Derby County 0 Tottenham Hotspur 3: Derby counted out after Berbatov bounds off bench

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The Independent Football

Just what Dimitar Berbatov means to Tottenham could not have been more vividly demonstrated. He sat on the bench for 57 minutes, watching Darren Bent's wretched attempts to play the role of striker, before his manager, Juande Ramos, realising a victory over the Premier League's most hapless team might elude him, pressed him into the action. Result: deadlock was transformed into a romp.

It was understandable that Ramos felt safe omitting his star performer, considering that Derby have won only once this season. But Derby, on a roll by their standards after two successive draws, gave Spurs a fight, and occasionally a fright, until normality was restored with the arrival of the man who reassured Spurs that their style would prevail.

Berbatov had nothing to do with the opening goal, six minutes after his arrival, but that arrival had already panicked Derby when his volley sent Robbie Keane clear to bounce a shot off the post. At once Tom Huddlestone, excellent in his unaccustomed role at centre-back, hoisted a long ball out to Steed Malbranque on the left. The Frenchman darted inside and, off his weaker right boot, drove in a low shot of much power which Roy Carroll, on his home debut, reached but could not cling on to. Inevitably, there was poacher-in-chief Keane to turn in his 19th goal of the season.

Derby raged about offside, without success, and Spurs took control. A glorious combination between Jermaine Jenas and Berbatov ended with the Bulgarian's shot brilliantly saved by Carroll. But there would be no reprieve for Derby and within six minutes Spurs had put the game to bed with their second. Aaron Lennon's left-wing corner reached Pascal Chimbonda and he headed the ball on the bounce to Younes Kaboul, who neatly stepped inside his marker to drive in a low effort which eluded Giles Barnes on the post.

In added time, defeat turned into humiliation. Malbranque, speeding in from the right, saw his cross strike Alan Stubbs, also making a home debut, on the right arm. Referee Martin Atkinson decided it was a penalty, and Berbatov decided it was time to get on the scoresheet with a perfectly taken spot kick.

That Kaboul was even on the field was down to an early injury suffered by Michael Dawson, who went off in the 12th minute with what Ramos explained was a torn leg muscle. It may keep him out of this month's Carling Cup final. By then Derby had also lost a central defender in Darren Moore.

With their new men contributing notably to the effort, Derby were the equal of Spurs until Berbatov's introduction. Carroll's handling was impressive, with a one-handed save from Keane especially memorable, and Stubbs added much-needed resilience to the back line.

The Argentinian striker Tito Villa induced occasional anxiety with his speed and fervour. Tottenham felt they should have had a penalty after half an hour when Lennon fell under an Andy Todd scythe, but the offence was committed a foot or so outside the box, though the referee saw nothing wrong with the challenge anyway.

When Carroll pulled off a stunning save to frustrate Huddlestone it seemed that Derby might be on their way to a third draw in a row. Their manager Paul Jewell claimed: "For an hour they looked rattled." But he acknowledged that the arrival of Berbatov was what swung the match and admitted that relegation is imminent. "We're not good enough," he said, and he is right.

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