Derby County ended their League Cup hoodoo at Oldham Athletic this evening as Michael Jacobs’ 20th minute strike sealed the Rams’ path into the second round of the Capital One Cup.
Like the proverbial ‘monster under the bed’, Derby faced their League Cup tie head on and came out on top with a professional, hardworking display at Boundary Park.
At their previous four attempts, Derby bowed out of the competition at the first round stage, with Rotherham United, Crewe Alexandra, Shrewsbury Town and Scunthorpe United all having successfully negotiated their way past the Rams.
But Tuesday night’s billing at Oldham bucked the trend, as Jacobs converted Conor Sammon pull-back inside 20 minutes to seal the victory over the League One outfit.
Despite only being appointed Latics manager in March earlier this year, it was clear from the opening exchanges between the two sides that Lee Johnson has implemented his style and an identity onto the side.
Players played between the lines, with Jose Baxter roaming freely in particular, as the former Everton forward frequently dropped into the ‘quarter-back’ position to construct Oldham attacks from inside his own half.
Baxter’s early influence on the game led to former West Ham striker Cristian Montano bundling an effort over from 12-yards inside the opening five minutes, prior to Jonson Clarke- Harris turning Connor Brown’s right-wing cut-back over the crossbar, in what was a bright and confident start from the hosts.
However, the Rams settled following the home side’s two early opportunities, and almost took the lead in the eleventh minute when Jacobs soared above the Lactics’ defence to head Paul Coutts’ corner over.
But nine minutes later, from a similar position, the former Northampton Town winger proved clinical. John Eustace’s long ball forward released Sammon down the left and the Irishman’s subsequent cut-back was turned into the net by the onrushing Jacobs.
A patient build-up from the visitors almost resulted in a second goal when midfielder Jeff Hendrick let fly from 25-yards and forced Mark Oxley into a fine reflex stop.
However, with half-time looming Oldham pressed higher up the pitch and had two opportunities to level before the interval, as James Dayton had a low drive deflect narrowly wide, prior to Montano wriggling free on the edge of the box and seeing his 20-yard shot beaten away by Lee Grant.
Adam Rooney tested Grant after just 46 seconds of the second half with a low shot, whilst the Rams had an early opportunity of their own when Coutts’ pinpoint cross picked out Ben Davies, who headed agonisingly wide.
As the half went on, Rams boss Nigel Clough adjusted his formation, withdrawing Jacobs from his role just off of Sammon and instead deployed him on the right, pushing Coutts into the middle which allowed the Rams to stem the flow of Oldham attacks from deep in their half.
The change in role did not affect the Rams’ attacking momentum, as central defender Jake Buxton towered high to nod Jacobs’ free-kick narrowly wide, before two contentious decisions denied Derby a second goal.
Firstly, Davies rounded goalkeeper Oxley before being brought to his knees by the shot-stopper, but despite the Rams’ appeals for a penalty, referee Robert Lewis waved away the Rams’ pleas.
Lewis was again in the thick of the action moments later when Sammon stormed forward and powered his way past James Tarkowski prior to rolling the ball coolly past Oxley, only for the referee to disallow the striker’s goal, indicating the Ireland international had fouled the defender in the process.
Derby were almost left ruing Lewis’ decision in the 74th minute when the lively Montano raced clean through on goal and clipped the ball over Grant. But fortunately for the Rams, Craig Forsyth was well positioned to hook the ball off of the goal line.
Clough introduced Will Hughes and Chris Martin in the final quarter, and the latter came close to having an instant impact when his cross teed up Davies at the far post, but the midfielder, who looked certain to score, was thwarted by an impeccably timed block by Brown.
Despite pressure in the six minutes of time added on, Derby stood firm and even had a chance to put the tie beyond any doubt when Hughes squared for Coutts in a quick counter-attack, but the Scotsman was denied by a fine save from Oxley.
Derby County: Grant (GK); Smith, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Coutts, Hendrick, Eustace, Davies; Sammon (Martin 75), Jacobs (Hughes 72).
Subs not used: Legzdins (GK), Freeman, Russell, Bennett, Bryson.
Oldham Athletic: Oxley (GK), Brown, Grounds, Tarkowski, Smith, Rooney (Millar 67), Montano, Mellor, Clarke-Harris (Wesolowski 56), Dayton (Schmeltz 66), Baxter.
Subs not used: Simpson (GK), MacDonald, Byrne, Rodgers.
Attendance: 5,000 (876 visiting supporters).