Derby County know they will need to perform better than this if their flirtation with automatic promotion is to prove anything more than just that. Only nine minutes remained when the midfielder Morten Bisgaard applied the decisive end product to some substantial, albeit largely toothless pressure.
They could argue that the result was right, given how Plymouth Argyle were penned in for much of the final half-hour. But, in driving rain, there was not much to take from a poor game other than the goal that sets them up for tomorrow's trip to Preston North End - Billy Davies' former club and Derby's arch-rivals for second place.
"I'm happy to be up there challenging with clubs who have had years of development, if not happy with the performance", the manager said.
"It had 1-0 written all over it and full credit to the players for clinching it. This squad have done wonderfully but we have to bring in more competition".
Derby have lost only twice in 13 games, although all but two of their 15 victories have come by the odd goal. They were despairing of breaking Plymouth's stubborn resistance until Jon Stead cleverly found Arturo Lupoli with a short pass in the penalty area and the substitute's pull-back was turned home left-footed by Bisgaard.
Too often lack of quality cost them despite Darren Moore's sweet contact with an effort on the turn that was cleared off the line by Hasney Aljofree's chest. In the same burst just after half time, Matthias Doumbe produced a terrific challenge on Bisgaard to prevent a possible goal, but Stephen Bywater was probably the more troubled of the goalkeepers. He tipped over well from Cherno Samba when the striker, on from the 12th minute for the injured Sylvan Ebanks-Blake, reacted to a flick-on by Barry Hayles that prompted Moore to mis-kick.
The hardworking David Norris also curled narrowly wide and Lillian Nalis and Hayles threatened with second half shots from distance.
Unlike Davies, Ian Holloway is unable to contemplate squad rotation and remains an outspoken critic of the rush of festive fixtures. Plymouth are now without a win in four matches and looked satisfied with the stalemate, even if the manager argued: "I thought we were very solid and I could see us scoring one. I think the goal came from Derby's only chance all game".Reuse content