Ben Davies was the matchwinner as Derby County’s Under 21s ran out 3-2 winners over Leicester City’s Under 21s in an entertaining encounter at Pride Park Stadium on Bank Holiday Monday.
The Rams dominated the first half and deservedly led at the interval courtesy of skipper Valentin Gjokaj’s (pictured above) header from a Michael Jacobs cross, but a quickfire brace from Michael Cain in the first five minutes of the second half saw the visitors turn the game on its head.
But Derby battled back and were on level terms again when USA Under-23 international Conor Doyle was played in on goal by strike partner Theo Robinson with 18 minutes remaining to rifle home, before Davies struck from inside the box with seven minutes to play.
After kicking off their U21 Professional Development League 2 – North campaign on the road with a 2-2 draw at Leeds United last week, the Under 21s now have four points to their name from two matches this season.
Midfield pair Davies and James Bailey, as well as goalkeeper Adam Legzdins and striker Robinson’s, inclusions meant Derby fielded four players over the age of 21, which is the maximum allowed in the newly-formed competition.
Derby started positively and were ahead inside six minutes when Jacobs’s deadly left-wing free-kick was glanced home by captain Gjokaj from six yards out into the roof of Adam Smith’s net.
It could have been 2-0 soon afterwards as another set-piece put the visitors on the back foot, but Stefan Galinski headed over the crossbar from a Jacobs corner.
Robinson, who came off the bench to score for the first-team at Wolves 48 hours earlier, was denied by Adam Smith in the visitors' goal soon afterwards with a stinging strike from 20 yards. The frontman also turned and shot neatly from Kieron Freeman’s right wing cross, but he was unable to find the target as Derby dominated the first period.
Doyle dragged a shot wide and Jacobs was denied by Smith from 20 yards as Derby remained on top, right the way through to the interval.
But straight after the turnaround, the Foxes were level. Legzdins did well to rush off his line to dive bravely at the feet of Jacob Blyth after a short back-pass by Bailey, but the loose ball fell to Cain in space and he drove home despite the attentions of Galinski on the line.
Within 120 seconds, the game was completely turned on its head as Leicester went in front. Right-back James Pearson chested down a cross from the left in the box and teed up Cain 20 yards out, who let fly with a thunderous volley which rocketed into the top corner past the helpless Legzdins.
Leicester were a transformed side by this stage, as Tom Kennedy drifted a free-kick over and sub Joe Dodoo saw a powerful strike tipped over by Legzdins.
Down the other end Robinson tried to fire Derby back onto level terms but his fierce strike from a narrow angle was parried by Smith, and soon afterwards Kane Richards curled over after a good run by Jacobs.
Watched by Nigel Clough and his coaching staff in the stands, the Rams showed a good recovery and were level with 18 minutes left when Doyle was played clear on goal by Robinson with a neat one-two. The American still had plenty to do, but showed great composure to drive the ball into the bottom corner.
Then, with seven minutes to go, Derby were back in front. A neat ball over the top by Jacobs found Robinson, who in turn picked out the midfield run of Davies to find the net with a first-time strike from 12 yards, via a deflection from a Leicester defender which helped loop the ball over the stranded Smith.
It proved to be the last noteworthy piece of action, as Derby held on to take all three points.
Next up for the Under 21s is an away game at Sheffield Wednesday, on Saturday 8th September at the Owls’ Middlewood Road Training Ground (11am).
Derby County: Legzdins, Freeman, Hoganson, Bailey (Dawkins 85), Gjokaj, Galinski, Richards (Thomas 87), Davies, Robinson, Doyle, Jacobs.
Subs Not Used: Sharpe, Dales, Berry.
Leicester City: A Smith, Pearson, Taft, Jones, Bolger (Paratore 52), Sesay, Cain, Kennedy (Dodoo 52), Blyth, Hopper, Panayiotou.
Subs Not Used: S Smith, Brennan, Maduako.