This afternoon’s encounter at Ewood Park marked the third time the Rams have faced Blackburn Rovers this season, and first-half goals from Jordan Rhodes and Scott Dann ensured it was not going to be a case of ‘third time lucky’ for Derby.
In reverse League fixture at Pride Park, Theo Robinson’s stoppage time equaliser earned the Rams a point, whilst the Lancashire side powered past Derby into the fifth round of the FA Cup following a 3-0 victory in January.
However, this meeting was settled by Rhodes’ eighth minute penalty and Dann’s towering header within the first 45 minutes, as Rovers’ fight for survival was handed a major boost.
In Nigel Clough’s pre-match interview, the Derby County manager relayed the plan of action at Ewood Park was to frustrate the visitors in the opening 15 to 20 minutes, in order to exasperate the home supporters, who were of a disgruntled disposition of late following the well documented events at the club, which has been compounded by Rovers’ slide towards the relegation places.
However, that strategy took a major setback within the opening eight minutes. Irish midfielder Hendrick was penalised for a foul on leading scorer Rhodes in the penalty area, and the striker rolled the resulting spot-kick into the bottom corner, sending goalkeeper Frank Fielding in the opposite direction in the process.
Clough also identified that Rovers would be nervous, as the Lancashire outfit remain embroiled in the relegation battle in the npower Championship. A trio of mistakes by Academy graduate Josh Morris indicated a sense of anxiety, before Polish goalkeeper Greg Sandomierski made amends for his misplaced pass that gifted Jamie Ward a sight of goal.
The Northern Irish international’s effort was shortly followed by a measured cross by the 26-year-old, which found an unmarked Chris Martin, who saw his firm header clawed away by Sandomierski.
Despite Derby’s endeavour, Rovers almost snatched a second shortly after the half-an-hour mark, when Grant Hanley’s downward header was flicked onto the crossbar by Jake Buxton on the goal line, as the Rams breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Possession and territory continued in the Rams’ favour for the remainder of the first-half, but the side’s failure to capitalise on two dangerous Craig Forsyth deliveries in particular, proved detrimental in the final minute of the opening period, as David Jones’ corner was nodded into the net by a grateful Dann, after Fielding collided with Buxton as he attempted to collect the midfielder’s set-piece.
Clough introduced Ben Davies at half-time, in place of Paul Coutts, and the former Notts County midfielder burst onto the scene with a low shot that fell narrowly wide of the far post in the opening exchanges of the second-half.
The firepower of Rhodes and Colin Kazim-Richard ensured the Rams had to remain vigilant at the back, and the former came close to adding a third for the hosts, but slightly misjudged the trajectory of his lob, which landed on the roof of the net.
Former Huddersfield Town forward Rhodes then had an even better opportunity to extend Rovers’ lead on the hour, but after being sent clean through on goal, Forsyth did just enough to put the striker off, who was eventually off balance when his shot fell comfortably into the arms of Fielding.
It was a case of too little too late when Ward flickered into life with a turn of pace and low drive in the 80th minute, only to see his effort beaten away by Sandomierski, as Derby succumbed to their second defeat in seven days.
Derby County: Fielding; Brayford, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Coutts (Davies 46), Hendrick, Bryson (Freeman 72), Ward; Sammon (Bennett 83), Martin.
Subs not used: Legzdins, Roberts, Jacobs, Gjokaj.
Blackburn Rovers: Sandomierski, Kane, Dann, Hanley, Morris, Lowe (Pederson 75), Jones, Williamson, Dunn (King 64), Kazim-Richards, Rhodes (Goodwillie 90).
Subs not used: Usai, Best, Nuno Gomes, Rekik.