A rampant Derby County blew away a rejuvenated Huddersfield Town side 3-0 at Pride Park, with Jamie Ward grabbing a goal and an assist in the process.
Scottish midfielder Craig Bryson swept the Rams into the lead, before a fine finish from Ward had Derby two ahead before the half-time whistle.
Captain Richard Keogh put the game beyond any doubt in the 59th minute with a thumping header from Ward’s free-kick, as the Rams secured their seventh home victory of the season in style.
With last weekend’s FA Cup Fourth Round defeat to Blackburn Rovers in mind, Derby were quick out of the blocks, eager to make amends, as Ward picked up a loose ball midway inside the Huddersfield half before firing a low shot towards goal, but the Northern Irish international’s strike was comfortable for visiting goalkeeper Alex Smithies.
The 26-year-old’s effort in the opening two minutes proved a sighter, as the former Sheffield United forward tested the ‘keeper again seconds later with a curling 30-yard free-kick.
Huddersfield arrived at Pride Park rejuvenated from their first win in 13 games following a 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace in midweek, and the Terriers almost took the lead when former Rams loanee James Vaughan broke clear in a swift counter attacking move; the striker cut inside on his right foot but bent his subsequent effort narrowly wide of goal.
Oliver Norwood then sent a long-range free-kick wide, before Derby began to take control of proceedings once again, as Conor Sammon sent a 25-yard curler wide on 19 minutes, prior to Bryson’s swerving shot that saw Smithies scurry across his line.
The former Kilmarnock pair’s strikes proved a warning for caretaker Mark Lillis’ side, as a minute after Bryson saw his shot drift narrowly wide, the Scottish international had the Rams in front.
Coutts escaped the advances of Callum Woods down the right and drilled a low ball into the area, where an onrushing Bryson had the simplest of opportunities to net his fourth goal of the campaign from inside the six-yard box.
The midfielder’s goal breathed a wave of confidence throughout the home side, and 10 minutes after they had gone ahead, Nigel Clough’s men doubled their advantage in emphatic fashion.
The manner in which the Rams’ second goal arrived was not too dissimilar to the first, as another low cross into the penalty area – on this occasion from Gareth Roberts was rifled into the roof of the net by Ward.
Derby were buoyant and penned the visitors in their own half for the latter stages of the first 45 minutes, and almost ran riot with a third when a marauding run from John Brayford was met with a stinging volley that flew inches over the crossbar.
Town captain Peter Clarke was withdrawn at half-time in place of Murray Wallace, and the substitute almost had an immediate impact when connected with Norwood’s corner, only to stab his effort over.
It was déjà vu for Huddersfield as another substitute, Sean Scannell burst onto the scene with a terrific run and cross which Vaughan could only divert onto the far post from close-range.
However, Derby alleviated the pressure with a superbly taken third goal from captain Keogh. The former Coventry City defender climbed highest to firmly head Ward’s in-swinging free-kick into the bottom corner.
The Terriers almost found a way back into the game when, following a bout of head tennis on the edge of the Rams’ penalty area, the ball fell kindly for Vaughan, who sent a spectacular scissors kick narrowly wide.
Other than Vaughan’s strike, Lills’ men rarely threatened in the second period, as the Rams’ three goals had knocked the wind out of their sails.
Derby even had opportunities to extend their margin in the final quarter, as Sammon, Hendrick, Coutts and Roberts all came within a whisker of a fourth goal with fierce shots from the edge of the visitor’s penalty area - although Huddersfield almost netted an injury time consolation, but Neil Danns could only divert Alan Lee's low shot over the bar.
Derby County: Legzdins; Brayford, Keogh, O’Brien, Roberts (Freeman 87); Coutts, Hendrick, Hughes (Jacobs 89), Bryson; Ward (Robinson 82), Sammon.
Subs Not Used: Fielding, O’Connor, Davies, Doyle.
Huddersfield Town: Smithies; Woods, Gerrard, Clarke (Wallace 46), Hunt; Norwood (Lee 78), Arfield, Danns, Clayton; Novak (Scannell 54), Vaughan.
Subs Not Used: Bennett, Dixon, Gobern, Sinnott.
Attendance: 21,561 (1654 Visiting Supporters).