Derby County completed their first double of the 2012/13 campaign, as goals from Jeff Hendrick, Jamie Ward and substitute Ben Davies propelled the Rams back into the top half of the npower Championship.
Despite seeing his third minute spot-kick saved by Tom Heaton, Ward made amends for his miscue when he unleashed a half-volley underneath the goalkeeper in the 54th minute to effectively kill the game off.
Ward’s 12th goal of the campaign arrived after Hendrick had given the Rams the lead in the 36th minute, when the Republic of Ireland international turned the forward’s half-cleared corner goalwards, beyond the reach of Heaton.
Davies made completely sure off the three points in stoppage time when his low cross-come-shot took a deflection off Brendan Maloney at the near post.
Derby effectively controlled proceedings from the first whistle, however two separate incidents of tangled legs, and two different outcomes in the opening stages ultimately ended in frustration for the Rams.
Firstly amidst an energetic run by Craig Bryson, the Scottish international tripped over his own feet as he raced towards the penalty area. The midfielder’s exasperation was then followed by an overwhelming sense of dismay as referee Carl Boyeson booked Bryson for an apparent act of simulation.
However, seconds later Hendrick’s lung-busting run was brought to a halt by Greg Cunningham’s outstretched left leg in the box. Boyeson pointed to the spot, leaving top-scorer Ward with the chance to hand Derby the lead, but the forward saw his penalty comfortably held by Heaton.
Despite Ward’s initial dejection, the Rams dominance continued throughout the first 20 minutes, as Bryson was denied a simple tap in by Marvin Elliott’s last ditch heroics, whilst Conor Sammon’s cut-back was turned onto the outside of the post by Paul Coutts.
The visitor’s repost came in the form of Cole Skuse and Sam Baldock both dragging low shots wide of Frank Fielding’s post, however the duos’ efforts were fleeting attacking opportunities, as Derby remained in the ascendency for the majority of the half.
And Derby’s supremacy was rewarded in the 36th minute when Hendrick’s instinctive half-volley from 20-yards bounced into the turf, over the extended arm of Heaton in the Robins’ goal.
Before the half-time whistle was blown the Rams had an opportunity to extend their slender lead when Craig Forsyth’s dipping cross was inches away from finding the despairing lunge of Chris Martin.
Although Sean O’Driscoll’s side have the undesirable tag of the ‘worst away record’ in the Football League, the former Doncaster Rovers boss has evidently instilled organisation and desire within the camp, that had prior to this evening’s game, garnered 17 points from a possible 36 since his appointment.
In the second-half, City’s inevitable response culminated in tame efforts from Baldock and Paul Anderson, prior to Kieron Freeman’s crunching tackle on the latter that instigated a swift counter-attacking move.
The breakaway, led by Hendrick ended in Ward firing underneath the body of Heaton in the 54th minute, with the congratulatory celebrations shared between Ward and Freeman - for his role in the move.
The Rams had opportunities to make their lead unassailable in the final 25 minutes, but Bryson’s low drive was cleared off the line by former Ram Lewin Nytanga, before Sammon turned Martin’s low cross over from close-range.
Another ex-Ram, Steven Davies almost halved the deficit when his header from six-yards forced Fielding into a superb reflex stop, but the effort had an adverse effect on the visitors, as Ben Davies sealed the points in the final seconds when his low cross took a final deflection off the unfortunate Maloney.
Derby County: Fielding; Freeman, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Coutts, Hendrick, Bryson, Ward (Davies 69); Sammon, Martin.
Subs not used: Legzdins, Gjokaj, Doyle, Bennett, Jacobs, Hoganson.
Bristol City: Heaton; Moloney, Nyatanga, Fontaine, Cunningham (Pearson 79), Anderson, Kilkenny, Skuse, Elliott (Adomah 66), Baldock, Davies.
Subs not used: Gerken, J. Wilson, Bates, Howard, Kelly.
Attendance: 23,483 (visiting 839)