Johnny Russell’s second half header proved enough as Derby County recorded their third straight victory with a 1-0 win at Charlton Athletic.
The in form Scottish wideman converted a corner at the far post to score his third goal in two games, ensuring Darren Wassall’s side came out on top in a hard fought encounter at The Valley.
The three points, coupled with other results across the division, saw the Rams strengthen their hold on the play-off positions, extending the gap over seventh placed Cardiff City to nine points with just four games remaining, meaning they could confirm their top six spot when they travel to face Bristol City on Tuesday night.
After strong displays in their home encounters with Hull City and Bolton Wanderers, Derby certainly did not have everything their own way in the Capital.
Back on home soil and needing a win to keep their survival aspirations alive, Charlton began vibrantly in south London with academy product Callum Harriott at the heart of all their attacking play down the right.
The 22-year-old, following a swift counter attack, registered the first shot of the contest, firing into the arms of Scott Carson after cutting inside on to his left foot.
Displaying a strong partnership with Chris Solly, the hosts’ Captain, Harriott saw a lot of the ball early on, but after a period of sparring, the hosts were indebted to two touches from their goalkeeper to ensure the contest remained goalless.
A quick interchange of passes initially freed Russell into the box and the Scottish wideman delivered a teasing centre towards Tom Ince at the far post. From a tight angle, he saw his effort saved by the legs of Nick Pope, before the goalkeeper recovered to tip over Chris Martin’s follow up on the half volley.
Later, Cyrus Christie, superbly and crucially, got across Johann Gudmundsson to prevent him a clean shot on goal from inside at the area and, at the other end, Russell flashed a first time effort wide of Pope’s far post after Ince had impressively picked out Chris Martin with a raking pass.
Shortly after the half hour mark, with Derby beginning to show their confidence and ability on the ball, George Thorne scuffed another opportunity wide from a corner, but with two minutes of the first half remaining, Riga’s side looked the more likely to make the breakthrough.
Harriott whistled a dangerous agonisingly wide of Carson’s upright, whilst Rod Fanni, the defender, glanced a header into the arms of Carson from Ademola Lookman’s set play shortly after the restart as the hosts built on their late momentum.
The post came to the Rams’ rescue soon after and Jorge Teixeira saw a headed goal chalked off for a foul at the far post – Derby were living on a knife edge, but responded on the hour mark to take the lead.
From that disallowed goal, the visitors moved through the gears to win a corner, from which Charlton’s creaky defence failed to recover as Russell headed beyond Pope at the back post to send the supporters behind the goal into pandemonium.
After weathering a short storm immediately after, Charlton regained control as they sought a way back into the contest.
Lookman saw a free kick tipped over for a corner by Carson, which led to Jordan Cousins driving a sweet first time effort narrowly wide of the post.
At the other end, with the game becoming more and more open, Ince had two chances to double the scoreline, the first rolling wide, before Pope grasped his second with 15 minutes remaining.
Riga signalled his intent to try and claim a point by introducing the towering forward Simon Makienok off the substitutes bench, but the Rams, strong in defence, looked the more likely to find the next goal.
After being denied a penalty, Martin volleyed over the crossbar from close range, but after Craig Bryson threw his body on the line to block Makienok’s strike from inside the area, Wassall’s men saw the contest out to claim another huge three points to further cement their position in the second tier’s top six.
Charlton Athletic: Pope; Solly (Motta, 78), Fox, Teixeira, Fanni; Gudmundsson, Cousins, Diarra (Makienok, 83), Harriott; Lookman (Bergdich, 89), Vetokele
Substitutes not used: Mitov, Lennon, Jackson, Suk-Young
Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh (C), Shackell, Hanson; Thorne, Bryson, Butterfield (Hughes, 70); Ince, Russell, Martin
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Buxton, Bent, Camara, Blackman, Weimann
Attendance: 15,857 (2,584 Derby supporters)Tweets by @ dcfcofficial