If the losers in the Championship play-offs are supposed to endure a hangover well into the following season, Derby’s appears to have cleared. After a hesitant start, Steve McClaren’s side have begun to show the kind of form that took them within one match of the Premier League.
A hard-fought point in Sunday’s East Midlands derby was followed up by an equally tough victory last night against a Blackburn side that took the lead in the opening minute and performed pretty well thereafter.
Derby, however, were marginally better and struck back with three high-quality goals. Blackburn protested that the third, finished off with wonderful precision by Jamie Ward as he ran into the area, had begun with a foul. Blackburn pulled it back to 3-2 with a lovely finish from Rudy Gestede, hit the post and saw a ball cleared off the line at the climax of a marvellously entertaining evening.
It is not always a good idea to judge a team from the comments in their match programme. Nevertheless, the one sold outside Ewood Park carried a photograph of Ben Marshall on the front cover, stating that Saturday’s 3-1 win over Wigan, in which he scored twice, was his “best game in a Rovers shirt”.
Within 60 seconds of kick-off, Marshall had another contender. As the midfielder ran forward, he tried a speculative shot that Richard Keogh slid in to block. It struck the defender’s boot, deflected wickedly, and left the Derby keeper, Lee Grant, horribly wrong-footed.
But just minutes later, in one of several beautifully worked Derby attacks, Ward met a low, neatly judged pull-back from Craig Bryston with a thunderous shot into the roof of Paul Robinson’s net.
It was not even the best goal Derby scored. After going behind, they had menaced constantly and eight minutes from the interval the tall, blond figure of Will Hughes drove a shot from the edge of the area. The moment the ball left his left foot his strike partner, Chris Martin, punched the air, knowing where it was headed. It was only Hughes’ second goal in 10 months and it had been worth the wait.
Blackburn Rovers (4-4-2) Robinson; Baptiste, Hanley, Kilgallon (Varney, 89), Olsson; Marshall, Evans (Duffy, 90), Cairney, Conway (Tunnicliffe, 65); Gestede, Rhodes. Substitutes not used Steele (gk), King, Williamson, Taylor.
Derby County (4-3-3) Grant; Christie, Keogh, Whitbread, Forsyth; Bryson, Eustace, Hughes (Mascarell, 82); Dawkins (Ibe, 74), Martin, Ward (Russell, 73). Substitutes not used Roos (gk), Naylor, Thomas, Shotton.
Referee D Webb (County Durham).