-yard effort by Asanovic that shook the crossbar.

Indeed, had Ball's finishing been his stronger suit, Sunderland might have gone home in a much happier mode. Inviting chances fell the captain's way in each half, but he missed both.

Jim Smith, the Derby manager, said before the match that his side should be capable of winning "in style". In the end, he was happy to see them scrape home by any means.

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