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Darren Bent’s second half penalty proved to be enough as Derby County recorded a 1-0 win at Port Vale as part of their Tuesday night double-header.
The 33-year-old struck a firm spot kick beyond the hands of Sam Hornby six minutes into the second 45 minutes as the Rams sealed a third pre-season win in four.
Tom Huddlestone made his first appearance since re-joining Derby last weekend from Hull City and played 66 minutes in an assured display in the holding midfield role, whilst nine of Gary Rowett’s players played the full 90 minutes at Vale Park.
Overall, the night was the step up the Rams boss would have wanted as his side continue to crank up their preparations for the 2017/18 Sky Bet Championship season.
Whilst this evening was earmarked as the step up the squad needed in terms of gaining more match minutes, it also served as a step up in quality.
The Valiants, initially, started quickly out of the blocks, attempting to put an experienced Derby back four, containing Andre Wisdom, Chris Baird, Curtis Davies and Marcus Olsson, under pressure, but they refused to buckle.
On the ball, the Rams’ general play was pretty good and was noticeably composed with Huddlestone dictating play and spreading the ball across the park at his will.
Derby had their chances to open the scoring over the first half too. Within the first 10 minutes, Craig Bryson shot narrowly wide early on and Timi Max Elsnik saw another effort blocked.
After Michael Tonge, a former Derby loanee, forced Scott Carson into his first save – a fine one at his near post with a firm drive from range – Johnny Russell should have opened the broken the deadlock.
Curtis Davies was the architect on this occasion – firstly spotting the Scot’s well-timed run and then playing a sublime 40-yard pass into his feet, but Russell side-footed his half volley from 12-yards out over Sam Hornby’s crossbar.
That type of raking pass was proving to be the visitors’ best attacking outlet.
Bent benefitted twice from them before half time, but wasted the first opportunity after breaking the offside trap and latching on to Huddlestone’s fine through ball, before Vale’s recovering backline prevented the 33-year-old a clear goalscorer opening shortly before the interval.
With no changes made by Rowett, the Rams returned for the second half and eventually opened the scoring after 51 minutes.
It came via the penalty spot after Russell was brought down by Neal Eardley and after a debate between the officials, Bent stepped up to smash his effort in, narrowly avoiding Hornby’s fingertips in the process, from 12-yards out.
It proved to be his last contribution as he hobbled off injured shortly after that and was replaced by the lively Offrande Zanzala.
After a host of changes, Port Vale responded strongly and should have levelled through one of their substitutions, Billy Reeves, who could only direct a low right-wing cross straight at the grateful Carson in the Derby goal.
Put under their sternest test of the night, the Rams’ backline held firm and refused to wilt as the visitors claimed another pre-season victory.
Port Vale: Hornby (Boot, 60), Wilson, Eardley (Yates, 76), Davis (Smith, 62), Gunning (Kelly, 76), Tonge (Reeves, 62), Harness (Calveley, 62), De Freitas (Pugh, 62), Pope (Pyke, 62), Turner, Montano (Barnett, 62)
Substitutes not used: Kay
Derby County: Carson, Wisdom, Baird, Davies, Olsson, Huddlestone (Stabana, 66), Bryson, Elsnik, Russell, Anya, Bent (Zanzala, 54)
Substitutes not used: Ravas, Wassall, Macdonald, Walker, Thomas, Bateman, Cover