Derby County sealed their position in the end of season Sky Bet Championship play-offs after recovering from a goal down to defeat Bristol City 3-2 at Ashton Gate.
In-form wideman Johnny Russell netted his fourth goal in three games to break the deadlock in a tight first half before City roared back through Jonathan Kodjia and Bobby Reid to turn the game on its head.
With the words of Darren Wassall ringing in their ears, the Rams fought back themselves as Craig Bryson levelled matters, before Tom Ince superbly tucked away the third shortly before the hour.
The win is Derby’s fourth successive in the Sky Bet Championship, the first time they have achieved such a feat since the 2013/14 season.
That victory, combined with Cardiff City’s 2-1 defeat at Brentford, ensured the Rams confirmed their top six finish with three games of the campaign remaining.
Though that sounds all entertaining, the start of this meeting was a slow burner before it truly ignited 10 minutes before the half time break.
In a tense start, on loan attacking midfielder Lee Tomlin saw a shot inside the area well-blocked by a defender, whilst Jason Shackell had to be alert to stifle Kodjia’s strong run through the middle after he latched onto a wayward pass from Richard Keogh.
The Rams’ defence spent a large proportion of the first 10 minutes soaking up a heavy spell of early pressure from the Robins, who peppered the visitors’ penalty area with a number of crosses that came to no avail.
Resilience at the back soon turned into their own strong spell as Ince forced Richard O’Donnell into an awkward save with a snap shot, before the same man saw his follow up blocked by a recovering defender.
After that, however, an energetic start in BS3 disapparated as the contest hinged on nearly moments. Defensively, both sides were solid.
Operating in a different shape to which they did in the reverse of this fixture, Lee Johnson’s Robins looked a far better outfit, but like their meeting at the iPro Stadium, the evenly contest needed something to happen.
On 37 minutes, that moment came and it was Derby’s in-form Scot that delivered as he rose to meet a left wing cross from Shackell to plant a header beyond the scampering O’Donnell from close range.
What happened just 32 seconds later was the last reaction Derby needed as the momentum swung towards the hosts and Bristol City, consequently, hit back to equalise.
A wayward pass inside their own half was seized upon by Reid and the midfielder, composed, played a ball to the feet of the lively of Kodjia, who swung a powerful left foot at the ball that beat Scott Carson at his near post.
The hosts nearly took the lead immediately after. Kodjia, involved again, caused havoc in the Derby area and as George Thorne cleared a loose ball, it cannoned off Marcus Olsson and cracked Carson’s crossbar.
It proved only a temporary warning sign as Johnson’s men maintained their stranglehold of the contest to take the lead a minute before the interval as the provider for the first goal, Smith, collected possession from 25-yards out and cracked a firm effort into the bottom corner.
Wassall’s side needed to show a response in the second half and within 12 minutes, the game was once again turned on its head.
Derby returned from the interval and immediately laid siege on O’Donnell’s goal and levelled matters on 52 minutes as Bryson turned in Ince’s pinpoint cross with a side footed volley.
Ince got in on the act five minutes later to score, arguably, the contest’s goal of the game as he latched on to a sublime reverse pass by Martin, before burying a low cross shot into the far corner of O’Donnell’s goal.
On the hour, Shackell cracked the crossbar as the Rams pushed their opponents further and further back and Bryson saw another low shot saved by the Robins’ ‘keeper soon after.
The pendulum had swung and the Rams held total control from then to the full time whistle.
Martin could have added a fourth late on, but was thwarted by O’Donnell and Bryson fired well over the crossbar, but the damage was done as the Rams secured a hard-earned win to secure their place in the Championship’s play-offs.
Bristol City: O'Donnell, Matthews, Flint, Baker, Bryan, Pack, Smith, Reid (Odemwingie, 72), Freeman (Wagstaff, 72), Tomlin (Wilbraham, 86), Kodjia
Substitutes not used: O'Leary, Williams, Golbourne, Little
Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh (C), Shackell, Olsson; Thorne, Bryson, Butterfield; Ince, Russell (Weimann, 76), Martin
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Buxton, Bent, Hughes, Blackman, Elsnik
Attendance: 15,341 (1,027 Derby supporters)Tweets by @ dcfcofficial