Football: Derby profit as Johnson finds target

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The Independent Online
Derby County. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .3

Leicester City. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

THE BATTLE for supremacy in the Midlands has provided a gripping sub-plot to the First Division season and this episode contained drama in full measure. Derby, having led 2-0, surrendered their advantage to a Leicester side reduced to 10 men but then regained it with six minutes remaining.

Tommy Johnson, who no longer commands a regular first-team place despite being among Derby's costlier acquisitions, executed the decisive strike after Leicester had drawn on deep reserves of self-belief to wrest back equality. Restored to the line-up for only his 12th start this season after Paul Kitson withdrew with a back injury, Johnson typified the combative spirit of the occasion in the manner of his goal.

Sent ahead of Leicester's defence by Marco Gabbiadini's sharp pass, he shook off Colin Hill's grappling attempt to tackle before applying just enough touch to the ball to guide it past Gavin Ward's right hand and inside the post.

Had Johnson not been so determined to stay on his feet, Hill, who had been cautioned in the first half, might have joined Gary Coatsworth for an early shower. The latter was shown the red card with 18 minutes left after his challenge on the same Derby player was deemed his second bookable offence in a match in which the yellow card was flourished six times.

The goal came as a considerable relief to the majority in the Baseball Ground, who seemed to sense that the game was slipping away from Derby as Leicester responded to the numerical imbalance by doubling their efforts to find the equaliser and gaining reward when Iwan Roberts, at the far post, drilled home Steve Thompson's right-wing cross in the 78th minute.

Defeat would have done scant justice to Derby's performance, especially after a first half in which the visiting defence displayed a generosity similar to that which had cost them three goals in a 4-4 home draw against Watford on Monday. A cross-field pass by John Harkes in the 15th minute appeared to have been wasted when Neil Lewis intervened but, having controlled the ball, the defender neglected to clear it and allowed Mark Pembridge to whip a cracking volley beyond Ward's reach.

Derby doubled their lead in the 37th minute when an incisive move ended with Paul Williams passing inside Leicester's right-back for Gabbiadini, with expert finishing, to steer the ball inside the far post.

Then it was Derby's turn to respect the generous spirit of the season, allowing the substitute Julian Joachim, who had replaced a limping Ian Ormondroyd for the last five minutes of the first half, to toe- poke home David Oldfield's quickly taken free-kick barely 30 seconds into the second half.

Gabbiadini and Pembridge both had shots rebound from the woodwork as Derby sought to make themselves safe but Leicester appeared to have grasped the lifeline successfully when Roberts, their pounds 300,000 signing from Huddersfield, collected his fourth goal in seven games.

Leicester remained the highest- placed of the eight Midlands clubs in the First Division but their promotion credentials seem open to question. They were top of the table after beating Southend on 6 November but have won only once in nine games since.

Derby County (4-4-2): Taylor; Charles, Short, Wassall, Forsyth; Pembridge, Kuhl, Williams, Harkes; Johnson, Gabbiadini (Ramage, 87). Substitutes not used: Simpson, Sutton (gk).

Leicester City (4-4-2): Ward; Coatsworth, Grayson, Hill, Lewis; Oldfield, Thompson, Agnew, Ormondroyd (Joachim, 40); Speedie, Roberts. Substitutes not used: Philpott, Poole (gk).

Referee: R Hart (Darlington).