Football: Rams light up at last

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The Independent Online
Derby County belatedly got their season in motion when they opened their account at the new Pride Park stadium with a 1-0 defeat of the Premiership newcomers Barnsley.

Floodlight failure had curtailed the proceedings in the Rams previous home match there, against Wimbledon, and the South Yorkshire side's goalkeeper, Lars Leese, a pounds 300,000 signing from the German club Bayer Leverkusen must have wished for similar intervention, or an act of God, to cover his embarrassment.

After 43 minutes of evenly balanced play - albeit with the home side gaining greater control as the first half progressed - Leese pulled down Derby's former Fiorentina striker Francesco Baiano. The Italian got up to take the penalty which Leese saved only for Stefano Eranio to tuck away the rebound. But the referee, Paul Durkin, ordered the kick to be retaken. Eranio took it this time and scored with the minimum of fuss.

Speaking of Wimbledon, after three homes games they played their first full away match of the season making the short trip across the River Thames to take the full brunt of West Ham United's fluent start as the East Londoners won 3-1.

In an attempt to stir them out of their unaccustomed torpor, the Dons manager, Joe Kinnear, left out Marcus Gayle and Vinnie Jones from the line-up drew with Sheffield Wednesday last week, bringing in Duncan Jupp and Brian McAllister. Scoring goals had been a problem for the Dons and they again began the brighter, but missed chances.

West Ham, too, proved profligate as soon as Eyal Berkovitch started creating in midfield, John Hartson shooting wide. But by the time the break was approaching the traffic had become one way and in the second half West Ham went into overdrive. They were 3-0 up 10 minutes after the restart.

First Hartson beat Neil Sullivan, the Dons goalkeeper, with a 47th-minute shot from the edge of the box; six minutes later Marc Rieper headed in Berkovitch's free-kick and 60 seconds after that the Israeli international scored the third himself, running on to Tim Breacker's long pass to beat the advancing Sullivan.

Efan Ekoku scored Wimbledon's late goal, which was scant consolation as the defeat dumped the Dons to the bottom of the table.

Sheffield Wednesday, mauled without mercy by Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park on Monday night, defended rather more conscientiously against Leicester City at Hillsborough. The Owls reaped the reward for rearguard wisdom with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Benito Carbone penalty five minutes into the second half. And this time there was not six minutes of injury time in which Leicester could mount a fightback.

In the Nationwide First Division, Nottingham Forest maintained their 100 per cent start with a 4-0, second-half demolition of Queen's Park Rangers, the highlight of which was a Pierre Van Hooijdonk hat-trick. Bradford City went into second place after a 3-0 win at Reading, who are now bottom, after Norwich City won at Sunderland. Manchester City's bad start continued, 2-1 losers at Charlton.