Football: Gabbiadini puts Derby in charge

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Derby County. . . . . . . . . . . . . .2

Millwall. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

Sixth-place beats third in First Division play-off as Lions tamed

MILLWALL, almost impregnable in the New Den this season, will not count themselves out yet, but they will need to find considerable powers of recovery when Derby visit south London on Wednesday if their achievement in finishing third in the First Division is not to be nullified in the play-offs.

Derby, who have spent pounds 12m in trying to return to the top flight since relegation in 1991, may still come to regret missing at least half a dozen chances to put themselves out of reach at the Baseball Ground yesterday. But their installation as favourites to accompany Crystal Palace and Nottingham Forest into the Premiership looks justified now and, provided they can survive the intimidatory atmosphere that will surely confront them on Wednesday, they will be at Wembley on 30 May.

Derby, sixth in the final table, built yesterday's first-leg success on the platform of a rare Gordon Cowans goal after 21 minutes and cemented it when Tommy Johnson, a veteran of these occasions after twice winning promotion with Notts County via the play-off route, added the second after 59.

A deserving man-of-the- match however, was Marco Gabbiadini, who rose impressively to the physical challenge set down by Millwall's imposing five-man rearguard and laid on both goals.

Starting the game only because Paul Kitson was injured, Gabbiadini showed a deft touch when he attacked Millwall's left flank, flicking the ball over a defender's head before pulling back a cross. Paul Simpson's shot hit the post, upon which Kasey Keller appeared to smother the ball but it ran loose for Cowans, Derby's pounds 75,000 signing from Aston Villa in January, to whip in his first goal in 19 months, having scored last for Blackburn, whom he helped thwart Derby's play-off bid two years ago.

Gabbiadini had a header brilliantly saved by Keller in first- half injury time, then matched Johnson miss for dreadful miss after Simpson twice created inviting opportunities early in the second period. But when next he cleverly hooked a long free- kick over the Millwall backline into his team-mate's stride, Johnson's finish was exemplary, bringing him his sixth play-off goal in nine such matches.

Derby County (4-4-2): Taylor; Charles, Short, Williams, Forsyth; Harkes, Cowans, Pembridge, Simpson; Gabbiadini, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Hayward, Kavanagh, Sutton (gk).

Millwall (5-3-2): Keller; Cunningham, Stevens, Van den Hauwe, Emblen (Kerr, 63), Huxford; Hurlock, Rae, Barber; Goodman, Mitchell (Moralee, 63). Substitute not used: Carter (gk).

Referee: P Durkin (Portland).

More football, pages 30, 31

Photograph, page 31