CHRIS MARTIN scored his 19th goal of the season as Derby County recorded their seventh victory in eight games with a 2-0 win at Cardiff City.
The Rams’ leading scorer recovered well to score on the cusp of half time with a well placed header after he missed a penalty in the opening 10 minutes of the encounter in the Welsh Capital.
Steve McClaren’s side, though, remained composed to take the lead after 23 minutes after a well worked move was finished off through Jamie Ward’s cross taking a heavy deflection off Scott Malone and into the back of the net.
The win was Derby’s first over the Bluebirds since 2004 as they kept firmly on the toes of AFC Bournemouth as the joint league leaders of the Sky Bet Championship.
McClaren, the Derby Head Coach, opted to name the same starting 11 that began their 2-0 midweek victory over Blackburn Rovers as his side went in search of their third victory in a week.
After an evenly contested start to the game, Derby were handed the perfect opportunity to make an early breakthrough after Martin was adjudged to have been hauled down in the area by Paul Tierney, the referee.
The striker stepped up himself, but his well struck effort was saved by Simon Moore low to his right, a crucial block that only served to inspire the home side and their raucous fans.
Every block, tackle and attack was followed by a roar of support as the Bluebirds camped themselves in the Derby half, though they seriously troubled the Rams’ backline or Grant.
Derby held out and took the lead after 23 minutes as a heavy deflection off Malone guided the ball into the back of the net.
From a throw on the right side, the ball was quickly, and efficiently, worked through the middle, before Jeff Hendrick, celebrating his 23rd birthday, slipped a pass to Ward in space on the right, whose cross was turned in by the unfortunate Malone.
A quieter period ensued with the home side being limited to long-range and half chances.
Alex Revell spun and hit a fierce effort straight at the midriff of Grant just after the half hour mark as Derby dealt with everything that was thrown at them for the remainder of the first 45 minutes.
The visitors would inflict a further blow to Cardiff just before half time as they claimed a goal on the cusp of the interval.
Like the opening goal, the build up play was of the highest quality as the ball was worked from left to right and Cyrus Christie, on as a substitute for the injured Jake Buxton, delivered an inch perfect cross to the back post for Martin to head past Moore.
The second half continued in the same vein with Steve McClaren’s side holding a firm grip on the contest – restricting the home side to limited opportunities to test Grant in the Rams’ goal.
It took 18 minutes into the second period for either side to carve out a meaningful chance, with the home side’s best opportunity of the game coming a minute after Russell Slade, the Cardiff Manager, introduced Kenwyne Jones.
After losing possession on the left, Craig Noone delivered a dangerous ball into the area, which Jones, the big striker, rose to meet and head towards goal, but Grant threw an arm at the ball to divert it for a corner.
The opportunities came thick and fast in a relentless five-minute spell as Mason Bennett, on for Simon Dawkins, was sent clear in the six-yard area by Will Hughes’ deft flick, but Moore came to the Bluebirds’ rescue to turn the ball behind for a corner.
At the other end, after a wasteful pass in the middle of the park, Jones held up the ball before cutting a pass back to Revell on the edge of the area, but the striker’s first time effort was excellently blocked by Richard Keogh and the ball ran through to Grant.
Revell saw another effort blocked, right of centre, with time ticking down, but the Rams had done enough and saw out the remainder of the contest to secure their seventh victory in eight games.
Cardiff City: Moore, Peltier, Malone, Morrison, Connolly, Whittingham, O’Keefe (Adeyemi, 80), Gunnarsson (Jones, 63), Noone, Harris (Fabio, 71), Revell
Substitutes not used: Manga, Macheda, Ralls, Wilson
Derby County: Grant, Shotton, Keogh, Buxton (Christie, 41), Forsyth; Mascarell, Hughes, Hendrick, Ward (Bryson, 77), Dawkins (Bennett, 58), Martin
Substitutes not used: Roos, Calero, Warnock, Bent