Aston Villa scored six goals and there were as many different scorers, but there was one strike that truly stood out. With 36 minutes elapsed and Derby in a state of shock – and, in particular, their goalkeeper Roy Carroll after two mistakes for the first two goals – Carroll sent a clearance only as far as Stilyan Petrov, standing on Derby's side of the centre circle.
The Bulgarian controlled the ball and moved it on to his favoured left foot. From fully 45 yards, he then drove his shot in a low arc back over Carroll's head and into the top corner. It was no high lob that the midfielder had to execute, where he would just have to make sure the bounce was timed correctly. This was a precise shot that required perfect execution and flawless technique. When you see goals from that distance you tend to think of David Beckham's against Wimbledon in 1996 or Nayim's a year earlier for Real Zaragoza against Arsenal but this was arguably harder to pull off than either of those, given the low trajectory of Petrov's shot.
Derby had been softened up by then, with two goals in a minute from Ashley Young and John Carew, who bullied the Rams' back four all afternoon. Petrov, however, has had to harden up to make himself a first-team player once more in the eyes of Martin O'Neill.
Petrov, 28, was dropped recently by his manager but was recalled last week against Bolton and has put in two good displays, a reaction that has clearly pleased the Northern Irishman. He cost the club £6.5m in 2006 but the Bulgarian has not impressed the Villa public in his 18 months at the club, something that has not escaped O'Neill's attention either.
He said: "Petrov's goal was sublime. I'm very pleased for him. I thought he was magnificent here. The Aston Villa crowd have not seen so much of that. I hope this is the momentum he needs to go and be very successful in this Premiership, which he's capable of doing.
"His confidence was pretty down so I left him out for a week or two. Knowing him from our days together at Celtic I knew he would want to prove himself. He's a quality player and he played well last week. It was a great goal here. He had a different role at Celtic. He's adjusting and playing almost a holding role for us but he gets forward too."
O'Neill now thinks Villa can finish fifth and claim the last Uefa Cup place in the league. He said: "We've got plenty to play for. We've got a task on to catch Everton but we go to Everton. We can't afford any slip-ups."
Paul Jewell's Derby County are already relegated and they fell to their worst home defeat of a dreadful season. They were picked off once more in the second half with even greater ease by goals from Gareth Barry, Gabriel Agbonhalor and the substitute Marlon Harewood.
Goals: Young (25) 0-1; Carew (26) 0-2;
Petrov (36) 0-3; Barry (58) 0-4; Agbonlahor (76); Harewood (85) 0-6.
Derby County (4-4-2): Carroll; Todd (Earnshaw, 54), Moore (Leacock, 54), Stubbs, Lewis; Mears, Savage, Ghaly, Jones (McEveley, 59); Miller, Villa. Substitutes not used: Price (gk), Feilhaber
Aston Villa (4-4-2): Carson; Mellberg,
Knight, Laursen, Bouma; Reo-Coker, Petrov, Barry (Berger, 80), Young (Salifou, 80); Agbonlahor, Carew (Harewood, 73). Substitutes not used: Taylor (gk), Routledge.
Referee: K Stroud (Hampshire)
Man of the match: Carew.
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