Patience and discipline was in abundance at the Goldsands Stadium, as Derby County displayed real maturity to seal a hard fought 1-0 victory over AFC Bournemouth.
In a game of fine margins, Northern Ireland international Jamie Ward’s clinical finish past Lee Camp in the 61st minute proved the winning goal, as the Rams clinched their fifth away League success of the 2013/14 campaign.
The most recent meeting on this ground between the two sides prior to this afternoon’s game was a 1-1 draw in the old Third Division in January 1986, when Harry Redknapp was at the helm of the Cherries.
The match at the Goldsands Stadium was the first action for the two sides following the 14 day international break, and the opening half-an-hour proved a tightly contested tactical battle.
The Rams lined up with Chris Martin in attack supported by Simon Dawkins and Ward, whilst the Cherries had Tokelo Rantie and Brett Pittman as forwards, with Lewis Grabban and Marc Pugh supplying width.
Despite both Grabban and Pugh posing a threat down the flanks, it was central midfielder Eunan O’Kane who had the first sight of goal, when he bustled past Craig Bryson and John Eustace into the penalty area, but was thwarted by Richard Keogh as he attempted to pick out one of his team-mates.
However, Derby remained poised for the counter attack with either Dawkins or Ward remaining an outlet during the Cherries’ forays forward, and the duo linked up well before the former fired over from 25-yards after eight minutes.
Moments later, Ward collected a beautifully caressed pass from England Under-21 international Will Hughes down the right, but when he cut inside, his subsequent tame strike proved comfortable for former Derby County goalkeeper Camp.
Derby continued to retain possession in the visitors’ final third, which almost proved fruitful when Martin’s instinctive volley and Ward’s snap-shot either side of Rantie’s effort from a tight angle, came close to putting an end to the stalemate.
With half-time looming, both sides had a final attempt at goal, as firstly, Bournemouth’s Charlie Daniels curled a dangerous free-kick in from the right that Lee Grant attempted to punch clear. However, the shot-stopper was under heavy pressure, as the ball span off his clenched fists and headed towards goal, where a well-positioned Andre Wisdom hacked clear.
Then Dawkins swerved past two tackles on the edge of the penalty are prior to sending a vicious effort that fizzed narrowly over the crossbar via a slight deflection.
In the second half, other than an early Grabban cross that Pittman swept wide, it was Derby that appeared most intimidating in attack, as they remained patient in the Bournemouth half, looking to pounce on any potential mistake.
And that breakthrough eventually arrived in the 61st minute when Craig Forsyth delivered a perfectly weighted cross from the left that dropped into the path of Ward. The onrushing forward calmly stroked the ball goalwards, and the shot had just enough power to creep into the net despite Camp’s best efforts.
Just two minutes later Derby almost added a second when Camp failed to get a clean connection on Ward’s corner. The ball fell kindly to Hughes, who went for precision as he attempted to curl it into the top corner, but it floated harmlessly over.
Cherries boss Eddie Howe introduced Matt Richie and Ryan Fraser to try and change the momentum of the game, although it was midfielder O’Kane who came closest to levelling the match, when he directed a powerful header wide from the edge of the penalty box.
Bournemouth continued in their search of an equaliser as former Birmingham City loanee Wes Thomas cut the ball back to the far post where Fraser was lurking, only for the winger to nod wide of goal.
However, Derby provided another warning of their counter attacking prowess late on as the returning Johnny Russell burst forward and rode the challenges of the Cherries’ defenders before releasing fellow substitute Mason Bennett. The Academy graduate took a touch prior to firing towards goal, where a brave Camp stood his ground to deny the 17-year-old.
Bennett had another late effort well saved by Camp as Derby looked to determined to add to their tally and secure the points, but the slim one goal advantage proved enough – a result the moves the Rams up to seventh in the division, one point off of a play-off place.
Unfortunately, the game ended on a sour note as following a collision in the Rams' penalty area, former Brighton and Hove Albion defender Steve Cook required extensive treatment before being stretchered off.
Derby County: Grant (GK); Wisdom, Buxton, Keogh, Forsyth, Eustace, Hughes, Bryson, Ward (Russell 79’), Martin (Sammon 88’), Dawkins (Bennett 74’).
Subs not used: Morch (GK), Smith, Davies, Ball.
Bournemouth: Camp (GK), Francis, Cook, Elphick, Daniels, Grabban, O'Kane, MacDonald, Pugh (Fraser 63’), Rantie (Ritchie 64’), Pitman (Thomas 74’).
Subs not used: Flahavan (GK), Addison, Harte, Surman.
Attendance: 10,720 (1,391 visiting supporters).