Ram-pant Derby march on
Attendance: Att: 23,875
DERBY won their eighth game in nine after David Jones' first goal for the club sealed a narrow win over Crystal Palace at Pride Park. The on loan Manchester United midfielder, who is set to join the club permanently in a £1million deal in January, struck after 22 minutes after great work from fellow loan player Arturo Lupoli. The Arsenal youngster produced a mazy run down the left wing, and the impressive Jones met his cutback with a low, crisp drive from eight-yards past an unsighted Julian Speroni.
The three points cement Derby's two-point cushion in second place over Preston, while defeat leaves Palace hovering dangerously close to the relegation zone.
Derby boss Billy Davies was without top scorer Steve Howard for the first time this season through suspension, so Lupoli was brought in to partner Jon Stead in attack. Palace chief Peter Taylor was forced into handing goalkeeper Speroni his first start since December last year after first choice Iain Turner returned to parent club Everton after picking up a groin strain and Gabor Kiraly joined Aston Villa on loan.
After a tentative start, the Rams burst into life after five minutes with Jones unleashing a stinging drive from 25-yards which zipped narrowly past Speroni's post.
Lupoli and Jones displayed their Premiership pedigree throughout the opening period, and the former was inches away from doubling the Rams' advantage just five minutes after they had gone ahead. A typically dazzling run from the Italian ace carved open a fragile Palace defence, but his curling effort from the edge of the penalty area skipped just past Speroni's far post.
Palace offered little in the way of attacking threat in the first half and was reduced to speculative long-range efforts from Ben Watson and top scorer Clinton Morrison as they struggled to break down a miserly Derby defence expertly marshalled by the veteran Darren Moore.
Palace started the second period with renewed purpose and came close to levelling when Tom Soares was allowed space to shoot after 51 minutes. But the England Under-21 midfielder saw his 25-yard drive arrow just over Stephen Bywater's crossbar.
With Derby seemingly content to hold on to their slender lead rather than go for a second goal, Palace started to exert more influence on the game. As they pushed forward, gaps started to appear for Derby to exploit, and highly-rated midfielder Giles Barnes took full advantage.
The 18-year-old, who is reportedly a target for Liverpool in the January transfer window, set off on an electrifying run from his own half leaving four defenders in his wake, but he could not find a finish to match and his 20-yard shot trickled narrowly wide.
Palace were inches away from finding an equaliser at the death, but Darren Ward was unable to find the target with a close-range header, and Derby were able to hold on to Jones' early strike to claim maximum points.
Derby manager Billy Davies praised the resilience of his team after they beat Crystal Palace 1-0 to claim a fifth consecutive home victory and stay in second place in the Coca-Cola Championship. Davies said: 'I thought we played well in the first half and moved the ball around but we didn't do as well in the second half and I thought we looked leggy. But the most important thing was that even through that sticky period we were well organised and showed determination. I thought the two centre-backs were first class and David Jones was immense and showed his quality.'
'We have got this young man on an emergency loan and I am trying to make that a permanent fixture. I am confident of getting him in January. It's always difficult to leave a big club but sometimes a player wants regular football and we hope to give him that stage and platform. We will be going into January when the transfer window reopens with the intention of improving the squad.'
'I thought we started the game too slowly and I was disappointed with our first-half performance.' He admitted. 'We allowed Derby to play their football and whether we showed them too much respect I don't know, but in the second half the boys were a different class. We are not having a great deal of luck at the moment. I am not making excuses but we need something to drop for us. The second half was a lot more pleasing and, although we now had two defeats after a four-match unbeaten run, there have been a lot of positives to come from those defeats.'
'Derby look a good team to me but, player for player, I think we are as good. We showed the team that was second before kick-off that we are not far away.'
Subs Not Used: Peschisolido, Jackson.
Goals: Jones 22.
Subs Not Used: Flinders, Borrowdale.
Booked: Granville, Watson.
Ref: J Moss (West Yorkshire).