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Derby County put their midweek embarrassment behind them to show the desire and commitment called for by Nigel Clough as they turned Sheffield Wednesday over at Pride Park. There were one or two nervy moments at the back and had Leon Clarke been able to find the target early in the second half it may have been a different result but The Rams ran out deserved winners with goals from Lee Croft, his first for Derby, Jay McEveley and a late Rob Hulse penalty to claim the three points. It was a pleasing result for the majority of the thirty thousand fans inside Pride Park going into the international break and the perfect retort to criticisms of the side after the six goals conceded.
Nigel Clough made two changes to the side thrashed at Cardiff with Dean Leacock ruled out with the hamstring injury that forced him off in Wales with Jay McEveley starting in the centre of defence. Paul Dickov made his first start in place of Lee Hendrie as The Rams reverted to 4-4-2 as they looked to get back on track with visit of Wednesday who had former Rams Lee Grant and Marcus Tudgay on their line-up.
Both sides started quickly and there was space at both ends with Fredrik Stoor blocking an Esajas effort at one end before Gary Teale fired wide at the other from just outside the area. Rob Hulse ran in behind the visitor`s defence on six minutes but was muscled off the ball by Darren Purse who played the ball to safety and The Rams striker threatened again when he got his head to a cross but his glancing header didn`t trouble Lee Grant.
The Rams good start to the match saw them take the lead on seventeen minutes after good work by Paul Dickov, the little striker held off Darren Purse inside the area and hit a cross to the far post that fell perfectly for Lee Croft who stroked home his first goal since joining from Norwich City in the summer via the underside of the bar. Dean Moxey was next to threaten when his shot from the edge of the area whistled past the far post.
The visitor`s were by no means out of it and came close to an equaliser on twenty eight minutes when Leon Clarke failed to find the target from eight yards after a scramble in the area. Wednesday were beginning to assert themselves a little more in terms of possession but the ball was often squandered as The Rams pressed well all over the park although they were also unable to make anything of it when they won the ball back.
The final two chances of the half fell the home sides way with Rob Hulse finding room behind the Sheffield backline but his effort lacked power and was an easy gather for Lee Grant before Paul Dickov again made a nuisance of himself in the area before getting a low shot in but his effort clipped the outside of the post and went behind for a goal kick. It had been a good half for Derby after their midweek embarrassment in South Wales and they showed the desire that was missing in that defeat.
Wednesday came out of the blocks quickly in the second period and Darren Purse may have done better when he met a corner but his header was just off target and Leon Clarke hit a powerful volley that lacked direction and didn`t trouble Stephen Bywater in the home goal. Some hesitant defending by Dean Moxey then gifted the ball to Michael Gray and he squared to Leon Clarke who ballooned his effort over the top with the goal at his mercy from twelve yards out.
Lee Croft had Derby`s first effort of the half just before the hour that Grant did well to stop at his near post and the ball was hacked to safety as Rob Hulse looked to make something with the rebound. The Wednesday keeper than made another save from Hulse as he touched the effort behind after the Derby number nine was set up by good work by Jay McEveley going forward.
Akpo Sodje came off the bench just after the hour mark as Brian Laws` looked to get his side back in the match and almost immediately he came close to an equaliser when his glancing header struck the top of the crossbar with his first touch. It was not to be for the visitors though as The Rams broke forward in numbers with Lee Croft making good progress down the right before slipping the ball inside to Jay McEveley who took a touch and fired in a left footed effort that Lee Grant got a touch to but could not prevent from going in to double the lead.
Lee Croft came close with an effort from thirty yards that would have sealed the victory and despite some increased Wednesday pressure The Rams` backline looked to be holding firm and snuff out any threat when the visitor`s came within site of their goal. The flow of the game was broken inside the last ten minutes with a number of substitutions as Lee Hendrie, Ben Pringle and Arnaud Mendy coming of the bench in place of Paul Dickov, Gary Teale and Robbie Savage respectively.
Rob Hulse gave an even more emphatic look to the score line before the final of the changes when he muscled his way onto a ball over the top. He ran at goal only to be bundled over in the area by Lewis Buxton and he picked himself up to fire home the penalty for his second goal of the week and round out a 3-0 victory.