Football: Sturridge eases the tension

Derby County 2 Aston Villa 1
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The Independent Online
A win for the home side was only appropriate, given the historic nature of the occasion: the last Saturday at the Baseball Ground, the end of a ritual spanning more than 100 years. Derby have not yet done with their uniquely atmospheric old ground but this was the final fixture on football's traditional match day.

It is appropriate also that the points won at the expense of Villa's loftier European ambitions have probably ensured that the pounds 15m new stadium to which the club will move this summer will host Premiership football immediately.

"The main thing now is that we can play our remaining games with a little less tension," their captain, Robin van der Laan, said. "Maybe we can go out and enjoy ourselves a little more.''

Villa did not enjoy themselves. They had one of those days when they look so ordinary you wonder how they come to be so high in the table.

Derby might see Europe as a target a year from now as Jim Smith develops his cosmopolitan side, in which his two Costa Ricans, Paulo Wanchope and Mauricio Solis, appeared for the last 10 minutes on Saturday, eager to make an impression.

It was a home-grown boy who caught the eye this time, however. Dean Sturridge, born in Birmingham but a Derby player since school, was the creator of both their goals.

Sturridge, 23, has a turn of pace that likens him to Villa's Dwight Yorke and has strength and balance to boot. Speed helped him set up Gary Rowett for the opener, enabling him to go past Fernando Nelson on the outside before delivering an excellent low cross.

But there were other qualities in the making of the second for Van der Laan. Having willingly pursued and dispossessed Gareth Southgate deep in his own half, Sturridge then turned defence into attack, shrugging off the England defender's attempts to retrieve the ball before finding his team-mate with a 40-yard pass.

Although there were fleeting chances for both Yorke and Savo Milosevic, the threat from Villa was largely sporadic.

It was of minor consolation for Little, for whom the afternoon had begun badly when Mark Bosnich, the Australian international, took exception to the decision to allow Michael Oakes, his understudy, to keep the goalkeeper's jersey despite the former's return to fitness after injury.

Bosnich, in a huff, left the ground before the kick-off. A club fine looks certain but the punishment may not end there. As Little hinted the incident "could be very good news for Michael's career''.

Goals: Rowett (21) 1-0; Van der Laan (36) 2-0; Joachim (84) 2- 1.

Derby County (5-3-2): Hoult; Rowett, Laursen, McGrath, Dailly, C Powell ; Van Der Laan (D Powell, 79), Trollope, Asanovic (Solis 79); Sturridge, Ward (Wanchope 79). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Simpson.

Aston Villa (5-3-2): Oakes; Nelson, Ehiogu, Southgate, Hughes (Joachim, 74), Wright; Taylor, Draper (Curcic, 63), Townsend; Milosevic, Yorke. Substitutes not used: Rachel, Farrelly, Murray.

Bookings: Derby County: Dailly, C. Powell; Aston Villa: Nelson, Townsend.

Referee: P Danson (Leicester).

Man of the match: Sturridge.

Attendance: 18,071.