Derby County’s Under-23s claimed their first Premier League 2 - Division 1 victory of the 2017/18 campaign with a 2-0 victory against Sunderland at Pride Park Stadium on Friday evening.
George Thorne’s 31st minute strike from the edge of the box put Darren Wassall’s side ahead before substitute Offrande Zanzala rounded off a good night’s work with a clinical finish in added time.
Despite two decent performances in their opening two games of the season, against Arsenal and Chelsea, the Rams went into the game without a point to their name - but once again impressed under the floodlights and thoroughly deserved the victory to get their season up and running.
Thorne, who played 45 minutes against Chelsea last Friday after missing the whole of last season with a broken leg, got 76 minutes under his belt as he continues to edge towards a first-team return. The midfielder was joined in the Under-23s starting XI by fellow first-teamers Craig Forsyth and Mason Bennett who both got valuable game time under their belts.
A quick start from Wassall’s side saw two chances carved out within the first five minutes and set the tone for the evening.
Timi Max Elsnik first went close with an effort on the edge of the box and then Alex Babos created space inside the area with an inspired run, but he couldn’t find his footing to get a shot away.
Bennett looked increasingly dangerous in the lone striker role all evening and he almost helped gain his side the lead on 20 minutes after being played through by Elsnik. However, the outstretched leg of Mika in the Sunderland goal prevented the Rams from taking the lead.
Just over 10 minutes later, Thorne then opened Derby’s account for the evening with a well-hit right foot shot into the bottom corner. He took advantage of time and space on the edge of the box, latching onto Forsyth’s left-wing cross, to power the ball into the net.
That proved to be the final key moment of the first half, with the Rams looking comfortable and in control. The start of the second half pretty much followed in the same vein, with Derby enjoyingthe majority of play and keen to carve out further chances.
On the hour mark Kellan Gordon, who came off the bench for the first-team in midweek in the Carabao Cup First Round tie at Grimsby Town, almost made it two when he latched onto Forsyth’s deep cross at the far post – but he couldn’t direct his effort on target.
Emil Riis Jakobsen had the ball in the back of the net with 15 minutes left after he connected with Forsyth’s cross via his head inside the box, but a push on a defender to rise highest saw the goal ruled out.
There was a late scare in injury time after Rees Greenwood hit the post from outside the box for the visitors – and it proved to be a crucial moment as Derby went up the other end to round off the scoring moments later.
Zanzala, who had looked lively after coming off the bench, kept his cool to curl a low effort low into the net from 18 yards out to rubber-stamp the Rams’ first victory of the campaign. It was a sweet moment for the forward, who was able to enjoy the feeling of putting the ball into the back of the net once again after missing all of last season with a long-term knee injury.
Next up for the Under-23s is a trip to Swansea City on Monday 11th September.
Derby County U23s: Barnes, Stabana, Forsyth, Thorne (Bateman, 76), Wassall, Cover, Gordon, Elsnik, Bennett (Thomas, 72), Jakobsen (Zanzala, 79), Babos
Substitutes not used: Ravas, Karic
Sunderland U23s: Domingues, Robson (Gamble, 88), Hume, Rodwell, Taylor, Molyneux, Robson (Greenwood, 80), Nelson, Embleton, Diamond (Bale, 63)
Substitutes not used: Talbot, Allan
It’s hard to look past George Thorne’s goal on 31 minutes for this one.
It was a huge moment as it marked Thorne’s first game back at Pride Park Stadium since the end of the 2015/16 campaign when he sustained a broken leg against Ipswich Town- and it was huge for the Under-23s as it set them on their way to recording their first three points of the season.
Thanks to his impressive display, particularly during the first half, Mason Bennett starred in attack.
Fast on the break and embarking on daring runs, Bennett was a constant threat at the brunt of Derby’s forward line and caused Sunderland’s back four a number of headaches throughout the night.
With their first Premier League 2 - Division 1 win on the board, Darren Wassall’s side now have to wait until the Monday 11th September for their next taste of competitive action.
Entering the first international break of the 2017/18 campaign, the Rams will have plenty of time on the training ground to get set for the meeting with the Swans.