CHRIS MARTIN'S 100th career goal gave Derby County a priceless victory over fellow promotion rivals Ipswich Town at Portman Road.
The Rams’ top scorer latched on to a long ball forward to flick the ball beyond Bartosz Bialkowski as the Rams demonstrated their strengths at both ends of the field to record their fourth straight victory.
The result ensured that Steve McClaren’s side moved above their rivals into the Sky Bet Championship automatic promotion positions as they also kept their fourth consecutive clean sheet.
In a feisty opening affair, Ipswich carved out the first opening with an angled ball into the box from the right.
The ball cut through Derby’s backline leaving Jay Tabb, who had come inside from the left, the chance for a free shot on goal.
The 30-year-old controlled well, but shot straight at Lee Grant, who stood tall to beat the effort away, before Cyrus Christie blocked Daryl Murphy’s follow up.
Bar a rare break forward, McClaren’s side were being penned into their own half, seemingly content to soak up the pressure as Tyrone Mings, marauding forward from full back, saw a fierce effort blocked from the edge of the area.
On 14 minutes, the Tractor Boys moved the ball quickly on the right and after David McGoldrick collected a header, the forward switched inside on to his left foot before curling an effort over the top of Grant’s crossbar.
At the other end, after patient build up from the Rams, a teasing cross from Jordon Ibe came to Jeff Hendrick who miscued his shot, but the ball cannoned off a defender into the path of Christie who smashed a first time effort over the bar, though it seemingly took a deflection off his nearest challenger.
Derby were starting to knock on the Ipswich door and after Tommy Smith hauled down Johnny Russell on the edge of the area, the Scottish forward picked the ball up himself and curled the ball narrowly wide of Bartosz Bialkowski’s near post.
As the first half approached its halfway mark, McGoldrick had another long-range effort, after waltzing inside from the left this time, deflected for a corner, but Derby held the home side at arms length.
There only other chance to come inside the 18-yard area came from Murphy after Derby failed to deal with a deep free kick with five minutes remaining of the half.
A launched ball forward fell to the feet of the Tractor Boys’ top scorer on the left hand side of the box, but he smashed a high effort well over the top of Grant’s bar.
With time ticking down, Hendrick seized on a loose ball halfway inside the opposition half and drove into the Ipswich penalty area.
The 22-year-old pulled the ball back into the feet of Russell, who cut across the ball, but saw his effort blocked by Christophe Berra for a throw in on the far side.
Mick McCarthy’s side started the second 45 minutes the better as Teddy Bishop forced Grant into another save, whilst the referee, Kevin Wright, waved away two separate penalty appeals in the opening seven minutes of the second period.
Martin headed over from a precise Christie cross from the right, but a minute later and from all their precise pretty passing play, it was a long ball that gave Derby the breakthrough.
Starting with Grant, he played the ball out to Christie who smashed a hopeful ball forward which was not dealt with by Berra and Martin nipped in front of the defender to flick the long punt into the back of the net.
Ipswich looked for immediate response but Grant denied Murphy who sent a header in the six-yard box into the midriff of the ‘keeper, before Hughes sent a fierce shot goalbound that was, awkwardly, dealt with by Bialkowski.
The Rams began to profit from mistakes that were starting to come into Ipswich’s play, much to the disappointment of the home fans, as the visitors continued to create the better openings.
Russell weaved his way in from the right once and curled an effort into the arms of the Ipswich ‘keeper, before the contest entered a period of two sides trying out battle each other in the middle of the park.
It meant the chances came at a premium, but the Rams, tough across the back four and midfield, were in no mood to squander their hard earned lead.
Six minutes of added time were shown and the Rams were made to see it out with John Eustace who was shown a second yellow card for a late foul just inside his own half.
Desperate Derby defending led to Kevin Bru forcing Grant into another fine save as Ipswich piled on the late pressure, before Noel Hunt headed wide from two yards out.
The Rams, though, survived the onslaught to record, potentially, their most important victory of the season as they moved back into the automatic promotion positions.
Ipswich Town: Bialkowski, Mings, Chambers, Smith, Berra, Murphy, McGoldrick, Anderson (N Hunt, 67), Tabb (S Hunt, 53), Hyam, Bishop (Bru, 72)
Substitutes not used: Gerken, Parr, Ambrose, Bajner
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth; Eustace, Hendrick (Bryson, 82), Hughes; Russell (Shotton, 90), Ibe (Dawkins, 86), Martin
Substitutes not used: Roos, Ward, Mascarell, Bent
Attendance: 20, 861 (873 away fans)