Football: Derby prosper in seventh heaven

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The Independent Online
Grimsby Town. . .0

Derby County. . .2

ONE FLASH of inspiration on the stroke of half-time, a cunning pass from Martin Kuhl and a slanting run into the box by Tommy Johnson that bypassed one defender and drew the goalkeeper, brought Derby the goal that led to their seventh successive away victory. It also led to Grimsby's fourth successive defeat. Paul Kitson's chipped goal after 67 minutes put the gift-wrapping on the point.

Yet the margin between the sides was not as vast as these records suggest: Martin Taylor had to make two back-stretching tipovers to keep out a Grimsby attack that lacked little in zest and invention. They have lost the edge of their confidence in scoring goals and are probably constantly looking over their shoulder at a creaky central defence.

Derby have invested heavily in these areas; indeed Arthur Cox has probably spent more on transfers in the past 13 months than the Mariners have in their entire 120- year history. The difference, if slight yesterday, will be all too apparent next May when, as seems increasingly likely, Derby enter the Premier League and Grimsby, on their current form, will be trying to stay in the First Division.

This was a match of good hard football on a pitch made perfect despite the heavy overnight frost. Only the attendance, 6,475, was disappointing, the price to be paid for live television in sub-zero temperatures. The Premier League are wise to be thinking of a mid- winter break, for on days like these the armchair and the box must be a fatal attraction to all but the diehards.

Blundell Park's eventual dismay was all the keener for Town's start was promising, Paul Groves curling a shot over the Derby bar and Taylor having to make a frantic block at Neil Woods's feet, all in the first six minutes.

The first half ended in high excitement: Taylor saved from Tony Rees, tipped over from Groves before the crowd's escalating happiness was punctured by Kuhl and Johnson, a stealthy, stunning goal.

Grimsby restarted just as furiously, Taylor having to fly across goal to push round from Jim Dubbin, but by the 62nd minute Paul Futcher had limped off, Marco Gabbiadini had put a deflection wide from five yards and even the extremists sensed there could be only one result, Kitson confirming this with his clever clearance over Steve Sherwood.

Grimsby Town: Sherwood; McDermott, Croft, Futcher (Smith, 62), Rodger, Dobbin, Watson, Gilbert, Rees, Groves, Woods (Hargreaves, 78).

Derby County: Taylor; Goulooze, Forsyth, Short, Wassall, Pembridge, Johnson, Kuhl, Kitson, Gabbiadini, Williams. Substitutes not used: McMinn, Coleman.

Referee: I Cruikshanks (Hartlepool).

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