A brace from Ravel Morrison secured Derby County a 2-0 victory over Barnsley at Pride Park Stadium and was enough to lift them above their opponents into 22nd place in the Sky Bet Championship table.
The midfielder scored his first and his second league goals for the Rams on what turned out to be a comfortable afternoon on home soil to cut the gap to five points on Reading with ten games remaining.
And it was two clinical strikes from Morrison which secured all three points for Derby in a dominant display.
His first came midway through the first half as he lifted the ball over Barnsley goalkeeper Brad Collins to put Derby ahead, whilst two minutes into the second half, he doubled the Rams’ tally, confidently firing home from close range to earn the points.
Manager Wayne Rooney made two changes as he welcomed back his skipper Tom Lawrence and handed a debut to Academy prospect Malcolm Ebiowei.
And he looked sharp from the off as the Rams took the game to Barnsley who sat a place above Rooney’s side in the table prior to kick off.
Luke Plange should have done better when he was presented with a golden opportunity to give Derby the lead on eight minutes.
A free kick from Tom Lawrence was deflected into the path of the forward inside the penalty area but he dragged his effort wide with time to pick his spot.
But, that was a sign of things to come as Derby controlled proceedings, allowing the Tykes little time on the ball.
Ebiowei showed some neat touches on the right and was unphased on his senior bow, as he delivered a cross which was attacked by Morrison at the back post but the visitors just managed to clear the danger.
Midway through the half, Derby had their reward for a dominant start as they took a deserved lead. And it was a lovely goal, too.
It started with the skipper Lawrence whose driven ball was dummied by Morrison on the edge of the box to Plange. The forward laid the ball back to the advancing midfielder and he nonchalantly chipped goalkeeper Collins to score.
It was Morrison’s first league goal for Derby but they were almost pegged back immediately as Barnsley had an opportunity to equalise straight away.
And it was good work from Tykes forward Carlton Morris to create the chance. He controlled a long pass, took the ball beyond Eiran Cashin and raced into the penalty area, but Rams goalkeeper Ryan Allsop stood up to the challenge and denied the striker from close range.
It was a let off for Derby, but they almost did double their lead just after the half hour mark as Morrison was allowed time and space to shoot from 25 yards, but his effort skimmed the crossbar on the way over.
But, the midfielder would have his second of the game just after the half time interval as he doubled Derby’s lead.
The move started with the 29-year-old as he spread the ball for Lawrence who drove into the box. His thunderous strike rebounded off the crossbar but it fell for Morrison inside the penalty area and he made no mistake, despite the ball sitting up awkwardly, as he extended Derby’s lead.
And it was almost three on the hour mark as debutant Ebiowei capitalised on a loose ball and aimed for the far corner but the ball just went the wrong side of the post.
Derby still had to be wary at the other end as Barnsley won a free kick on the edge of the area, however, Allsop was equal to Morris’ set piece as he tipped over the top.
Rooney would turn to his bench as Academy trio Lee Buchanan, Jason Knight and Liam Thompson were introduced, and the Rams would remain in control, despite chances drying up.
Barnsley’s Amine Bassi went the closest for the visitors to pulling a goal back as he curled a free kick wide from 25 yards, whilst in the dying minutes of the game, he fired wide of Allsop’s post.
Derby managed to see the game out confidently and professionally and moved to within five points of Reading in the Sky Bet Championship with ten games remaining.
Derby County: Allsop, Byrne, Bielik (Thompson 79’), Bird, Lawrence (C), Morrison (Knight 79’), Ebiowei (Buchanan 64’), Davies, Ebosele, Cashin, Plange.
Substitutes: Roos, Kazim-Richards, Stearman, Sibley.
Barnsley: Collins, Styles, Anderson (C), Brittain (Kitching 84’), Morris, Gomes (Oduor 70’), Vita, Bassi, Quina, Helik, Wolfe (Benson 60’).
Substitutes: Walton, Palmer, Halme, Cole.
Attendance: 25,891 (1,604 visiting supporters)