A goal in the closing moments of each half saw Derby record a 2-0 victory over Doncaster Rovers and take home all three points from the Keepmoat Stadium.
A top six finish had already been confirmed thanks to the day’s other results, but Derby were looking to consolidate third place and keep the possibility of automatic promotion alive.
A first half strike from George Thorne and a close range finish from Chris Martin were the difference between the two sides in this important Sky Bet Championship clash.
The opening period was a lacklustre affair in which Derby had more of the ball, while Rovers had the better opportunities; most notably two Christopher Brown headers from inside the area, which Derby ‘keeper Lee Grant did well to keep out.
However, the Rams worked diligently and were able to endure the pressure before a fantastic 45th minute goal from on-loan midfielder, Thorne, put the Rams in front against the run of play.
The West Brom loanee took control of the ball 30 yards from goal and smashed a low effort past Rovers’ keeper Sam Johnstone to notch his first goal for Derby and send his team into the dressing room a goal to the good.
The second half was a more even affair with both sides carving out good opportunities to score.
First, Craig Bryson was sent clear by scorer, Thorne, but Johnstone came out to narrow the angle and block the Scotsman’s low shot.
A free kick at the other end found Gabriel Tamas at the back post but his close range header was off target and former Derby forward Theo Robinson forced a good save from Grant in one-on-one situation.
But Derby decided the tie with around ten minutes to go, when Jamie Ward’s tantalising cross from the right was smashed home from close range by top-scorer Chris Martin to seal the win for the Rams.
Derby had a scare in the fourth minute when skipper, Richard Keogh, saw his back-pass almost roll past Grant who had to race to stop the ball crossing the line.
Doncaster threatened again minutes later when Patrick Bamford out to David Cotterill in the centre of the pitch and the Rovers midfielder bore down on goal before hitting a shot over the bar from just outside the area.
At the other end, Derby had their first chance to score when a Craig Forsyth cross was met by Chris Martin, who’s glancing took a deflection that Johnstone was able to tip it over.
Then, the home side had another great opportunity to break the deadlock when a good cross from Gabriel Tamas found centre forward Brown unmarked in the centre of area, but Grant made a great stop to palm his header over.
Five minutes later and an almost identical move found Brown in the box again, but this time his header was straight at Grant who saved easily.
Derby were able to soak up the pressure and with a minute of the first half to go, George Thorne collected the ball around 30 yards from goal and hit a hard, low shot past Johnstone to break the deadlock.
Both teams started the second half brightly, with the visitors creating the first significant chance when a great through ball from Thorne sent Craig Bryson clear on goal, but Johnstone raced out to meet him and got down well to block the midfielder’s shot.
Moments later, Derby defenders’ hearts were in their mouths when a powerful low cross-cum-shot from David Cotterill was almost turned in from close range by Billy Sharp, but the striker couldn’t react quickly enough to direct the ball goalwards.
And the Yorkshire side looked to equalise again on the hour mark when Buxton gave away a free kick on the right wing and Brown’s whipped cross to the back post found Tamas, who headed just wide.
In the 76th minute, former Rams’ striker Theo Robinson almost levelled for the home side just ten minutes after coming on, but Grant got out well to stop his point blank effort.
Derby then broke away and some neat build up passing around the edge of the Rovers’ box found substitute Jamie Ward in space on the edge of the area, but his right-footed effort was straight at Johnstone.
Minutes later, Ward caused problems again and Derby were able to double their lead when a great cross from the winger found Chris Martin in the six yard box who stretched out a foot to smash it high into Johnstone’s net for his 22nd of the season with ten minutes to go.
In stoppage time, with Doncaster looking for a way back into the game, Derby broke and Ward could have added a third, but his chipped effort bounced harmlessly wide.
Doncaster Rovers: Johnstone, Tamas, Quinn, Meite, Stevens, Keegan, Furman (Duffy 74), Coppinger, Cotterill, Brown (De Val 90), Sharp (Robinson 66).
Subs not used: Maxted, McCullogh, McCombe, Ferguson.
Derby County: Grant, Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth, Thorne, Bryson, Hughes (Hendrick 80), Bamford (Ward 50), Russell (Dawkins 60), Martin.
Subs not used: Legzdins, Eustace, Whitbread, Sammon.
Attendance: 11,405 (3,301 Derby County fans)