Johnny Russell came off the bench score the decisive goal as Derby County secured a hard-fought 1-0 win against Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion at Pride Park Stadium.
The Rams dominated the game but they had to wait until the 82nd minute for that to reflect on the scoreboard, as Russell fired home after Chris Martin’s original effort was kept out of Stephen Bywater.
The visitors lined up with a compact five-man defence and it was Derby’s task to break it down, with Marcus Olsson the first to register a shot after neat play from Martin and Joe Ledley, but the returning Swede could only find the side netting.
Martin was more than happy to try his luck from distance, and Bywater had to be alert to tip his effort over the crossbar as the game approached the midway point of the first half.
Derby should have been in front on 23 minutes, with more clever work finding Tom Lawrence inside the area, but nobody was there to convert his ball across goal.
The Wales international repeated the trick on the stroke of half-time with another teasing delivery, and Bywater had to be at his very best to save after Ben Turner made diverted the ball towards his own goal.
Andi Weimann looked most likely to break the deadlock at the start of the second half, first having a shot saved after a penetrative run, before his low cross was collected by Bywater.
Lawrence was drifting in-field and he was the next to fire at goal with a deflected effort that went wide, but Burton went down the other end just after the hour and Nigel Clough’s side were inches from taking the lead.
Turner rose highest from a corner and his header flew over Scott Carson, with Weimann on the line to save Derby from going behind.
Gary Rowett used all three of his substitutes to try and grab the three points, and the switches paid off as Derby went in front with just eight minutes left.
Martin’s strong effort was parried away by Bywater and when Burton failed to clear, Russell was on hand to drill Derby into a deserved lead.
Weimann had a chance to double the lead in stoppage time, but one goal was enough for Derby to seal the ideal response to the midweek defeat against Ipswich Town.
Derby County: Carson; Baird, Keogh, Davies, Olsson; Thorne (Johnson, 78’), Ledley; Weimann, Vydra (Russell, 63’), Lawrence (Winnall, 73’); Martin.
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Wisdom, Huddlestone, Nugent.
Burton Albion: Bywater; Brayford, Naylor, Buxton, Turner, Flanagan; Akins, Murphy, Palmer (Sbarra, 90’), Miller; Sordell (Varney, 85’).
Substitutes not used: Ripley, Fox, Barker, Warnock, Akpan.
Russell came on and impressed as Derby failed to break down Ipswich Town in midweek but this team he made a devastating impact.
Martin’s strike was well saved by Bywater but Burton couldn’t get the ball out of the area, and the winger was in the right place at the right time to fire his side to three vital points.
George Thorne started in the league for the first time since 7th May 2016 and he slotted straight into his holding midfield role.
Along with Joe Ledley, the midfielder kept Derby ticking with some slick passing, and he didn’t hesitate to break through the lines when the opportunity presented itself before being replaced in the second half.
Sam Winnall will return to his former club when the Rams travel to Oakwell to take on Barnsley next Saturday (9th December), before Steve Bruce brings his Aston Villa side to Pride Park the following weekend (16th December).
The last game before Christmas sees Derby face Millwall on Saturday 23rd December at Pride Park.