Football: Gabbiadini's admirable rise from the mire

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The Independent Online
Derby County . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .4

Tranmere Rovers. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .0

DERBY should claim a bonus from the marketing department after taking the sting from a Baseball Ground admission price hike with an impressive victory over fellow promotion contenders, wrapped up effectively in the 36 minutes it took them to sweep into a 3-0 lead. If the increase suggests that the cost of maintaining a pounds 12m squad is beginning to bite, it can be seen also as a signal from the millionaire backer, Lionel Pickering, that a dividend is now required from his massive personal investment.

Derby have failed twice to win promotion since Pickering freed the purse-strings that Robert Maxwell had kept tied for so long and have not regularly shown evidence this season that luck will necessarily favour the publishing tycoon at the third attempt. The ability to perform consistently to yesterday's standard has been lacking and in the log-jam at the top of the First Division their name has so far featured towards the back.

But that may yet change. In atrocious conditions here their power and directness overwhelmed Tranmere, whose attempt to play touch football soon proved perilous, which should have been predictable given a sloppy surface becoming stickier by the minute. The example to follow was set by Marco Gabbiadini, pounds 1m worth of Pickering's philanthropy, who charged through the mud to his first hat- trick for Derby and 13 goals for the season.

Having slid through the mire in Tranmere's goalmouth to turn Tommy Johnson's low cross into a seventh-minute opener, Gabbiadini was twice too determined for his marker in pursuit of the long, high balls conditions demanded, driving Craig Short's headed clearance fiercely beyond Eric Nixon's reach for his second, Derby's third, and sweeping Paul Simpson's volleyed pass away from the defender, Shaun Garnett, to complete his treble with two minutes left.

Tranmere, by their manager John King's frank admission, were 'wretched' in defence, making the task all the more easy for Derby when Dave Higgins's sliced clearance created the chance for Paul Williams to lash home the second goal in the 11th minute and thereafter struggling to avoid a more complete demolition. Without the injured John Aldridge, a record of four wins in their last four meetings with Derby proved of no consequence.

Still second to Crystal Palace, Tranmere's dream of the Premiership remains real enough despite this setback, although time may be short for them, too, if their millionaire benefactor, Peter Johnson, realises his intention to become Everton's reviving force. However, the intriguing prospect of Prenton Park replacing Goodison as the home of Merseyside's second club, with all the attendant irony, stays intact.

Derby County (4-4-2); Taylor; Charles, Short, Wassall, Forsyth; Pembridge, Kuhl, Williams, Harkes (Simpson, 20); Gabbiadini, Johnson. Substitutes not used: Ramage, Sutton (gk).

Tranmere Rovers (4-4-2): Nixon; Thomas, Higgins, Garnett, Nolan; Morrissey, Proctor (Irons 69), Brannan, Branch (Kenworthy, 69); Malkin, Nevin, Substitutes not used: Coyne (gk).

Referee: K Cooper (Swindon).