Tom Ince’s strike five minutes before the break proved enough as Derby County edged Ipswich Town in a typically hard fought game at Portman Road.

Tom Ince’s strike five minutes before the break proved enough as Derby County edged Ipswich Town in a typically hard fought game at Portman Road.

The wideman bagged up his hat trick in midweek by converting a low effort beyond Dean Gerken in a game of few chances.

Daryl Murphy and Freddie Sears both had late opportunities, but could not breach Derby’s stubborn defence as Paul Clement’s side moved into the Sky Bet Championship’s automatic promotion places.

The hosts, unchanged for their fifth consecutive game, started on the front in East Anglia with their early ventures forward predominantly coming down Derby’s right side.

Lee Grant, however, was very rarely troubled as Derby held the Tractor Boys at arm’s length, restricting them to nothing inside the 19-yard box.

Freddie Sears’ ambitious strike from range, which was easily gathered by Grant at his near post, was the closest they came during the early stages before Clement’s side grew into the contest.

A flowing move led to Ince slipping a teasing ball across the box, but after not making the most of the pass, Derby remained patient and worked the ball back to the edge of the box where Bradley Johnson shot narrowly wide.

Chris Martin saw a shot superbly blocked by an Ipswich defender following a swift break away and Ince bent a free kick into the arms of Dean Gerken from 30 yards as the Rams began to impose themselves.

Shortly before the half hour mark Ince, out on the right, fired another effort over Gerken’s crossbar, whilst at the other end, a crucial block from George Thorne prevented Sears from testing Grant after being cleverly picked out by Brett Pitman.

With five minutes remaining, however, Ince broke the deadlock after racing on to a loose ball to be faced with an isolated defender, before composing himself and lashing a left footed effort beyond Gerken via the help of a slight deflection.

Like in the first 45 minutes, Ipswich started the second half following the interval on the front, penning the visitors deep inside their own half as they searched for an early equaliser.

Daryl Murphy looped a header over the bar from a left wing cross, but despite their rigorous pressing, they home side seldom tested Grant’s goal.

Ryan Fraser, the substitute, saw an effort from just inside the area blocked by Shackell for a corner, but for every cross and pass that came into the visitors’ penalty area, there was a Derby man to meet it.

With 10 minutes remaining, Murphy saw a header cleared off the line by a combination Grant and Cyrus Christie and Sears lashed a high effort wide of goal as Ipswich threw everything at the Rams.

Their efforts were in vain, though, as Derby held on to claim their fourth win in six games and move into the coveted automatic promotion positions.

Ipswich Town: Gerken, Chambers (C), Smith, Berra, Knudsen, Skuse, Maitland-Niles (Bru, 62), Douglas (Varney, 84), Sears, Murphy, Pitman (Fraser, 58)

Substitutes not used: Bialkowski, Malarczyk, Coke, Oar

Derby County: Grant, Christie, Keogh, Shackell, Warnock; Thorne, Butterfield (Hendrick, 83), Johnson; Ince (Baird, 90), Russell (Weimann, 79), Martin

Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Bent, Baird, Pearce, Shotton

Attendance: 20,161 (1,313 Derby supporters)

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