Derby County 0 Aston Villa 6: Petrov rocket propels Villa closer to Europe

Derby a damp squib as Martin O'Neill's men hit half-a-dozen
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There was the misplaced idea that Derby, now relegated and relieved of the pressure of trying to stay up, might finally produce a performance that would make their stay in the Premier League a memorable one. They did that but not in the way they may have intended. This was a display so bad that Aston Villa almost could not help but score. How they did it was certainly unusual, with a different goalscorer every time.

What was not unique, however, was Derby letting in six goals. They have done it against Liverpool and Chelsea, but this was at home. They had shipped five against West Ham at Pride Park, so this set a new low for the Rams in a season that has seen them scrape along the bottom of the Premier League for eight months.

Paul Jewell has not spared his players any criticism since he took over in November and there was no reason why he should here. The goalkeeper Roy Carroll had a particularly poor afternoon, arguably at fault for the first three goals, but the Derby manager was more critical of his team overall once the first goal, by Ashley Young, went in. "Everyone buckles once we let in a goal," he said. "We have not got enough leaders. We collapsed after the first goal, fell like a pack of cards."

Aston Villa have not been so sturdy of late either, having only won once in their previous six games but where better to come when looking to bolster their Uefa Cup ambitions than Pride Park?

The game jolted into life, after Derby had initially looked comfortable, when the visitors scored twice in a minute. With 25 minutes gone, Ashley Young curled in a free-kick and Olof Mellberg got a good, early jump in ahead of Carroll, who allowed the ball go through his hands. The only question was whether Mellberg got a touch but Young wascredited with the goal. Sixty seconds later Villa had doubled their lead.

This time Gareth Barry delivered from the left and Carroll kicked the ball only as far as John Carew who dispatched his shot past the prostrate goalkeeper from 20 yards.

Pride of place, however, had to go to Stiliyan Petrov (left) after 36 minutes, as Carroll's afternoon got rapidly worse. The former Manchester United goalkeeper cleared only to Petrov, who was standing on the edge of the centre-circle, but the Bulgarian then drove his left-footed shot into Carroll's top corner, a distance of 45 yards. It was stunningly well executed.

"Sublime" was the verdict of Martin O'Neill, the Villa manager, and O'Neill then added that he felt this performance proved Villa could still snatch the last Uefa Cup place away from either Everton or Portsmouth.

Derby have only the Championship in their sights and were helpless to stop their visitors pressing forward and creating opportunities. Their right-back position was particularly vulnerable and it was from down that side that the fourth goal emerged.

With the home fans showing gallows humour, their defenders were doing nothing for Jewell's mood. Young found Gabriel Agbonlahor with time to shoot but Carroll blocked and Barry swept in the fourth after 58 minutes.

Villa's fifth goal came with 14 minutes of the match remaining, when Marlon Harewood flicked on a long ball into the path of Agbonlahor whose shot went in off the inside of thefar post.

Harewood's goal with five minutes left was virtually identical in its placing, after Patrik Berger's neat pass. The referee then put a stop to matters but Derby's season cannot end quickly enough.