Derby County produced arguably their best performance of the 2015/16 season to date as they swept aside play-off rivals Hull City with a 4-0 win at the iPro Stadium.
Bradley Johnson, restored to his usual midfield berth, scored twice in eight first half minutes to give Darren Wassall’s side a commanding half time lead, capping off a fine display over the first 45 minutes.
Moses Odubajo’s early second half red card added to the cushion, before the sublime Chris Martin lashed in his sixth goal in nine outings to make it three from the edge of the area.
There was still time for a fourth as Martin turned provider for Craig Bryson, who swept in his cross in added time to put the seal of approval on a fine night’s work for the Rams.
The victory was Derby’s fourth consecutive on home soil – as was the clean sheet – as they put a four-point gap between themselves and their nearest challenger, Cardiff City, for a play-off position.
Entertaining from the beginning, both Derby and Hull played at a high tempo at the iPro Stadium and whilst there was plenty of intent on show, neither goalkeeper was threatened inside the opening 10 minutes.
Enjoying a lot of freedom were the full backs on either flank, with Cyrus Christie, restored to the starting XI, sending two inviting balls into the area, whilst Hull’s Odubajo looked to utilise his own pace down the Rams’ left side.
The 22-year-old, after managing to cut inside and venture into the penalty area, poked the ball into the side netting to register the contest’s first effort on goal, before at the other end, Jason Shackell headed a Tom Ince corner well over the crossbar after Martin had chased down a loose ball.
That aside, it was all nearly moments for Wassall’s men, with the final ball in key positions often costing them an opportunity to test Allan McGregor and as the half ticked on, both sides were forced to resort to shots from range.
Sam Clucas sent an arrowing effort over Scott Carson’s crossbar, before George Thorne directed an ambitious volley wide of the far post.
Very little separated the two sides and, in a contest of such importance, the first goal was key and on 30 minutes, that big moment came to lift the roof off the iPro Stadium.
Bryson did the leg work for the build-up play as he took advantage of a defensive slip to steal possession and charge towards the area. With time, he sent a teasing centre across towards the back post which Martin could only crash into the post before Johnson slammed the loose ball into the roof of the net via McGregor.
The Rams had been given lift off and their play for the rest of the contest oozed class and confidence.
Ince, soon after, turned and hit a first time shot wide, before the hosts added a crucial second goal; with Johnson, again, applying the finishing touch.
Containing a number of neat interchanges and flicks, the Rams carved their play-off rivals with ease before Johnson, lurking, crashed home a pass into the centre.
Deservedly, Wassall’s men departed for half time to a standing ovation. After a nip and tuck start, the display, determination and quality the players had shown was up there with the best seen from this group of players throughout the 2015/16. This was what Derby are capable of.
Steve Bruce, the Hull Manager, signalled his early intent for the second half by introducing leading scorer Abel Hernandez in place of Andy Robertson, a defender.
He was, however, soon having to re-alter his thinking after the Tigers were reduced to ten men after Odubajo was shown a straight red card for a foul on Ince when he had been sent through on goal by Bryson’s fine pass.
From two free kick situations, Ince shot over and wide, before Christie lashed an attempt with his left foot over the bar from inside the area as Derby continued to dominate proceedings.
Credit to the visitors, they huffed and puffed for a way back into the contest, controlling larger spells of possession, but being a man down always left them vulnerable to being hit on the counter attack.
Clucas forced Carson into a superb save at his near post after the wideman had a caught a right wing cross sweetly on the volley and Christie, crucially, got a nick on another cross to deny Hernandez a free header.
The Rams, however, still remained a threat. Shackell saw a header well saved by McGregor after connecting with Ince’s free kick, but they did not have to wait much longer before the unplayable Martin added a third.
From a long punt up field, the forward controlled the ball and exchanged passes with Johnny Russell. With a yard of space, he picked his spot from the edge of the area and fired an unstoppable left foot drive into the bottom corner of the goal.
It was almost four from the kick-off as a defence splitting pass found Ince, whose attempted lob was thwarted before, Bryson’s follow up was beaten away by McGregor.
The diminutive Scot was not to be kept quiet for long, however, as Martin turned provider in added time to cross low for Bryson at the far post, who finished with aplomb to seal the club’s joint biggest home win of the season.
Derby County: Carson, Christie, Keogh (C), Shackell, Olsson (Butterfield, 81); Thorne, Bryson, Johnson (Hanson, 86); Ince, Russell (Weimann, 90), Martin
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Buxton, Bent, Blackman
Hull City: McGregor, Odubajo, Dawson, Davies, Robertson (Hernandez, 50), Huddlestone, Livermore, Snodgrass, Clucas, Diame (Elmohamady, 63), Aluko (Maloney, 70)
Substitutes not used: Meyler, Bruce, Jakupovic, Hayden
Attendance: 29,078 (1,227 Hull City supporters)Tweets by @ dcfcofficial