Derby County were left ruing their failure to convert a number of second-half opportunities at Pride Park, as a stubborn Leicester City side sealed a narrow 1-0 victory in this afternoon’s East Midlands derby.
A tightly fought fixture was settled by a single first-half goal when Jamie Vardy’s clever flick was hacked clear by Craig Forsyth, only for the ball to cannon off the back of the unfortunate Lee Grant and into the net.
Despite a spirited second half display from the Rams, that saw Chris Martin, Kieron Freeman and Will Hughes all go close to an elusive equaliser, the Foxes held on to secure their second Sky Bet victory of the new 2013/14 campaign.
Nigel Clough resisted the temptation to tinker with a winning formula, as the Rams boss stuck by the same starting line-up and substitutes that overcame last season’s play-off semi-finalists, Brighton and Hove Albion at the American Express Community Stadium last weekend.
Therefore, Clough implemented the 4-1-2-1-2 formation that proved so successful on the South Coast, with Paul Coutts and Jeff Hendrick harbouring the responsibility of the defensive role and Hughes granted the license to float in the space off of Martin and Johnny Russell.
It was a feisty, tightly contested opening in the East Midlands derby, with Jake Buxton going closest to a first goal for the Rams after two minutes when he towered to meet Coutts’ corner but could not quite get a clean connection on the ball as Ritchie De Laet cleared.
As expected in a derby encounter, both teams denied one another of time on the ball, meaning possession interchanged fleetingly at Pride Park, although Leicester did force two opportunities in quick succession shortly after the 20 minute mark through their attacking prowess of David Nugent, Chris Wood and Vardy.
Firstly, defender Richard Keogh was guilty of squandering possession on the edge of his own penalty area as his loose pass deflected kindly into the path of Vardy, who saw his low shot kept out by Grant at his near post.
60 seconds later Wood’s fizzed cross was met by a combination of Nugent and defender Freeman at the near post, which Grant appeared to superbly claw away from point blank range.
A spell of Derby possession followed, although the best chance the Rams could muster on the visitor’s goal was former Watford player Forsyth drilling low from a tight angle that Kasper Schmeichel palmed clear.
But with 35 minutes gone, the Rams were punished for failing to clear from a Foxes corner as Vardy’s neat flick at the far post took two deflections before Forsyth's clearance bounced off the back of Grant, prior to trickling into the net.
At half-time Derby County legend Gordon Guthrie was introduced to the Rams’ faithful following the announcement earlier this week that the club have renamed the South West Corner Stand the Gordon Guthrie Stand, as a tribute to Derby’s longest-serving member of staff.
Supporters rose in unison and gave the 82-year-old a heartfelt standing ovation as he entered the pitch, before the Rams got proceedings underway in the second-half with Hughes lashing a half-volley over after seven minutes of the restart.
However, despite Hughes’ effort, the Rams initially struggled to find a way through a solid Leicester side who forced Derby to mount attacks through the middle of the pitch which the Foxes dealt with astutely, crowding out the home side’s forays forward.
After that initial 15 minute period, the Rams, roared on by the Derby faithful created a hatful of opportunities with Keogh flashing a Coutts corner over, prior to Schmeichel somehow keeping out a combination of Bryson and Martin following Freeman’s devilish cross.
Clough introduced Jamie Ward in the 71st minute to try and ignite a comeback, and the former Sheffield United forward almost had an immediate impact when his 30-yard swerving shot was well held by Schmeichel.
England Under-21 international Hughes then fired narrowly wide at the near post in the 77th minute, before providing for Ward five minutes later, but the 27-year-old’s effort was blocked on its way to goal.
Derby continued to pile on the pressure in the final 10 minutes as Martin had a header and a curling strike frustratingly smothered by Schmeichel within a minute, whilst Keogh powerfully headed a Ward cross agonisingly wide in what was a frustrating end to the game for the home side.
Derby County: Grant (GK); Freeman, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Coutts (Ward 71’), Hendrick, Hughes, Bryson; Martin, Russell (Sammon 79’)
Subs not used: Legzdins (GK), Eustace, Smith, Davies, Jacobs.
Leicester City: Schmeichel (GK); De Laet, Morgan, Moore, Schlupp; James (Dyer 71’), King, Drinkwater; Vardy (waghorn 79’), Wood (Knockaert 79’), Nugent.
Subs not used: Logan (GK), Whitbread, Danns, Bakayogo.