Tommy Smith, a name redolent of a bruising, bygone era, set Derby County up for victory in a Championship match which also had echoes of their rivalry with Leeds United during those days. Adam Bolder, a late substitute, sealed Leeds' fate with a second goal in stoppage time.
Smith's stylishly executed goal, midway through the second half, was no less than Derby deserved. Bolder's effort, diverted into the net by Frazer Richardson, further dented the optimism that had surrounded Leeds since Ken Bates bought control. Bates was again absent at Pride Park and will make his first appearance when Leeds host Brighton on Saturday. He missed a performance largely bereft of the finesse which Derby displayed to reach the play-off places for the first time this season.
Derby had not beaten Leeds in 17 meetings dating back to 1987 at the Baseball Ground, yet went into the game buoyed by a win at West Ham that gave them the division's second best away record. Bizarrely, George Burley's team also started the evening with the fourth poorest home record, and with Leeds in pursuit of a fourth successive victory on their travels, the contest had a sharp competitive edge from the start.
Too sharp for the referee's liking. Michael Ricketts, starting in place of Michael Deane, was booked by Mr Taylor in the first minute for a clumsy challenge on the Derby goalkeeper Lee Camp. While not in the class of the infamous spat between Francis Lee and Norman Hunter, the challenges were full-blooded. Leeds' Sean Gregan was also cautioned during the early sparring for a heavy tackle on Morten Bisgaard, followed by the home side's Inigo Idiakez after a tussle with Gregan.
Derby made most of the running, only to find Neil Sullivan in defiant form. The former Chelsea keeper was playing with a finger injury sustained in training, but he put on a show that must have impressed the new Scotland manager, Walter Smith.
The referee, sporting white boots seldom seen among his profession, soon became the centre of attention again after half-time. Danny Pugh was the next visitor to be shown a yellow card, although Leeds at last began to threaten a more wholesome statistic. David Healy's 56th-minute shot, their first in anger, squirmed through Camp's legs but then stopped dead for the relieved keeper to smother the ball.
Derby deflated Leeds' burgeoning confidence with a superbly crafted goal in the 64th minute. Smith started the move with a pass to Jeff Kenna, who had surged into a gap on the right. The former Sunderland striker then took the full-back's cross, deceived Richardson and Sullivan with a dummy and scored with a fine angled shot.
Derby County (4-5-1): Camp; Kenna, Mills, Huddleston, Jackson (Johnson, 16); Smith, Bisgaard (Bolder, 88), Taylor, Idiakez, Smith, Reich (Tudgay, 79); Rasiak. Substitutes not used: Grant (gk), Junior.
Leeds United (4-5-1): Sullivan; Kelly, Carlisle, Butler, Richardson; Joachim (Griffit, 64), Wright (Walton, 74), Gregan, Pugh, Healy; Ricketts (Deane, 68). Substitutes not used: Harrison (gk), Einarsson.
Referee: P Taylor (Hertfordshire).
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