Derby County are seldom mentioned among the possible contenders for promotion from the Championship, but on their day they can match any team in the division and this was one of their days. They passed the ball well, created and converted chances and defended in determined fashion when Brighton had their 15 minutes in the second half, and their manager Nigel Clough hopes that it will set the tone for a play-off campaign.
“In terms of giving us confidence and belief this will be very important,” he said. “We're as good as anyone in the league. We're aiming for the top six. There's nothing wrong with aiming high.”
Chris Martin, signed from Norwich City this summer after a loan spell at Pride Park last season, scored both goals against the team with the best defensive record in the Championship last season, might have had more, and looks a useful acquisition. “He's been the one we've been most pleased with in pre-season,” Clough said. “The number nine on his back may not mean much with squad numbers going up to 99, but it does to us.”
But for a late equaliser by Blackburn Rovers last weekend, Derby would have won both their games, and their three points yesterday were well-deserved, although it could be argued that they visited the Amex Stadium at the right time.
Brighton have lost all three competitive games this season under their new head coach, Oscar Garcia, and whether it is a case of a hangover after last season's play-off defeat, the after-effects of the summer's protracted dismissal of Gustavo Poyet or simply the adjustment to new methods, Brighton have yet to pick up last season's pace.
They would point to injuries to key midfield players – Clough admitted that Brighton missed Liam Bridcutt, sidelined with a groin problem - and the failure of Andy D'Urso to spot a handling offence as mitigating factors in yesterday's defeat. But it could also be noted that Poyet's team never lost after going 1-0 up all last season, while Oscar's team have done so in all three games so far, at Leeds last weekend, at home to Newport County in the Capital One Cup in midweek and again yesterday.
They went ahead here after 17 minutes when right back Inigo Calderon, able to play after a red card received against Newport was rescinded, flighted a cross to the far post for Leo Ulloa to make himself a yard in which to head powerfully back across Lee Grant and in for his second goal of the campaign.
That hardly reflected the run of play, which Derby had edged, but the visitors took it in their stride, continued to find space in front of the Brighton back four. Paul Coutts' looping header forced Tomasz Kuszczak to backpedal before he could grab the ball and Derby earned their reward after 27 minutes. Left back Craig Forsyth played a low cross to the near post, where Martin turned Calderon and got in a shot. It was charged down, but the striker's persistence earned him a second chance and he beat Tomasz Kuszczak with the outside of his right foot.
Brighton thought they should have had a penalty after Ulloa took a theatrical tumble over Richard Keogh on the edge of the Derby penalty area and David Lopez' free kick appeared to strike the raised hands of Martin, but D'Urso was unmoved.
Instead of going ahead, Brighton went behind in the opening minute of the second half. Right back Kieron Freeman played a dangerous low cross between goalkeeper and back four, Kuszczak came off his line then stopped and Martin got ahead of Calderon to score.
Brighton reacted. Ulloa's leaping header cannoned back off post, debutant Rohan Ince volleyed wide from 20 yards, Kemy Agustien saw his 25-yarder finger-topped over and Matthew Upson glanced a header wide. But they also left spaces and Martin came close to a hat-trick, while Jamie Ward could have added to the score when he broke away in the final minute but shot across goal and wide.
If I had a dream it would not be this start for sure,” Oscar said. “Like the other games we had chances to score. We must be more clinical. They had three chances and scored two goals. And I hope one day we will have a bit of luck in our favour.”
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