Derby County defeated Sky Bet League 2 outfit Burton Albion 1-0 in their penultimate pre-season friendly in the lead-up to the 2014/15 season on Tuesday evening.
Republic of Ireland international midfielder Jeff Hendrick scored the only goal of the game just before the interval at the Pirelli Stadium, heading home from close range after Johnny Russell’s free-kick had hit the woodwork.
Hendrick and Russell both hit the frame of the goal in a lively second half as Derby continued their preparations for the new season with a deserved victory.
Derby Head Coach Steve McClaren named a strong starting line-up for the game across the A38, although he was without a handful of players due to injury.
Zak Whitbread (back), Simon Dawkins and Paul Coutts (both hip-flexor) and Mark O’Brien (ankle) all sidelined, as well as long-term injury victims George Thorne and Shaun Barker (knee).
Burton, like Derby, will kick-off the new season next month looking to recover from a Play-Off Final defeat at Wembley in May and former Rams defender Gary Rowett named six summer signings in his Brewers’ squad.
The opening exchanges proved to be largely uneventful in terms of chances, with neither side able to carve out a clear opportunity inside the opening 20 minutes.
Derby, opting for a different formation than the regular 4-3-3 line-up, started with a midfield diamond of John Eustace, Craig Bryson, Hendrick and Jamie Ward early on.
The Rams, in their new third kit, saw plenty of the ball early on, but were limited to shots from distance as twice Scotland international Bryson had attempts blocked from 20 yards.
Likewise, Lucas Akins twice tried his luck from outside the box but on both occasions Lee Grant, making his second pre-season start in goal, easily gathered the ball at his near post.
Derby had a good opportunity to open the scoring on 38 minutes after Ward got away down the left to deliver a fine cross towards Russell, but the Scotsman headed wide at the near post.
Two minutes before the interval, Derby managed to break the deadlock. Russell hit a superb 25 yard free-kick that smashed against the woodwork and back into play, leaving Hendrick with the task of heading the rebound into the unguarded goal.
Will Hughes replaced Eustace in a straight swap in midfield at half-time, but it was Hendrick who continued to catch the eye with a lively display.
The Dublin-born Academy graduate was denied a second goal four minutes into the second half as he drove into the box and got a shot away, but a deflection saw the ball hit the post and Burton hacked the rebound clear.
The woodwork took another battering on 54 minutes as Russell turned superbly in the box to unleash a ferocious left-foot drive that beat Jon McLaughlin, but the ball thundered against the underside of the bar and away to safety.
After that early burst of pressure, Burton substitute Dominic Knowles fired a low effort towards goal from inside the box that Grant grasped hold of diving to his right just after the hour.
With just over 15 minutes to go McLaughlin made a fine save to Derby a second from Hughes’ powerful shot, after the England Under 21 international had weaved his way into the Brewers’ box.
Hendrick could have added to his and Derby’s tally late on with a rising shot from inside the box - while Russell also shot over the final minute - but in the end his first-half effort proved to be the difference between the two sides.
Burton, full of determination ahead of what they hope will be a third successive promotion challenge, provided another solid pre-season workout that will no doubt stand the side in good stead.
Derby will round off their preparations for the 2014/15 season at the iPro Stadium on Saturday, when Scottish giants Rangers visit the iPro Stadium.
Burton Albion: McLaughlin, Edwards, Cansdell-Sheriff, Mousinho (Kee 63), Taft, Sharps (Harness 73), Weir (Doyle 82), Beavon (Knowles 55), Akins (Slade 72), McGurk (MacDonald 63), Palmer.
Substitutes Not Used: Lyness.
Derby County: Grant, Christie, Buxton, Keogh, Forsyth, Eustace (Hughes 46), Bryson, Hendrick, Russell, Ward, Martin.
Substitutes Not Used: L Naylor, Roos, Bennett, Freeman, Hanson, Sammon, Rawson, Calero, Bunjaku.