Derby County Under-23s rose to the top of the Premier League 2 Division 1 heading into the New Year after a 4-2 victory over Southampton.
Young midfielder Louie Sibley netted another two times for the Under-23s, his first was the only goal of the opening half which saw ‘keeper Henrich Ravas make multiple brilliant saves to keep the Rams in the game.
In the second half, the Saints equalised twice, but both times Derby went straight back down the other end to regain the lead within minutes. The first through Morgan Whittaker and the second Sibley.
Substitute Josh Shonibare then scored his fourth goal in as many games with a wonderful fourth and final goal of the night. Derby now sit one point ahead of Chelsea in the table, although the Blues have one game in hand.
Sibley wasted no time in letting the Saints’ defence know what he was about and after just three minutes took his first shot, creating space on the edge of the box before firing just wide. Five minutes later he was back in a similar position and his fierce left-footed shot rattled off the cross bar.
Southampton, like they showed the week before, were dangerous on the attack throughout the half. Their first opportunity came moments before Sibley’s second chance when Will Ferry won the ball back in Derby’s half before crossing to Kazeem Olaigbe who’s shot was deflected wide.
Just after the ten-minute mark, another chance fell for the Rams after a brilliant one-two between Alex Babos and Whittaker, before the striker fired just wide of the far post from inside the area.
After 25 minutes, Ravas made a superb save to keep the game scoreless. Enzo Robise received the ball in the box and turned before quickly drilling his shot towards the bottom left corner. The Rams keeper read it brilliantly to make the important save to deny a Southampton side who were on the front-foot.
That save proved to be even more important as Derby took the lead ten minutes later and never looked back. Sibley received the ball from Whittaker by the half-way line and bolted forwards, shrugging off three defenders and leaving them in his wake before firing in from the edge of the box with his left foot.
Back-to-back saves by Ravas maintained the lead heading into the break denying Enzo Robise and Ferry from close range.
Southampton found their equaliser on the hour mark, when Max Bird’s attempted clearance in the box ricocheted off the bodies in the area and into the path of Robise and this time, there was nothing Ravas could do to stop the close-range strike.
It took less than a minute for the Rams to regain the lead through brilliant build-up play. Sibley’s initial shot was blocked and landed back to Bird. He found Whittaker then Alex Babos, who played Whittaker through on goal and he was calm and collected to fire past Jack Bycroft.
That lead was soon cancelled out again, however, as the Saints fought back. Jake Vokins crossed in from the left, and the ball brushed through Callum Minkley as he tried to clear it.
The Rams’ character shone through again just two minutes later and it was another brilliant assist by Babos. He found Sibley in the left of the box who rushed into meet the pass and his shot took a deflection to pop over the hands of Bycroft.
Shonibare put the icing on the cake in added time after receiving the ball from Whittaker with plenty of space. He picked out his spot from 25 yards out and sent a rocket hurtling towards the corner.
After a busy few weeks, that has seen them progress to the Premier League International Cup quarter-finals, rise to the top of the league and set them selves up well for the second half of group games in the Premier League Cup, the Under-23s will get some well-earned rest into the New Year.
They will return to action on Friday 3rd January to face Arsenal at Boreham Wood.
Derby County: Ravas, McDonald, Brown, Bird (C), Wassall, Minkley, Whittaker, Babos (Ebosele, 87),Hector-Ingram, Sibley, Mitchell-Lawson (Shonibare, 72)
Unused Subs: Barnes, Cresswell, Thompson
Southampton: Bycroft, Ramsay, Vokins, Slattery (C), O’Driscoll, Olufunwa, Olaigbe, Smallbone (Watts, 66), Robise(Hansen, 67), Defise, Ferry (Norton, 74)
Unused Subs: Ledgwidge, Scott