Jamie Ward announced his return to the starting line-up by scoring two goals and setting up another as Derby County edged a pulsating encounter against Blackburn Rovers 3-2 at Ewood Park.
The Rams got off to the worst start possible as Ben Marshall’s heavily deflected strike gave the host’s the lead in the opening minute, before Ward bagged his first goal seven minutes later.
Derby soon took control of the contest and Ward set up Hughes for a sublime curling effort, before Ward added Derby’s third after the interval.
Blackburn, though, cut the deficit to 3-2 late on through Rudy Gestede and Derby had to withstand heavy pressure at the end to secure their first victory at Ewood in thirteen years.
After a physically and mentally draining battle with Nottingham Forest on Sunday, Steve McClaren opted to make three changes to freshen his side up.
Jamie Ward returned from a hamstring injury in the place of Johnny Russell, whilst Zak Whitbread replaced the suspended Jake Buxton for his first league start of the season. Cyrus Christie was also restored at right back for Ryan Shotton.
Gary Bowyer, the Blackburn Rovers manager, opted to stick with exactly the same 18 that recovered to beat Wigan Athletic 3-1 at the weekend and his selection had repaid his faith by opening the scoring inside the first minute.
After Ward had been dispossessed in the middle of the field, Marshall darted at the Derby defence before unleashing a right-footed drive that took a heavy deflection off Richard Keogh and past Lee Grant.
The goal, though, only served to fire Derby into life as the visitors quickly took control of the game and soon equalised after seven minutes. After Simon Dawkins was found in the middle, the Jamaican international turned to slide a pass into the feet of Craig Bryson.
The Scottish midfielder miss hit his shot across goal, but only to the feet of the onrushing Ward who slammed the ball past Paul Robinson, the former England goalkeeper, for the equaliser.
Full of zest and attacking intent, Derby continued to pour forward at will. Dawkins, again involved, threaded a pass through to Bryson, who shot over the bar, before Chris Martin headed straight at Robinson from Christie’s cross.
The relentless start to the contest was sandwiched by a quieter sparring spell, in which Derby continued to boss the possession.
The only clear opening any team created was when Blackburn’s Alex Baptiste evaded one challenge to make his way into the Derby area, but his low cross failed to pick out any of his team mates for a simple tap in after 30 minutes.
On 37 minutes, though, Derby made their pressure count to take a 2-1 lead. Ward, influential from the right, waltzed through two challenges to find Hughes on the edge of the area in space and the 19-year-old, composed, curled a delightful effort beyond the outstretched Robinson and into the bottom corner.
Blackburn had the chance for an instant equaliser after John Eustace’s trailing leg brought down Marshall, and the Rovers goalscorer picked the ball up himself, but could only fire his effort over the bar.
Derby were in the mood for more and nearly made it three after neat play on the right carved the Blackburn defence open and Will Hughes, with his right foot, checked a ball back towards the penalty area, but Martin could only volley his side footed shot over.
With Bowyer’s half time words ringing in their areas, the home side nearly hit back four minutes after the interval.
Blackburn, after a prolonged spell of possession, found Gestede on the edge of the area and the striker hit a low shot towards the bottom corner of Grant’s far post, but the Rams’ keeper sprawled across his area to turn the shot round for a corner.
Despite their bright start to the second half, Derby added a deserved third three minutes before the hour mark. Ward robbed Craig Conway of possession on the right and made a direct run to the area, before curling an exquisite left footed effort through a crowd of bodies and into the bottom far corner.
Conway nearly atoned for his error only two minutes later with a driving effort as the game frantically picked up in pace once again, before Robinson denied Ward his hat trick from a tight angle.
After a host of substitutions, the game sprang to life and Blackburn began to control large spells of the game. First, Grant denied Blackburn captain, Grant Hanley, on the line before Rovers cut the deficit to 3-2 a minute later.
A long throw from the left landed at the feet of Gestede and after holding on to possession, poked a ball past Grant, before Tom Cairney nearly equalised straight from the kick off with a long range effort that was tipped over by Derby’s keeper.
Martin nearly restored the two-goal lead after picking up a pass from Jordan Ibe and checking past two defenders, but his effort was palmed away by Robinson, before Ibe, himself, crashed an effort into the side netting.
Cairney thrashed another effort narrowly wide on 84 minutes and Evans tried his luck with an overhead kick that was turned over the bar by Grant in a frantic end to the contest that required Omar Mascarell to head off the line in injury time as Derby held on to win for the first time at Ewood Park since December 2001.
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh (C), Whitbread, Forsyth, Eustace, Hughes (Mascarell, 81), Bryson, Ward (Russell, 72), Dawkins (Ibe, 72), Martin
Substitutes not used: Roos, Shotton, L Naylor, Thomas
Blackburn Rovers: Robinson, Baptiste, Hanley, Kilgallon (Varney, 88), Olsson, Marshall, Cairney, Evans (Duffy, 90), Conway (Tunnicliffe, 64), Rhodes, Gestede
Substitutes not used: King, Williamson, Taylor, Steele