Derby County made it six wins from six in the Sky Bet Championship, as a goal in each half from Jamie Ward and Craig Bryson sealed a 2-0 victory over Charlton Athletic.
The game at the Valley had an air of the Middlesbrough fixture about it, as Derby did not necessarily demonstrate the attacking panache or fluidity that has been on display in their recent victories, yet they remained organised and resilient to secure a hard fought victory.
Ward opened the scoring in the 32nd minute, when his 25-yard free-kick took a deflection of the Addicks’ wall and left goalkeeper Ben Alnwick bamboozled as the ball drifted into the net.
Midfielder Bryson wrapped up the three points with just 180 seconds remaining, when he latched onto Conor Sammon’s pass on the edge of the penalty area, before producing a confident dink over Alnwick – his ninth of the campaign.
Prior to kick-off, the Rams had not won on any of their last four visits to Charlton, with the last victory coming back in September 1998, where Paolo Wanchope and Francesco Baiano scored the Derby goals in a 2-1 win at the Valley.
However, Steve McClaren’s men went into this afternoon’s encounter having won their previous five Sky Bet Championship fixtures, with their latest scalp arriving at the iPro Stadium last weekend in a 5-1 demolition of Blackpool.
At the Valley, Jeff Hendrick was handed his first start in three months, replacing Will Hughes who missed out through illness, after the Republic of Ireland international returned from the ankle injury that he picked up in the Rams’ 3-0 victory over Yeovil back in August.
Despite the teams’ respective form going into the game, in the opening 10 minutes, it was the home side who dictated the tempo, as the Rams struggled to retain possession, perhaps adjusting to the absence of Hughes in the centre of the pitch.
Therefore, Derby had to remain diligent at the back as central defender Michael Morrison strode forward and shot straight at Lee Grant from 25-yards out, before Richard Keogh was forced to perform a terrific last ditch tackle on Yann Kermorgant as he edged towards goal.
However, Charlton did not have everything their own way, as Jake Buxton towered to meet a Ward free-kick that dropped narrowly wide, whilst Chris Martin arrowed a 20-yard effort towards the bottom corner that deflected past the far post.
But the next effort at goal that included a deflection proved hugely significant, as Ward, who scored in both matches between the teams last season, continued his fine run against the Addicks, as he sent a 25-yard free-kick off of the wall and past a wrong-footed Ben Alnwick.
Although Grant comfortably held a Kermorgant shot moments later, the Rams began to control proceedings, with their confidence clearly boosted by Ward’s sixth of the campaign.
In the latter stages of the half, McClaren’s men had a foothold in midfield, with Hendrick and Bryson both having an increasing influence on the match, which included the Scotsman seeing his long-range, swerving drive clawed away by Alnwick.
In the second-half, Charlton started brightly as Dale Stephens' low volley rolled inches wide of Grant’s far post, before the midfielder had another opportunity in the 60th minute in the penalty area, but he could not quite get the ball out of his feet.
At the other end, Derby’s first real effort of the half almost proved lethal. Martin and Ward linked up superbly down the right, prior to the former Norwich City forward pulling the ball back to the Northern Ireland international, only for Ward to rattle the crossbar with a crisp strike in what was a sumptuous flowing move.
Chris Powell introduced Simon Church and Callum Harriott shortly after the hour mark to try and ignite the Addicks in the final third, although it was the combination of Kermorgant and Morrison that almost drew Charlton level. Former Cambridge United defender Morrison rose above Craig Forsyth at the far post, connecting with the Frenchman’s pinpoint cross, but headed inches wide of goal, as the Rams breathed a sigh of relief.
Pressure continued to mount on the Rams as the game entered the final quarter, with Grant reacting superbly to deny Church’s low shot in the final 10 minutes.
But in an attempt to stifle the pressure, McClaren brought on Conor Sammon, with the forward instructed to press high up the pitch. And the Irishman’s presence engineered Derby’s decisive second goal, as his pressure on the Charlton back-line led to a mistake, leaving Sammon to square to the onrushing Bryson, who lifted the ball over the onrushing Alnwick to seal the points.
Derby County: Grant (GK), Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth, Eustace, Hendrick, Bryson, Ward (Keane 88'), Martin (Sammon 85’), Dawkins (Russell 74’).
Subs not used: Legzdins (GK), Bennett, Cisse, Davies.
Charlton Athletic: Alnwick (GK), Wilson (Sordell 85’), Wiggins, Morrison, Dervite; Cousins, Stephens, Pritchard (Church 65’), Stewart, Green (Harriott 65), Kermorgant.
Subs not used: Pope (GK), Evina, Wood, Solly.