Derby County’s Under 21 side got their 2014/15 campaign underway in the U21 Premier League Division 2 with a 2-1 home win against Middlesbrough at the iPro Stadium on Friday evening.
After achieving Category One Academy status in the summer, the game was Derby’s debut in the top flight of Under 21 football.
A first-minute penalty from Alefe Santos set Derby on their way and a goal just after the half hour mark from Kwame Thomas had Lee Glover’s side in complete control at the break.
However, Middlesbrough managed to find a way back into the game and Charlie Wyke set up a tense finish when he pulled a goal back on 74 minutes, but the Rams held on to start their campaign in winning fashion.
Summer recruits Santos, Alban Bunjaku and Ivan Calero were named in the starting line-up, alongside German trialist Tom Koblenz, while another close-season signing, Shaquille McDonald, was named on the bench.
Derby made a flying start as Spaniard Calero, who had been in impressive form for the Under 21s during their pre-season campaign, was brought down inside the box after just 26 seconds by Boro defender David Atkinson.
Referee Simon Barrow had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, and Santos, who signed from Bristol Rovers in July, kept his cool from 12 yards out to fire the ball the bottom right-hand corner of Connor Ripley’s goal.
The Rams’ impressive start continued as Calero had a shot saved by Ripley from inside the box after good work by first Tom Naylor to win the ball in midfield, and then Kwame Thomas to pick out the Spaniard’s burst in behind the Middlesbrough defence.
Thomas fired an effort straight at Ripley from distance while Calero dragged a shot wide when he should really have hit the target, from Bunjaku’s pass, as Derby applied heavy pressure on the visitors’ goal.
A shot from distance by Andrew Halliday just before the quarter-hour mark was Boro’s first serious attempt on goal, but Kelle Roos, diving to his left, comfortably denied the left-sided midfielder an equaliser after Derby cheaply gave away possession.
Derby’s second goal arrived on 33 minutes, with Calero once again the architect. He received the ball in the area and spotted the unmarked Thomas at the far post with a fine chipped cross, who made no mistake from a few yards out to fire the ball into the back of the net.
It was nothing more than the Rams deserved for their positive approach to the game but they had some defending to do in the latter stages of the half, with Roos pulling off a good save to push Bryn Morris’ shot from distance over the bar for a corner.
The second half began with Calero having a shot from around 25 yards out palmed away by Ripley as Derby continued to press for more goals, although clear-cut chances were somewhat harder to come by in the second half.
Dutchman Roos had to be at his best to make a fine reaction save on 65 minutes, as he managed to block Morris’ stinging effort from just inside the box before Rawson managed to hack the rebound clear.
The visitors did manage to half the deficit with 16 minutes remaining as Wyke tapped home at the far post after finding himself totally unmarked following a left-wing delivery across the six-yard box.
That ensured a nervy conclusion to the game from Derby’s perspective as Middlesbrough chased an equaliser, although a third goal could have arrived at the other end seven minutes from time when Calero tried his luck with a shot from distance which clipped the top of the crossbar and bounced over.
Middlesbrough pushed forwards late on and forced Derby into defensive action, but Glover's side held on to start their campaign on a winning note.
Derby County Under 21s: Roos; Hendrie (Guy 78), Rawson, Hanson, Lowe; Naylor, Koblenz, Bunjaku; Calero, Santos, Thomas.
Substitutes Not Used: Cover, Morch, Vernam, McDonald.
Middlesbrough Under 21s: Ripley, Bennett, Burgess, Burn, A Halliday, Atkinson (Jones 65), Morris, Kitching, Wyke, Cooke, B Halliday (Warnett 83).
Substitutes Not Used: Weloji, Coddington, Tinkler.