Rams sunk by Jeffers' first-half double.Derby County Under-21s’ bid for the Professional Development League 2 North title took a setback this afternoon, as the Rams failed to recover from Shaun Jeffers’ quickfire first-half double at Pride Park.
The forward initially struck against the run of play in the 31st minute as Will Roberts’ hanging cross got the better of goalkeeper Saul Deeney, and Jeffers was well positioned to head the ball into the unguarded net.
The Rams had been in complete control of the game prior to Jeffers’ opener, and the goal stunned the hosts, whose misery was compounded three minutes later when Adam Barton’s mishit volley fell kindly to Jeffers inside the penalty area. The forward turned away from the advances of two defenders before volleying beyond the reach of Deeney from eight-yards out.
Michael Jacobs injected a dose of confidence and belief into the side late on when he won and dispatched a spot-kick in the 80th minute, but the winger’s effort proved too little too late for the Rams.
The game had been brought forwards from 8th April to be played behind-closed-doors at Pride Park, due to health and safety reasons.
The Rams were originally due to play Coventry away this afternoon, but owing to heavy snow in the West Midlands and both clubs wishing to play a game this week, the match dates had been swapped and Derby will now head to Coventry early next month.
Experienced defender Gareth Roberts was set to return to match action this afternoon after missing the Rams’ 2-1 victory over Leicester City prior to the international break. However, the left-back withdrew from proceedings before kick-off with the same complaint, meaning Andy Dales was called up from the substitutes’ bench into the line-up.
The Rams threatened in the early stages particularly through the lively Charles Vernam. The Academy striker was allowed time to cut in from the right before teeing Sam Smith on the edge of the box, whose subsequent deft lob dropped the wrong side of the crossbar.
Derby's defence was rarely exposed in the opening half-an-hour, mainly thanks to timely interceptions from the returning James O’Connor, whilst Valentin Gjokaj had to remain strong and astute to hold off the advances of Roberts as he entered the penalty area in one of Coventry’s fleeting attacking moves.
Derby’s Dales and Michael Hoganson both had 20-yard efforts clawed away by visiting goalkeeper Chris Dunn, prior to Jeffers’ two minute salvo that left the Rams rocked.
Former Northampton Town shot-stopper Dunn was on hand to deny Gjokaj five minutes before the interval, as the Albanian Under-21 international eased away from his marker to send Ben Davies’ cross goalwards.
The opening stages of the second period failed to take shape as neither side could gain the ascendancy; interchanging both chances and possession fitfully.
However, when the first opportunity of the second 45 arose, it fell to Jeffers, who spurned the chance of a hat-trick when he poked the ball away from Jamie Hanson following a slip from the defender, and fired wide from 20-yards.
In a bid to salvage something from the game, Derby reverted to a 3-4-3 formation, with Jacobs moving into attack alongside Conor Doyle and Vernam.
And the winger’s trickery in a more advanced central position led to the Rams’ repost, as the midfielder jinked into the area before being hauled down by Sky Blues defender Joe Henderson.
The Northampton Town Academy graduate duly rifled the subsequent spot-kick into the bottom right-hand corner, beyond the reach of former teammate Dunn, who guessed the right way.
Despite a spirited rally from the Rams in the closing stages, that included Dales’ right-wing cross clipping the top of the crossbar in the final three minutes, Lee Carsley's side held on to dent Derby's title ambitions.
Derby County: Deeney; O’Connor, Gjokaj, Hanson, Hoganson; Dales, Smith (Wixted 57), Davies, Jacobs; Doyle, Vernam.
Subs not used: Morch, Lelan, Dawkins.