Rams v Bluebirds - Report
17th March 2007
Rams move a step closer
A double from Steve Howard and a stunning goal by Giles Barnes gave Derby a 3-1 victory over promotion rivals Cardiff at Pride Park.
Rams boss Billy Davies made three changes from the side that drew 1-1 against QPR with Craig Fagan, Seth Johnson and Tyrone Mears all returning to the starting XI at the expense of Gary Teale, Marc Edworthy and Arturo Lupoli.
Also added to the bench was winger Darren Currie who signed on loan until the end of the season from Ipswich during the week.
Cardiff manager Dave Jones also made three switches to his team as he looked to build on their impressive midweek draw against Southampton with Jason Byrne, Riccardo Scimeca and Glenn Loovens making way for Steven Thompson, Simon Walton and Chris Gunter.
Michael Chopra`s blocked free kick was the only action of note in a even opening 10 minutes with both sides failing to adapt to the blustery conditions.
Chopra, the Championship`s leading scorer, threatened again after 12 minutes as he burst through a static Derby defence and was only denied a clear strike at Stephen Bywater by a fantastic recovery challenge by Dean Leacock.
It was a scrappy opening to the game, and the Rams needed a lift and one arrived on 27 minutes as Derby was awarded a penalty. From David Jones corner Barnes flicked on and the ball struck the arm of Steven Thompson's arm, and referee Atkinson pointed to the spot. Cardiff protested to the referee but to no avail and Steve Howard scored from the spot-kick low to Neil Alexander's right to open the scoring.
But the Rams joy was short-lived as the visitors levelled three minutes later. Jay McEveley failed to deal with a long ball from Stephen McPhail and his sliced clearance fell invitingly into the path of Paul Parry who coolly slotted the ball past the onrushing Bywater.
Moments later the visitors went within inches of taking the lead, Chopra sprung the offside trap and his half-volley from just inside the penalty area crashed back off the crossbar with Bywater well beaten. It was the last action for the Championship leading goal scorer Chopra, who limped off replace by Jason Byrne
Derby started the second half well and Barnes volley from 10-yards was well saved by Alexander. But Barnes was not to be denied two minutes later, though, as he added to his reputation with a goal of real quality.
The 18-year-old, who is attracting admiring glances from Liverpool and Tottenham, latched onto Howard`s through-ball and, after seeing off the attention of two Cardiff defenders, caressed the ball with the outside of his foot past Alexander from 18-yards.
Derby were in control and on the hour mark it was 3-1. Matt Oakley sent Howard in behind the Cardiff defence and the Rams leading scorer took a touch on his chest before scoring past Alexander for his second of the game.
The Rams continued to press with Jones` 20-yard free-kick flew just over the Cardiff bar, as the Rams looked to add to their lead.
But Cardiff, with their own promotion hopes on the line, hit back and should have pulled a goal back when Thompson crossed low for Byrne, but the Irishman completely missed his kick from inside the six-yard box with the goals at his mercy. Then Bywater pushed over Simon Walton's 25-yard drive with the visitors enjoying a spell of sustained pressure.
New Rams signing Darren Currie replace Seth Johnson, to make his Rams debut in the 74th minute. Johnson, who had been out of the side over the recent weeks, was superb, and the standing ovation he received was a testament to that.
Currie showed glimpses of what he can do, and he feed Jones but the midfielder's powerful effort was straight at Alexander.
A great victory for the Rams and with Birmingham not playing until Sunday the win was enough to see Derby back to the top of the table.
Derby County - GK Bywater, Mears, Leacock, Moore, McEveley, Fagan, Oakley, S Johnson (Currie 74), Jones, Fagan, Howard
Subs not used - Grant (GK), Camara, Peschisolido, Teale
Cardiff City - GK Alexander, Gunter, Ledley, McNaughton, R Johnson, McPhail, Walton, Thompson, Chopra (Byrne 34 (Green 77)), Whittingham, Parry
Subs not used - Forde (GK), Purse, Blake
Referee - Martin Atkinson
Att - 27,689
Steve Howard - The big striker put in a great all round performance. He scored two goals but was an integral part of every Rams move forward all day.
Davies lavished praise on Steve Howard after the striker`s brace against Cardiff.
Davies said: 'He was tremendous — he`s been a great leader.
'He came in here at the beginning and took a bit of stick in the first seven or eight games, but he`s now proving his worth.
'He`s a tremendous guy to have in the dressing room, he`s got great experience and his goal scoring record speaks for itself over the last two or three years.
'He`s such an asset to have in defence as well. You could see in the last five minutes how important he was and that`s what you need in this division.'
Jones admits his side`s hopes of an automatic promotion spot are almost over following the defeat.
'We needed to win today to give ourselves a chance — to put ourselves four points behind Derby,' he said.
'But 10 points is a lot at this stage of the season with so few games left so we`ll probably be fighting for that play-off spot.'