Given that cup football is so dominating their landscape, Tottenham now face the fortnight that could make or break Juande Ramos's first English winter. Their Premier League programme put to bed for three weeks with this predictable victory, they travel in midweek for a Uefa Cup tie with Slavia Prague that inconveniently concludes only 65 hours before their Carling Cup final against Chelsea.
There might have been an FA Cup game to squeeze in, too, had Spurs not lost at Old Trafford 15 days ago – a rare blip in a season of increasing promise.
Ramos allowed himself the luxury of resting Dimitar Berbatov for the first 57 minutes of what proved no more than a warm-up for more exacting challenges but still saw the striker bewitch and finally bury hapless Derby County.
For as long as he was tracksuited, Derby fancied their chances, his unwrapping proving the turning point as Tottenham won with three goals in the last 22 minutes, having hit three in the first 12 minutes against the same opponents in August. Berbatov's Thierry Henry-esque dawdle back from an inactive offside position played a distracting part in Robbie Keane's ice-breaker and the Bulgarian himself struck a stoppage-time penalty after a finish of some aplomb from the substitute centre-half, Younes Kaboul.
Admittedly, Derby lapsed into familiar disarray towards the end but Spurs have fresh momentum, dented only by the loss of Michael Dawson with a hamstring tear that will rule him out up to and possibly beyond Wembley.
"We've got three massive ties coming up and obviously the cups are now what we're working towards," Keane said. "The good thing is that we'll go to Prague off the back of this win and the confidence it has given us. I can't see why we can't win the Carling Cup and Uefa Cup. It's difficult to still be in both competitions at this stage and now we are, there's no point if you don't believe you can win them. With the team we have, we have a great chance."
Keane has 19 goals this season – the same as Derby have managed in all competitions. Last spring's play-off triumph has turned into the waste of a Premier League place and Pride Park life is all about using that big wooden spoon in search of crumbs at the bottom of the trough.
Goals: Keane (68) 0-1; Kaboul (81) 0-2; Berbatov pen (90) 0-3.
Derby County (4-4-2): Carroll; Leacock, Moore (Todd, 11), Stubbs, Edworthy (Jones, 77); Fagan, Savage (Sterjovski, 77), Barnes, Pearson; Miller, Villa. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Earnshaw.
Tottenham Hotspur (4-4-2): Cerny; Hutton, Dawson (Kaboul, 14), Huddlestone, Chimbonda; Lennon, Boateng (O'Hara, h-t), Jenas, Malbranque; Keane, Bent (Berbatov, 57). Substitutes not used: Robinson (gk), Gunter.
Referee: M Atkinson (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Derby Leacock, Miller, Jones, Stubbs; Tottenham Chimbonda.
Man of the match: Robbie Keane.
Attendance: 33,058.Reuse content