Mark Lillis and Steve Eyre suffered their first defeat in charge of Town’s First Team at Pride Park this afternoon, with a clinical Derby County side putting Town to the sword in a 3-0 win.
The Terriers had decent spells and created a couple of chances, but Derby showed them how it was done in front of goal – with a quick-fire first-half brace from Craig Bryson and Jamie Ward effectively killing off the game as a contest.
Town’s fans stuck behind their side to the bitter end and Town’s players never gave up, showing more character than they did in the previous away defeat at Watford, but in the end it was to no avail.
Town’s Caretaker duo named an unchanged side following Wednesday night’s impressive home win over Crystal Palace as the Terriers attempted to break an 18 match winless streak in Derby stretching back to November 1957, meaning Captain Peter Clarke made the 400th League start of his career.
Lively Derby striker Jamie Ward had the first effort of the game inside three minutes, sending a skidding long range drive straight at Alex Smithies from range. He did better a minute later – forcing Town’s stopper to tip a decent free kick over his crossbar after highly rated midfielder Will Hughes was tripped.
Nigel Clough’s side had started well, but Town created a great chance on the break from a Derby corner in the sixth minute. Adam Clayton picked up the headed clearance and sent James Vaughan into the clear with an excellent pass, but his attempted curler from the left edge of the penalty area drifted wide.
With both sides looking to get the ball on the floor and pass it, the Terriers were having some early success down the right through Jack Hunt and Neil Danns but the final delivery into the area often let them down. Backed by a superb, vocal travelling support, they had the next chance inside the 12th minute.
Scott Arfield showed good strength before winning a foul off opponent Bryson, which gave Oliver Norwood the chance to test goalkeeper Adam Legzdins. Ollie’s long range effort was close enough to worry the goalie for a few seconds, but eventually flew wide of the right hand post.
Ward’s strike partner Conor Sammon was a hard-working, physical opponent and was causing issues by pulling onto the much smaller right back Hunt. He drove at goal before curling wide in the 19th minute and that heralded a dominant period for the Rams that brought about two goals.
Midfielder Craig Bryson had already troubled Smithies with a long range drive that bent just wide in the 23rd minute, but Town’s ‘keeper could do nothing about the opening goal from the midfielder a minute later. Derby worked the ball well down the Town left and when winger Paul Coutts crossed into the danger area, Bryson found space to tap home from close range.
Adam Clayton fired over on his weaker left foot in a rare Town attack at this stage, but normal service was resumed soon after when Sammon managed to muscle his way goal side of Peter Clarke. A combination of Clarke, Gerrard and Smithies combined to scramble the ball to safety, with the Captain taking a knock in the fracas that required lengthy treatment from physio James Haycock.
The second goal came in the 33rd minute, with Sammon’s hold up play starting the move. He moved the ball left to full back Gareth Roberts and his subsequent low cross avoided everyone before dropping to Jamie Ward at the back post, who impressively volleyed into the top corner of Town’s goal.
Right back John Brayford fired just over as Derby dominated upon the restart and in an attempt to get hold of the ball, Lillis and Eyre switched Norwood for the more physical Danns at the base of Town’s diamond midfield shape.
The Terriers could have grabbed a goal minutes before the interval when Norwood’s cross from the right found the feat of Novak at the near post, but impressive centre back Mark O’Brien managed to tackle the striker as he looked to pull the trigger. Town won a subsequent corner that fell on the head of Peter Clarke thanks to a deflection, but the Captain’s header was tame and ‘keeper Legzdins easily claimed the ball.
Clarke’s earlier injury forced him off at half time and pitted the imposing Sammon against teenage centre half Murray Wallace during the second 45, but the Scotland Under-21 international ended up having the first chance of the half – kicking Norwood’s near post corner over the bar in the 49th minute.
Town’s promising second half beginnings continued, with a length of the pitch moving ending in Arfield sliding Novak into the area – only for former Town loanee Richard Keogh to get in a vital challenge as he looked to pull the trigger.
Sean Scannell replaced the injured Novak in attack barely ten minutes into the half and created a gilt-edged chance with his first real contribution. The former Palace man drifted to the left and went past Brayford with ease before sliding a low cross towards James Vaughan, who seemed to react slightly late and could only divert the ball onto the post when completely unmarked in the middle of the area. In any case, the flag went up for offside.
Sadly Derby made their first chance of the half count with 59 minutes gone, with skipper Richard Keogh making it 3-0 to the Rams. Calum Woods was booked for a high foot on Coutts on Town’s left and when Jamie Ward curled the ball into the area, Keogh got a run on his marker Gerrard and expertly diverted a header past Smithies’ right side.
Town almost reduced the arrears immediately through a free kick; although Norwood’s delivery was cleared, Danns returned the ball into the box and Gerrard’s header found Vaughan – whose acrobatic volley went inches wide of the left hand post.
Wallace headed Clayton’s free-kick into the far post region over under heavy pressure soon after as the Terriers showed no sign of giving up – which was mirrored in the stands by Town’s vocal following.
Mark Lillis was encouraging his players from the touchline and Gerrard epitomised the spirit in the camp when he sprinted across the area to brilliantly block Ward’s shot in the 72nd minute.
Sammon sidestepped Wallace after a good run down the channel minutes later before Smithies fisted his speculative effort to safety.
Alan Lee’s introduction with 12 minutes to go was closely followed by home midfielder Jeff Hendrick going close to a Derby fourth, but his curled effort from 20 yards went just wide of target.
The game rather fizzled out after that, with the Terriers unable to create another chance of note that might signal a dramatic late comeback. The last chance of the game did fall to Town when Scannell’s deflected shot ran across substitute Lee in the area, but he diverted the ball into the stand.
Town’s team (4-1-2-1-2):
Alex Smithies; Calum Woods, Anthony Gerrard, Peter Clarke (c) (Murray Wallace 46), Jack Hunt; Oliver Norwood (Alan Lee 78); Scott Arfield, Neil Danns; Adam Clayton; James Vaughan, Lee Novak (Sean Scannell 54)
Ian Bennett, Paul Dixon, Oscar Gobern, Jordan Sinnott
Calum Woods (58)
Derby County bookings:
John Brayford (63); Mark O’Brien (90)