Colin Todd's survival strategy for Derby County is to stuff his team with a collection of little-known overseas allsorts, spearheaded by that trio of better-known mercenaries, Fabrizio Ravanelli, Benito Carbone and Georgi Kinkladze. With those three up to all their old tricks, plus the odd con trick, it worked a treat.
Derby's three goals were a first for them in the Premiership this season, and by the end a deeply disappointing Villa were reduced to a frazzle by Ravanelli's tireless running and fine distribution. The silver-haired Italian was last to leave the pitch, delightedly squirting a bottle of water into the air and over his own head, since presumably champagne was not immediately available.
The on-loan Carbone, too, had tormented Villa until being substituted just after putting Derby in front for the second time and his replacement, Malcolm Christie, made it an afternoon of seasonal cheer for Todd by striking the last goal with three minutes left.
"Make some noise for Christmas," the loudspeaker man implored Derby's supporters before the kick-off, and in the end they were delighted to comply. For a change, there was something to cheer about, even if the three points have done little to alleviate their team's plight.
Ravanelli's ability to get up nostrils had already so angered Peter Schmeichel that the Villa keeper was spoken to by referee David Elleray for the volume of his reaction to a robust challenge before two quick goals ignited a poor first half. The clock was showing 44 minutes as Kinkladze curled in a corner from the right. Chris Riggott helped it on and Ravanelli was permitted time to manoeuvre the ball on to his favourite left foot before shooting high into the net. It was his eighth goal in the League, two thirds of Derby's meagre total.
Having gained this enormous psychological boost just before the interval, Derby were miserably unable to defend it. Within a minute J-Lloyd Samuel crossed from the right, Dion Dublin got a flick with his head and Juan Pablo Angel wriggled past Youl Mawene to score his third goal in two games and 11th of the season.
There were few signs of a let-down, however, as Derby went in search of the lead again. Olof Mellberg did well to block a Carbone strike and Schmeichel dived to clutch a Ravanelli effort, though Villa came closest to a goal when Mart Poom pulled off a fine, blocking save from the substitute Lee Hendrie.
An injury to François Grenet led to Derby's first substitution, and it was the newcomer Adam Boulder who was responsible for the build-up to their second goal. His long run carried him through a couple of tackles before he found Ravanelli on the edge of the penalty area. The Italian got in a curling shot which Schmeichel palmed away and though it seemed the loose ball had gone past him, Carbone managed to check his run sufficiently to poke it home.
Todd then chose to replace the tiring Carbone and Kinkladze with the fresher legs of forwards Christie and Deon Burton. Rejecting the temptation of defensive substitutions was a brave move which paid a spectacular late dividend as Villa chased forward in search of a second equaliser. It was Burton's pass which sent Christie sprinting through for a perfectly placed low shot just inside Schmeichel's right- hand upright.
Derby County 3 Aston Villa 1
Ravanelli 45, Carbone 67, Christie 87; Angel 45
Half-time: 1-1 Attendance: 28,001