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Derby County kicked off their 2022/23 Sky Bet League One campaign with a 1-0 win against Oxford United at Pride Park Stadium.

Conor Hourihane marked his debut with the only goal of the game with only 10 minutes remaining, superbly finding the bottom corner to hand interim boss Liam Rosenior his first three points of the campaign.

Oxford United did have the better of the first half chances, with Billy Bodin going close to opening the scoring in the opening 10 minutes, and Rams’ goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith had to be alert to deny James Henry from close range.

Whilst it was goalless at half time, Derby did kick on in the second half and almost scored the first goal of the David Clowes era on the hour mark as James Collins was denied on the line by Cameron Brannagan.

But, with ten minutes remaining, the Rams made their pressure count as Hourihane showed all of his experience to caress into the bottom corner from 18 yards to secure all three points for the Rams on a historic day in the club’s history.

Major Moment

Before we discuss the game’s major moments, it’s important to recognise the significance of today’s game. The incidents of last season, off the pitch, have been well publicised. Docked 21 points for entering administration and for historical breaches of profitability and sustainability rules, the Rams suffered relegation to League One for the first time in 36 years. It was heartbreaking.

But, that wasn’t the full picture. A togetherness was created, a bond formed, but with the club’s existence in doubt over the summer, many wasn’t sure what the future held for this very proud football club. Up stepped David Clowes, a local businessman and a die-hard supporter. He could not let the club simply cease to exist.

Friday 1st July 2022 marked a huge moment in the club’s history as Clowes Development (Ltd) completed their purchase of the football club and took it out of administration. Within a month, the stadium has enjoyed some long-overdue TLC, season ticket have been snapped up and a squad has been assembled.

The optimism is high, the excitement is back and the fans are dreaming once again. So, when summing up a major moment of the game, 3pm was just that. A chance to rejoice, catch up with familiar faces and enjoy the company of the Derby County community, because it was so nearly taken away. And my word, what an atmosphere it was.

Fans were in fine voice, with more than 31,000 packed into Pride Park Stadium to get their first glimpse of the new-look Rams. And as the referee blew his first whistle, a new era at Derby County commenced. A major moment in the club’s history.

On the pitch, Derby did start the game brightly, but it was the visitors who enjoyed the better first half chances as Billy Bodin, Matty Taylor and James Henry all troubled the Rams defence, but it was goalless at the break.

It was a scrappy start to the second half as three players were booked but the game soon kicked to life on the hour mark as Derby almost took the lead. It was a good move, too.

Jason Knight played the ball over the top for Nathaniel Mendez-Laing to race on to, he picked out a cross to Barkhuizen who was rising at the back post. The ball was partially cleared to James Collins on the edge of the box who volleyed goalwards but it was superbly cleared off the line by Oxford’s Cameron Brannagan.

Derby were pushing for the opening goal, and whilst it looked to elude them all afternoon, there was one moment of magic with 10 minutes remaining which secured all three points for the Rams. Substitute Louie Sibley showed great vision to pick out new recruit Conor Hourihane on the edge of the box and the midfielder showed all his experience by picking out the bottom corner to ensure the Rams registered their first three points of the season at Pride Park Stadium.

Who Impressed?

As with any first game of the season, there is a lot of anticipation and excitement, as well as a few nerves. There is a bedding in process, too. Eleven new faces have arrived through the door at Pride Park Stadium, and seven of those started against Oxford United on the opening day of the Sky Bet League One campaign.

But, in the early stages of the game, it was a player who had risen through the youth ranks at Moor Farm which stood out both for his attacking and defensive impact. Jason Knight, playing in an uncharacteristic right-back position, had an impact in both boxes, making himself available for attacks but not neglecting his defensive duties.

He remained his energetic self as he saw a shot blocked in the opening five minutes, whilst at the other end he had to be alert as Oxford United’s Matty Taylor was played through on goal but the Irishman did just enough to put the striker off as he shot wide.

However, as the first half wore on, it was the visitors who dominated for large parts. New Derby County number one Joe Wildsmith was called into action as he denied James Henry from close range, whilst Eiran Cashin blocked a shot from Taylor.

Another new recruit Nathaniel Mendez-Laing was proving a dangerous prospect on the right-hand side as his pace and power almost created the opening goal, notably before half time as he was denied by U’s goalkeeper Simon Eastwood from close range.

Louie Sibley’s introduction on the hour mark was a big moment in the game. He was a constant nuisance and provided the spark which Derby needed in the second half. And his involvement in Derby’s only goal of the game will give him the confidence boost he needs.

The Rams’ number 17 picked up the ball in the 80th minute on the right-hand side. He had options around him, but chose to play the ball across to Conor Hourihane who was lurking on the edge of the box, and the midfielder made no mistake from 18-yards to put Derby ahead and get the David Clowes era off to the best possible start.

Derby County: Wildsmith, Hourihane, Cashin, Barkhuizen, Bird, Collins, Mendez-Laing (Thompson 86’), Smith (Sibley 60’), Roberts, Davies (C), Knight.

Substitutes: Loach, Forsyth, Stearman, Stretton, Oduroh.

Oxford United: Eastwood, Long, Findlay, Moore, Bodin (Murphy 73’), Brannagan, Taylor, Browne, Henry (Rodriguez 73’), McGuane, Seddon (Brown 90+’).

Substitutes: Stevens, Golding, Goodrham, O’Donkor.

Attendance: 31,053 (3,147 visiting supporters)

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