Derby County marked Steve McClaren's first year as manager with a 2-0 victory over Bournemouth on a controversial evening in the East Midlands.
Former Rams goalkeeper Lee Camp was dismissed against his hometown club before goals from Will Hughes and Chris Martin sent McClaren's men up to fourth in the Championship and extended their unbeaten run to nine matches.
The 53-year-old manager, who can now boast an impressive 32 victories in 52 games at the iPro Stadium, has transformed the East Midlands club in just twelve months at the helm.
After replacing Nigel Clough, son of Brian, twelve months ago today, the former England boss was only denied a return to Premier League management last season by Bobby Zamora’s last gasp winner for QPR in the play-off final in May.
The Rams, however, have responded admirably to the set-back and have reset their targets towards finally achieving promotion.
Managers in this region rarely avoid the inevitable comparisons with Clough senior, the legendary former boss of both Derby and arch rivals Nottingham Forest, but McClaren is progressing just fine so far into his reign.
While the 1-1 draw with Stuart Pearce's Forest earlier in the month was played out with little of the style and grace which Clough’s teams were so often associated, the Middleborough-born boss would have been impressed by the manner in which both sides have started their respective campaigns.
Forest, the club where he lifted two consecutive European Cups, have topped the table for the majority of the previous few weeks while Derby continue to steadily recover from that traumatic afternoon at Wembley.
Typically, the hosts started brightly with a series of forays into Bournemouth’s half threatening to present an early opening but they had to wait until the seventh minute for a first sight of goal.
Jordon Ibe, on loan from Liverpool, opened his box of tricks to evade Ian Harte on the right wing before finding Hughes, another exciting prospect in McClaren’s armoury, on the edge of the visiting area.
Ignoring cries from the noisy home crowd to shoot, offloading the ball into Martin’s path instead, the Rams star watched on as his teammate failed to add to his impressive goal tally.
Perhaps more so than others among McClaren’s ranks, Hughes is a player who accurately represents both the philosophy and foundations which the former FC Twente boss has built upon so successfully in the past year.
With a guile and precision often envied by his counterparts in the second tier, the 19-year-old continues to excel under his manager's tutorship. Linked with lucrative moves to Premier League giants Liverpool and Manchester United in the past, the England under-21s star has opted to continue his development at the iPro for the time being.
Bournemouth’s Callum Wilson, on the other hand, momentarily silenced the home faithful after breaching the Derby backline to be one-on-one with Lee Grant in the Rams' goal. The experienced shot-stopper, though, was up to the task.
Derby reclaimed the ascendancy seven minutes before the break as Cyrus Christie galloped through the labyrinth of red and black shirts to fire a glancing shot across Camp's goalline. Unfortunate not to find the outstretched feet of either Martin or Jamie Ward; the hosts had to settle for stalemate in the first half.
Eddie Howe's men emerged from the tunnel rejuvenated after a timid display in the opening forty-five minutes, but Christie again singlehandedly dragged his colleagues upfield with an ambitious sprint through the visitors' defence.
Scuffing his eventual shot, after surging into the Bournemouth penalty area from the depths of his own half, the 22-year-old was bitterly unlucky not to score his first goal for the club. The following passage of play, though, led to scenes of elation and confusion in equal measure.
With Ward, the last man, through on goal, Cherries keeper Camp clattered into the Rams man.
Shrugging off the former Forest and Derby shot-stopper's challenge, however, the 28-year-old broke free and saw his shot deflect off Camp's thigh and into the visitors' net.
Wheeling away towards the iPro regulars, with the majority of the 27,790 spectators on their feet, Ward failed to notice referee Scott Mathieson charging towards Camp in the Bournemouth area before brandishing a red card.
Boos soon replaced the initial cheers when the realisation hit the home supporters that such a decision would see Ward's strike chalked off. With McClaren on his feet, pacing the technical area, Martin could only hit the post with the resulting free-kick.
The Rams have grown accustomed to set-backs in recent months, with a bitter aftertaste still in the mouth after last season's play-off heartbreak, and responded in the best possible way.
Unrelenting in their attacking play, the breakthrough finally arrived nine minutes from time when Martin exquisitely found Hughes fifteen yards out and with enough time and space to blast past substitute keeper Darryl Flahavan.
Martin, who has been tasked with firing the Rams to the top flight, then turned in Johnny Russell's ball from the right to seal the points in added time.
Securing a victory which moves his side up to fourth in the Championship table, just a point behind top spot, McClaren's march towards the Premier League continues.Reuse content