Derby County 1 Newcastle United 0: Miller kick-starts Derby season with piledriver

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The Independent Football

A stunning debut goal from Scottish international striker Kenny Miller inflicted a first defeat of the season on Sam Allardyce's Newcastle and gave Derby their first win at the sixth attempt.

Miller's long-range first-half strike came out of the blue but Derby, having subdued Michael Owen, who was withdrawn early in the second half amid fresh concerns over his fitness, looked the likelier side to score thereafter. Indeed, their centre forward, Steve Howard, could have had a second-half hat-trick as Derby climbed off the bottom of the Premiership, leaving Allardyce's former club, Bolton, propping up the table.

The performance from 27-year-old Miller made his £2.5m deadline day signing from Celtic look a steal and the Derby manager Billy Davies admitted he did not expect his interest in the former Wolves player to meet with a favourable response. "After looking at a huge number of players, I must say I was surprised I was able to get him," Davies said. "He is what he is, an international striker, but though it was a great goal he scored it was not just about him tonight. It was a real team effort that got its reward."

It was a turnaround, certainly, after Derby's 6-0 drubbing at Liverpool and Davies appears for now to be vindicated in drawing a line under his team's single-point return from their first five matches by declaring that "our season starts here".

It was a statement that seemed to be pinning a lot on Miller but his faith in the striker did not seem misplaced when his goal 38 minutes into the first half set Newcastle back on their heels just as they had weathered Derby's energetic start.

There seemed little danger to Steve Harper's goal when Howard controlled a long clearance from Stephen Bywater and rolled the ball into the path of his new strike partner. But Miller's first thought was to test Harper, even from 30 yards, and struck his shot so well that the Newcastle keeper had no chance of stopping it.

It represented a marvellous start, although Miller was joining a team that had scored three goals and conceded 15 before last night and Davies, who won promotion twice with Preston before winning the play-offs with Derby, was being grimly realistic when he said that staying in the Premiership would be his biggest achievement as a manager.

Indeed, his defence might have been breached again had Owen been the recipient rather than the provider of the cross that gave Newcastle their first clear chance after 19 minutes, when David Rozehnal's finishing showed why he is a centre-half.

Bywater had to push Geremi's 37th-minute free-kick wide to keep Derby on terms and Newcastle felt they might have had a penalty when Dean Leacock grappled Rozehnal. But that was before Miller announced himself. Derby were lifted by the goal, emerging in the second half with belief and threatening when an Eddie Lewis corner gave Howard the first of three chances he put wide with his head.

The withdrawal of Owen after 55 minutes must have given the home side a further fillip, although with Obafemi Martins taking his place it was hardly a cue for their defence to stand easy. Yet it was Derby who had the potential to increase their lead, with the home fans enjoying the experience so much they applauded Howard even though, presented with a second inviting chance to score with his head after 66 minutes, he missed the target again.

As Newcastle became frustrated, Nicky Butt joined Alan Smith in the book after a cynical foul on Stephen Pearson and Howard, a Newcastle fan, squandered a third chance. Just as well for him that Allardyce's men had, by then, run out of ideas.

Derby County (4-4-2): Bywater; Mears, Leacock, Davis, Griffin; Teale, Oakley, Pearson, Lewis (McEveley, 87); Miller (Feilhaber, 80), Howard. Substitutes not used: Jones, Earnshaw, Todd.

Newcastle United (4-4-2): Harper; Taylor (Beye, 75), Rozehnal, Cacapa, N'Zogbia; Smith, Geremi (Faye, 60), Butt, Milner; Owen (Martins, 55), Ameobi. Substitutes not used: Given (gk), Pattison.