Goals from Michael Jacobs, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Sammon got the Rams’ New Year off to a flying start, as they overcame automatic promotion chasing Middlesbrough 3-1 at Pride Park Stadium.
Jacobs fired Derby into a 19th minute lead when he turned in Ben Davies’ free-kick, before Hendrick netted his third goal of the campaign with a superbly struck volley from 20-yards out.
Striker Sammon made sure of the points in the second-half with his sixth goal of the season, an instinctive close-range strike, after Jacobs’ initial effort from 12-yards was palmed clear by goalkeeper Jason Steele.
Former Coventry City striker Lukas Jutkiewicz pulled a consolation goal back in injury time when he fired home from inside the six-yard box, but it proved too little too late for the visitors.
Although this was the Rams’ third game in six days, Nigel Clough’s men were showing little sign of fatigue in the opening period, as they had the visitors penned in their own half.
As the pressure mounted, chances followed with Jacobs fizzing a low cross into the area which was centimetres away from connecting with Sammon’s right boot, then in the 11th minute the former Northampton Town winger turned cleverly before dragging an effort wide from 25-yards.
And just eight minutes later, the Rams had their first goal of 2013, courtesy of summer signing Jacobs. Paul Coutts won a free-kick down the right-hand side, which Davies duly sent into the penalty area, and Jacobs displayed the movement of a seasoned striker, to check back and sweep the ball into the net from eight-yards out.
The visitors responded with a fierce 20-yard strike from Stuart Parnaby, which rose harmlessly over the crossbar, but it was the Rams who looked most likely to score, as Hendrick saw a deflected volley fall wide, whilst skipper Richard Keogh’s looping header landed on the roof of the net.
Former Real Madrid defender Jonathan Woodgate was withdrawn after 36 minutes, leaving manager Tony Mowbray with an unfamiliar back-four, as midfielder Nicky Bailey filled the vacant centre-back position.
And with Woodgate off the field, and the Middlesbrough defence in the process of reorganising, Derby took full advantage and doubled their lead. A clearance dropped to Hendrick on the edge of the penalty area, where the Irish midfielder chested the ball down before thundering an unstoppable volley into the top corner, beyond the reach of Steele.
It was almost three prior to referee Dean Whitestone blowing the half-time whistle, as Davies rattled the crossbar with a superbly taken 30-yard free-kick, although the visitors did end the first 45 with an effort on target when Scott McDonald’s header in stoppage time forced Adam Legzdins
into his first save of the game.
Although Middlesbrough began the second-half with plenty of gusto, it was the Rams that had the first golden opportunity of the half when Sammon raced clean through on goal, cutting inside from the left. The former Kilmarnock striker saw his first effort superbly stopped by the onrushing Steele, but as the rebound off the goalkeeper looped up into the air, Sammon looked certain to nod the ball into the gaping goal; but Bailey got back into position and hacked the ball off the line.
However, Sammon did not have to remain disheartened for long, as in the 65th minute the Irish forward was on hand to put the Rams three goals ahead, and in turn net his sixth of the season.
Will Hughes’ patience on the edge of the area was rewarded, as Jacobs’ subsequent snap shot from 12-yards was palmed clear by Steele, only as far as Sammon who stabbed the loose ball into the roof of the net from inside the six-yard box.
Substitute Ishmael Miller stung Legzdins’ fingertips with a fierce drive from inside the penalty area on 75 minutes, before the visitors did net a consolation goal in stoppage time through Jutkiewicz, when he fired in from close-range, but it was to be Derby’s day, as they secured an impressive seventh win at Pride Park this season.
Derby County: Legzdins; Brayford, Keogh, O’Brien, Freeman; Coutts, Hendrick, Hughes, Davies; Jacobs (Tyson 77), Sammon (Hoganson 87).
Subs Not Used: Fielding, Doyle, Gjokaj, Robinson, O’Connor.
Middlesbrough: Steele; Parnaby, R. Williams, Woodgate (Thomson 36), Halliday; Bailey, Smallwood, Leadbitter (Miller 65), Reach; McDonald (L. Williams 46), Jutkiewicz.
Subs Not Used: Leutwiler, Zemmama, Burgess, Weldon.
Attendance: 22,523 (1,581 Visiting Supporters).