DERBY's first season at Pride Park was brought to a fitting conclusion as Paulo Wanchope, the gangling Costa Rican striker who has won the supporters' hearts, scored the goal which gave the Rams their first victory over Liverpool for 22 years.
The new stadium's biggest crowd of the campaign roared their approval but, sadly for Derby, their long overdue win was not enough to earn them a place alongside Liverpool in next season's Uefa Cup.
With results elsewhere not going their way, Jim Smith's team had to settle for their highest placing in the top flight for eight years.
It has, nevertheless, been a satisfying season for Derby, unlike Liverpool, whose third place in the table is seen as under- achievement on Merseyside.
With little to play for yesterday apart from a win bonus, they never appeared to have the same appetite for a game which the home side clearly relished.
Derby were in control from the early stages and might have taken the lead several times before Wanchope's goal, a 63rd-minute header from Francesco Baiano's right-wing corner.
Wanchope had created the opportunity for what should have been the opening goal after just five minutes, but his fellow striker Dean Sturridge volleyed wastefully over the bar.
Three minutes later Baiano's close-range shot was stopped by Brad Friedel, and though Liverpool responded with long- range efforts from Danny Murphy and Patrik Berger, Derby maintained their control.
Driven on by their captain, Lee Carsley, a journeyman Midlander among a host of exotic imports, Derby rarely relaxed their grip in a midfield area where Liverpool sorely missed the influence of injured England pair Paul Ince and Steve McManaman.
Friedel had to save from Lars Bohinen then Wanchope, but from the merest hint of a chance at the other end Michael Owen almost contrived a 37th- minute equaliser. The 18-year-old striker, whose remarkable first season of senior football is set to end at the World Cup finals with England, jinked past three challenges before firing a 15-yard shot just wide of the far post.
Owen's near-miss sparked Liverpool's best spell of the match, during which Stig-Inge Bjornebye had a 40th-minute cross palmed away from under the bar by Mart Poom. Three minutes after the interval Berger had an angled shot well saved by Poom, but Derby regained the initiative.
Friedel then denied Sturridge, but the keeper was at fault when Wanchope's downward header squirmed through his arms for the match-winner and his 17th goal of the season.
Goals: Wanchope (63) 1-0.
Derby County (3-4-1-2): Poom; Dailly, Rowett, Laursen; Delap, Carsley, Bohinen (D Powell, 83), C Powell; Baiano; Wanchope (Burton,77), Sturridge. Substitutes not used: Van Der Laan, Kozluk, Hoult (gk).
Liverpool (4-4-2): Friedel; Kvarme, Babb, Harkness, Bjornebye; Berger, Carragher, Thomas, Murphy; Owen, Riedle. Substitutes not used: McManaman, Gudson, Roberts, Williams, James (gk).
Referee: S J Lodge (Barnsley).
Man of the match: Carsley.
Attendance: 30,492.Reuse content