A goal in each half saw Derby County cap off a strong performance with a 2-0 victory over Walsall at the Banks’s Stadium.

Darren Bent broke the deadlock 10 minutes before the interval, before Tom Ince doubled the advantage following a fine defence splitting pass from Jeff Hendrick.

The midfielder, alongside Cyrus Christie, Richard Keogh and Chris Baird, got his first minutes under his belt since returning to the Rams following a successful Euro 2016 this summer.

More encouragingly for Nigel Pearson, the Derby Manager, he saw his players produce a strong display against a Walsall side that were play-off semi-finalists in the third tier last season as his squad cranked up their preparations ahead of the 2016/17 campaign.

From the off, Derby were looking to make an impression on Pearson and quickly established control of the ball.

Tom Ince had an early opportunity after he had been slipped through on goal, but his scooped effort over Neil Etheridge was hacked clear by Joe Edwards.

By the ninth minute, Bent had directed a header from a inswinging header wide and Nick Blackman also drove a low effort into the arms of Etheridge.

The encouraging start was matched by the hard work put in across the squad to win the ball back quickly and as high up the pitch as they could, limiting their League 1 opposition very limited time on the ball to impose themselves.

Teething issues started to arise for the visitors after their bright start fizzled out, with a more direct style of play featuring more prominently as Derby looked to get in behind the Walsall backline.

Jon Whitney’s Saddlers side also enjoyed better spells on the ball as a consequence with Erhun Oztumer registering their first shot on target, although it proved to be a comfortable save for Lee Grant.

As a contest, the game seemed to have reached an impasse, but with 10 minutes of the half remaining, Bent struck – tucking in a low finish from Ince’s teasing low cross from just inside the area.

Bradley Johnson and Ince both saw further attempts blocked by Walsall defenders and Blackman sent another effort over the crossbar and had another saved as Pearson’s men ended the first 45 minutes in a similar manner to which they had started it.

Showing four changes for the return in the second half, the Rams picked up where they left off as they looked to get an early goal.

Ince fizzed an effort wide, before Will Hughes, one of the substitutes, played an inch-perfect deft cross on to the head of Bent, but the forward could only direct the ball agonisingly over the crossbar.

After Maz Kouhyar, a Walsall substitute, had a hit a shot straight at Grant, Derby made a further four changes with one making an almost immediate impact.

A star at this summer’s European Championships, Hendrick picked up possession, slipped past his nearest marker in the middle of the park and played a defence splitting pass into the feet of Ince. Composed, the wideman took a touch to set himself before bending a shot beyond Etheridge.

That’s it how the meeting ended as the final whistle brought the curtain down on a day full of positives for Pearson ahead of the new season.

Walsall: Etheridge, Edwards, Cockerill-Mollett, O’Connor, McCarthy, Dobson, Chambers, Oztumer, Morris, Jackson, Moussa

Substitutes: MacGillivray, Shorrock, Kinsella, Preston, Bakayoko, Sangha, Roberts, Kouhyar, Osbourne

Derby County: Grant, Baird (Christie, 46), Pearce, Shackell (Keogh, 61), Forsyth (Olsson, 61), Blackman (Hughes, 46), Bryson (C) (Hendrick, 61), Johnson (Butterfield, 46), Russell (Weimann, 46), Bent (Martin, 61), Ince (Lowe, 76)

Substitutes not used: Mitchell

Attendance: 2,933 (1,398 Derby supporters)

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