Attendance: 27, 833
Whilst not perfect, a much improved performance against a fairly average Watford side was enough to give Derby a welcome three points for their first win since mid-November and push them above their visitors in the table. A much improved second half and the introduction of substitutes Nacer Barazite and Rob Hulse, who combined for the winning goal, gave Paul Jewell`s side a morale boosting victory after some poor performances in recent weeks. As the visitor`s attempted to waste time in the second half to hold out for a draw Derby did not lose patience and the pressure eventually told when Ellington broke down the right but his pull back missed all players and Albrechtsen did well to win the lose ball thirty yards out and feed Barazite who put the ball across for Hulse to give his side all three points with a quality header.
Martin Albrechtsen moved to right-back in the place of the injured Paul Connolly with James Tomkins and Lewin Nyatanga filling the centre-back berths and Miles Addison taking over as captain from the former Plymouth man. Kris Commons came back in for a start with Kazmierczak moving to the centre and Zadkovich dropping to the bench. Jordan Stewart and Nathan Ellington lined up against their former club and he was partnered up front by Luke Varney so Rob Hulse had to settle for a place on the bench. Watford were without former Derby favourites Poom and Rasiak but they were captained by Tommy Smith who received a warm reception from the home fans.
Kazmierczak had the games first effort but his long-ranger was never going to trouble Loach in The Hornets` goal and Varney then headed over from an Addison cross when he looked set to shoot. Derby were creating the chances in the opening period of the match and James Tomkins had a header cleared off the line from a Kazmierczak corner. A sliced clearance by Stewart was picked up by Priskin who laid it off to McAnuff but his side footed effort was well saved by Bywater.
Another mistake from Stewart allowed Priskin to take control and clip a ball to the back post but McAnuff`s effort was high and wide as he took the chance first time. Commons was having some joy down the left and put over a couple of decent crosses, the second of which caused some scary moments for the visitors with Varney muscling his way onto a bouncing ball only for Loach to save at close quarters and as the rebound found it`s way to Ellington the striker got his volley wrong and screwed wide with the goal beckoning.
Priskin looked to break but he was robbed by a fine recovery by Stewart and from the resulting corner Bywater had to dive to his left to turn away a curling effort, again from Priskin and the Hungarian looked to have a third opportunity as he broke moments later but another Stewart challenge denied him and he picked up a knock in the challenge that lead to him going off minutes later to be replaced by Will Hoskins.
As the half drew to a close Tomkins had another header blocked in front of goal and Nathan Ellington released Luke Varney but, after a jinking run, the former Charlton man couldn`t keep his effort down and teams went in at half-time goalless.
Derby started the second-half strongly and Loach did well to turn an Ellington header over the bar as The Duke looked to score against his former club and Tomkins again won the ball from the resulting corner but couldn`t direct his header on target. Gary Teale made way for Nacer Barazite on 55 minutes and the youngster`s first involvement was a bright run down the right that led to a string of corners but they eventually proved fruitless for The Rams. Commons was looking lively in the second period and his run and shot from thirty yards nearly brought his side the lead but his swerving effort flew inches wide.
Ellington looked to have been brought down in the area by DeMerit but the referee waived play on and Derby made two quick substitutions with Rob Hulse taking over from Luke Varney and Giles Barnes coming on in place of Kazmierczak. The changes seemed to have broken up the flow of the game and allowed Watford time to try and settle again after being on the back foot for the majority of the second half.
The visitor`s had a rare foray into the Derby half and Hoskins turned in the area only for his shot to be deflected wide and McAnuff drove the ball back in when the resulting corner was half cleared only for the ball to drop wide of the post after DeMerit got something on it.
Nathan Ellington went on a storming run down the left outmuscleing his man but his pull back was behind the onrushing Derby forwards but Albrechtsen won the ball back thirty yards out to feed Barazite and the Dutchman cleverly made room before curling over a pinpoint cross for Hulse to stoop and head home to give his side the lead. McAnuff looked to get his side back into the match but he couldn`t get his efforts on target despite claiming a corner on the second of his two shots. The home side managed to see out the remaining time, including four minutes of stoppage time, and take all three points for a much needed win.
Assured performance at the heart of the defence, rarely put a foot wrong and his calmness eventually rubbed off on those around him as the defence kept a clean sheet.
Stephen Bywater 8
Martin Albrechtsen 7
Jordan Stewart 6
James Tomkins 8
Lewin Nyatanga 8
Kris Commons 7
Miles Addison 7
Przemyslaw Kazmierczak 7
Gary Teale 6
Luke Varney 6
Nathan Ellington 7
Nacer Barazite 7
Rob Hulse 7
Giles Barnes 6