Rams reach the summit
Championship - 20.01.07
Rams reach the summit
Derby County sit three points clear at the top of the Championship after Steve Howard's, 12th goal of the season, in the 32nd minute gave Billy Davies' side all the points against Southend at Roots Hall.
It's the first time since the March 1996 that Derby County have headed the table, but the Rams had to fight all the way against a spirited Southend.
All four new signings started as Davies made three changes from the team that beat Sheffield Wednesday at Pride Park last week. Seth Johnson, Giles Barnes and Arturo Lupoli dropped out of the starting line-up and Bob Malcolm returned to midfield alongside new signings Gary Teale, Craig Fagan, Stephen Pearson and last week's goal scorer David Jones. The Rams kicked off with around 1,800 supporters packed in to the section behind the goal.
Derby began well and on five minutes Teale had the first opportunity for the Rams, Howard and Fagan combined well before Teale ran in on goal with only Darryl Flahavan to beat, but his tame shot from the edge of the box was easily held by the keeper.
Freddy Eastwood had Southend`s first attempt in the 17th minute but he could not beat Stephen Bywater, and that was a rare opportunity created by the Shrimpers, as Derby dominated. Howard went within inches of giving the Rams the lead, when he hit the woodwork on 27 minutes. Bywater's long clearance was knocked back on the edge of the visitors' area by Teale to the former Luton striker, who hit a powerful shot that beat Flahavan but rebounded back off the post. But neither the woodwork nor Flahavan could stop him from opening the scoring soon afterwards. The big striker was found at the back post by Teales corner and headed his 12th goal of the season.
Derby continued to press forward, and it looked like the Rams would run away with the game. Chances fell to Jones and Fagan, who both fired wide as the home side struggled with the pace of the Rams midfield with Pearson particularly impressive on his first full game for the Rams. Southend had a strong penalty claim turned down by referee Williamson after Moore jostled Eastwood off the bal, but six minutes before the break Pearson's strength and vision created a chance for Fagan who, from the edge of the area, curled his shot wide of the post. In first half stoppage-time Darren Moore had a chance to extend the lead, but he saw his volley fly wide, but the Rams went in for the break good value for their advantage.
Straight from the kick-off, Derby carved out an opening as Flahavan denied Malcolm, before Howard volleyed wide and at the other end, Bywater had to be alert to save a long-range strike by McCormack.
The fact they were only one goal down must have encouraged the Shrimpers and they threatened to equalise through Peter Clarke and Mark Gower, who forced Bywater to parry his shot in the 59th minute.
Flahavan again came to the home side`s rescue, when he produced a terrific save to prevent Pearson from putting Derby two-up and with both sides eager for goals, Bywater had to tip a long-range McCormack shot round the post for a corner.
Rams boss Davies became involved in a heated incident on the side line on the hour mark between the Rams boss and the 4th official leading to Davies being sent to the stands. On 68 minutes Howard was a whisker away from scoring again, after a great run and cross from Fagan, the striker lunged in box but he was inches away from diverting it into the net. Jones' long-range curler was only just too high a minute later as the Roots Hall crowd was treated to chances at both ends.
The home side lifted and a curling 25-yard free-kick from Shrimpers striker Freddy Eastwood on 71 minutes flew inches over the bar, while at the other end Fagan fired wide after a Clark back pass went astray. Rams Mark Edworthy became the hero moments later when he dived in to deny Eastwood after Bywater had only parried McCormack's shot. Then the same player somehow headed Clarke's effort off the line as the Shrimpers centre-half met a corner. The last 10 minutes were frantic, the home side pushing forward looking for the equaliser, but with Darren Moore and Dean Leacock again outstanding, as the Rams held out and a place on top of the table was their reward.
Southend United: Flahavan; Hunt, Barrett, Clarke, Hammell; Campbell-Ryce, Maher(c), McCormack, Gower; Eastwood (Harrold 83), Bradbury.
Subs not used: Guttridge, Sodje, Hooper, Welch.
Derby County: Bywater; Edworthy, Leacock, Moore, Camara, Jones, Malcolm (Oakley 55), Pearson; Fagan Johnson M 83), Howard, Teale (Bisgaard 65).
Subs not used: Lupoli, Barnes.
Referee: Mr I Williamson.
He said: ''I`m disappointed with the handling of the fourth official from the first minute. I knew I was in for a difficult afternoon.
''Sometimes you step outside the technical area but there has been an improvement with fourth officials this season and they are working with managers.
''I can`t deny using foul and abusive language but I will be doing all I possibly can to put a complaint in.``
''We have played a side that is top of the league and there was not a lot of difference between the two teams`` he said.
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