Chris Wood’s goal right on the cusp of half time proved to be enough as Derby County were edged out by a strong and in-form Leeds United at Elland Road.
The New Zealand international forward bagged his 17th goal of the season by powering a corner into the back of the net to settle a meeting in which the Rams had largely been second best.
The latter stages in Yorkshire also saw Bradley Johnson shown a second yellow card and a resulting red on his old stomping ground to add salt to the wound from Steve McClaren’s perspective.
The Rams boss had kept faith with the exact same starting line-up that were superb the previous week in toppling Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion in their own backyard, but after an even start, Garry Monk’s side quickly established a foot hold under a raucous atmosphere.
The outstanding Pablo Hernández was a constant menace to the Rams’ backline and after McClaren’s men dealt with a series of early crosses into the area, the hosts began to create more threatening openings.
In the 19th minute, Soleymane Doukara came close to giving his side the lead after his audacious effort from 25 yards out was sent narrowly wide of Scott Carson’s right post, whilst Liam Bridcutt drew an athletic save from Scott Carson three minutes later.
Two further opportunities came Leeds’ way in quick succession after that – one a golden opportunity from Kyle Bartley, who looked to make a nuisance of himself inside the Rams’ box from set plays, but he passed up the chance from close range.
On the half-an-hour mark, however, Derby did look to peg the hosts back against the run of play and they very nearly did so through Tom Ince after he found space to break into the box. To the wideman’s dismay, the only person quicker than Ince was Leeds’ ‘keeper Robert Green who slid out to put the ball into touch for a corner.
The brief period of Derby being on top also saw Johnson attempt an optimistic attempt from 20 yards out, however, he was unable to find the target.
Derby’s attacking spell did not phase Leeds, though, and before long, the action returned to the other end of the pitch, forcing the Rams’ robust defence to maintain their concentration.
They appeared to have done enough to get themselves back into the away dressing room on level terms, but on the stroke of half-time, it was the hosts who did finally break the deadlock as Wood guided home a superb corner kick delivery from Hernandez.
Following the interval, two Rams substitutions in the shape of Will Hughes for Julian de sart and Matěj Vydra for Abdoul Camara saw the game turned on its head for 10 minutes and a quick start from the visiting side did see Darren Bent have the ball in the back of the net after chasing down Green, but the goalkeeper’s kick cannoned off the forward’s raised arms – resulting in the effort being chalked off.
Just before the hour mark, though, Leeds did attempt to extend their lead against the run of play and it was via Doukara who sent his shot narrowly wide from close-range and after Vydra had passed up a swift break away opportunity, the Whites controlled the remainder of the contest.
They also looked the more likely to add to the scoreline. Berardi particularly went close after chancing his arm from long range producing following a half-cleared corner.
Another standout player, Ronaldo Vieira, later forced a fine save from Carson, but any hope of a way back in the game for Derby were ended when Johnson was given his marching orders for a foul close to the left touchline.
Leeds United: Green, Coyle, Ayling, Bartley, Berardi, Bridcutt, Vieira, Hernandez (Mowatt, 87), Roofe (Dallas, 79), Doukara, Wood
Substitutes not used: Silvestri, Denton, O’Kane, Phillips, Antonsson
Derby County: Carson, Baird, Keogh (C), Shackell, Hanson, de Sart (Hughes, 45), Bryson, Johnson, Ince, Camara (Vydra, 45), Bent (Nugent, 68)
Substitutes not used: Mitchell, Russell, Pearce, Weimann