Ashley Ward believes he and Dean Sturridge can form a partnership to be feared if they can steer clear of injuries. They played together for the first time in the Premiership on Saturday when Sturridge came off the bench for the last 14 minutes of the win over Leicester.
Sturridge forced Mike Whitlow's late own goal and Ward, who had fired Derby's 55th-minute opener, insists their partnership has great potential.
"It's difficult to play up front on your own and it made a big difference to have Dean's support," Ward said. "It's been frustrating because we've not had a chance to train together, let alone play together, because either I've been injured or he has, but I think we can be a good combination."
Sturridge has had a niggling ankle injury, while Ward has had to build up his match sharpness in the wake of a double groin operation in mid- August. "We had a game at the end of last season when we played together, but it's the first time we've played together in the Premiership," Ward added.
"Now, hopefully, we'll have a chance to play together week-in, week-out. We've got a fortnight break and we should both be fit for the next game [at home to Middlesbrough]."
The Derby manager, Jim Smith, also has high hopes for Ward and Sturridge. "Once Ashley and Dean get going together I think they'll be a good partnership for us," he said.
Smith is equally delighted with the contribution of 36-year-old Paul McGrath, who used his experience to shore up Derby's defence and steer them to a first clean sheet in six games.
"We knew Igor [Stimac, Derby's Croatian defender] couldn't last long before he got banned and I had that in mind when I signed Paul," Smith said. "He hadn't been playing for Villa and he needs games under his belt but I thought he was outstanding."
For Martin O'Neill, the Leicester manager, it was a case of coming down to earth with a resounding crash after an uplifting 2-0 victory over Newcastle seven days earlier. He remarked that: "different sides present different types of problems".
Derby had been "physical and strong" and Leicester had not been able to cope, O'Neill added. He had no complaints about Derby's win but conceded his side had "lacked a bit of craft and invention".
The midfield trio of Neil Lennon, Scott Taylor and Muzzy Izzet have been impressive this season, but they were unable to dominate Derby and Emile Heskey and Steve Claridge had to make the most of what little possession they had.
Goals: Ward (56) 1-0; Whitlow og (89) 2-0.
Derby County: Hoult; Rowett, McGrath, Laursen, Yates, C Powell, Asanovic (Simpson, 85), D Powell, Flynn, Dailly (Sturridge, 76), Ward. Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Carbon, Willems.
Leicester City: Poole; Grayson, Whitlow, Watts, Prior (Lawrence, 43), Hill (Marshall, 65), Izzet, Lennon, Taylor (Parker, 65), Claridge, Heskey. Substitutes not used: Hyde (gk), Campbell.
Booked: Derby: C Powell, Ward, Flynn. Leicester: Izzet, Heskey, Lawrence.
Referee: G Barber (Surrey).
Man of the match: McGrath. Attendance: 18,010.