Wayne Rooney’s late strike earned all three points for Derby County in a 1-0 victory over Norwich City at Carrow Road.
It was the first win of the season for Phillip Cocu’s side who defended relentlessly for 90 minutes and finally got their goal three minutes from time through a stunning free-kick from the edge of the box after a tremendous run from Jason Knight.
There were five changes ahead of the game following the 4-0 defeat to Blackburn in the previous week with Graeme Shinnie, Duane Holmes, Matt Clarke, Curtis Davies and George Evans entering the starting line-up putting a greater focus on the defence looking for the first clean-sheet of the season.
A disciplined and water-tight defence was what Derby needed against a strong Norwich side and that is what they produced in the opening 45 minutes.
However, is was tested early on with the fluidity of the Canaries side already on show within the opening seven minutes.
Emi Buendia slid the ball behind the line to Teemu Pukki who delivered a pinpoint low cross to a Onel Hernandez to run onto at the far post. Nathan Byrne read the move brilliantly and slid with a last-ditch attempt and stripped the ball away from the forward’s feet.
That was the Canaries last real opportunity in the half, due to the strong presence of Curtis Davies and the relentless work of Evans and Byrne on the right side of the defence.
While the work was being done defensively, chances were difficult to come by down the other end. The best chance came midway through the half through a brilliant team move.
It started with Evans and Byrne winning the ball back deep in the Rams’ half. From there, Shinnie slid the ball to Rooney quickly and cleverly found Holmes down the right flank.
The midfielder drove forward and sent a perfectly weighted cross to Rooney who just slightly mistimed the left-footed volley to go wide to miss what would have been a spectacular opening goal.
Seven minutes into the second half, and the Canaries had the perfect opportunity to undo all of the Rams’ hard defensive work. Evans blocked the shot of Hernandez after a threatening move by the home side, by the shot struck the defenders arms and the referee pointed to the penalty spot.
Pukki, a proven goal-machine in the Championship stepped up to the spot. As he connected with the ball, the striker slipped on the wet grass and sent the penalty high over the cross bar.
Morgan Whittaker came into the game just after the hour mark and made a quick impact driving forward and winning the Rams’ first corner of the game.
Ten minutes later, he then had the visitors’ best chance of the game so far. Byrne fed out to the wingers, who burst through two markers and kept on his feet to drive to the edge of the box.
Rooney stayed close next to him for a lay-off, but the youngster opted to shoot himself from just outside the area. A stunning strike caught the wind and headed to the corner but was denied by a diving save from Tim Krul.
With just over ten minutes to play, it was the Derby keeper’s turn to pull out a save and it was a superb one at that. Mario Vrancic delivered a cross to Max Aarons at the far post and with plenty of space he looked to make a lethal blow. Instinctively, Marshall batted the ball high and over the crossbar.
Tremendous work by Jason Knight in the closing minutes set up the winning goal for the Rams. The young midfielder broke down the middle of the park with a strong and intelligent run before he was brought down on the edge of the box by Lukas Rupp to win a free-kick.
Rooney stepped up and a lovely strike curled beautifully into the top corner.
The Rams weren’t quite out of danger however, moments later Marshall was called in for another fine save when he clawed away an effort by Jordan Hugill.
Norwich City: Krul, Aarons, Zimmermann (C), Rupp, Quintilla, Buendia (Hugill, 84), Stiepermann (Vrancic, 69), Skipp, Pukki, Hernandez (Idah, 57), Gibson
Unused Subs: McGovern, Hanley, McLean, Tettey
Derby County: Marshall, Shinnie, Jozwiak (Bird, 80), Byrne, Clarke, Evans, Holmes (Whittaker, 63), Buchanan, Rooney (C) (Marriott, 88), Davies, Knight
Unused Subs: Roos, Forsyth, te Wierik, Hector-Ingram