The Rams secured their first victory of the 2012/13 npower Championship campaign in emphatic fashion, as Nigel Clough’s men ran out 5-1 winners at Pride Park Stadium.
A first half treble of goals from Richard Keogh, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Sammon sealed the three points in an unforgiving opening 45 minutes from the Rams.
Like Sammon, 17-year-old midfielder Will Hughes struck his first goal for the club with a close-range finish to make it 4-0, before Ward completed the Rams’ scoring with a tap in at the far post.
Matej Vydra netted a consolation for the visitors with 16 minutes remaining, but the Rams’ scintillating display was well worthy of the three points, ahead of the forthcoming international break.
Despite the score-line it was a slow start for both sides as the Rams and the Hornets looked comfortable in possession, playing neat passing football.
The first real chance of the game did not materialise until the tenth minute when Jamie Ward was sent clean through down the left, however from a tight angle the 26-year-old cut his shot across goal that drifted harmlessly wide.
However, six minutes later the Northern Irish forward was fouled midway inside the visitor’s half. The resulting free-kick saw Gareth Roberts find Crag Bryson, and the latter whipped a dangerous ball into the penalty area towards Keogh. The former Coventry City defender escaped his marker and sent a glancing header past Manuel Almunia into the bottom corner.
The visitor’s first opportunity came in the 35th minute when Almen Abdi found space on the edge of the Rams’ penalty area, however the Udinese loanee’s snap-shot drifted wide of Frank Fielding’s near post.
Watford’s presence in the Rams’ half was short lived, as just two minutes later Gianfranco Zola’s men found themselves two goals behind. From another set play, Paul Coutts delivered from the right and Irish midfielder Hendrick rose highest to head back across goal and send the ball into the same corner as Keogh’s opener.
Before the half was up, Sammon found room in the penalty area after swivelling expertly, but his close-range effort was somehow thwarted by Almunia on its way to goal.
However, the 25-year-old did not have to wait long for his first goal in Derby County shirt, as with two minutes remaining in the opening 45 minutes, Sammon struck to hand the Rams a three-goal lead.
Sammon latched on to Ward’s clever through ball and used his strength to outmuscle Carl Dickenson on the edge of the penalty area, before coolly firing past former Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia into the net.
Then Keogh nodded Coutts’ free-kick onto the top of the crossbar, as the Rams left the pitch at half-time to a standing ovation from the home supporters.
The second-half started how the first ended as the Rams had the visitors camped well in the own half. And with seven minutes gone, Ward’s vicious 20-yard free-kick was well saved by Almunia, however Hughes was on hand to bundle home the rebound from inside the six-yard box.
Clough’s men were proving ruthless in attack and 10 minutes after going four ahead, the Rams added compounded the Hornets’ misery with a fifth through Ward. Coutts shrugged off the attention of Dickenson down the left before rolling the ball across the six-yard box. The unmarked Ward was in acres of space as he tapped the ball into the net.
However, the scoring was not over, as Vydra clawed a goal back with a low strike inside the penalty area in the 74th minute, but it was nothing more than a consolation as the Rams’ ruthless performance ended any faint hopes Zola had of the Hornets securing their best start to a leagues season in five years.
Derby County: Fielding (GK); Brayford, Keogh, O'Connor, Roberts (Buxton 66); Coutts, Bryson, Hendrick, Hughes (Jacobs 83); Ward, Sammon.
Subs Not Used: Legzdins (GK), Tyson, Gjokaj, Robinson, Doyle.
Watford: Almunia (GK); Doyley, Nosworthy, Dickinson, Pudil (Cassetti 64); Yeates (Battocchio 84), Hogg, Murray (Anya 64), Abdi; Vydra, Iwelumo.
Subs Not Used: Bond (GK), Forsyth, Beleck, Hoban.
Attendance: 20,608 (Including 894 Visiting Supporters).