Derby County Under-23s ended a run of three straight defeats in a 2-1 victory over Leeds United at York Football Club, booking their place in the next round of the Premier League Cup in the process.
Goals from Jahmal Hector-Ingram and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy were enough to secure the cup double over Leeds and leapfrog the side ahead of Wolverhampton Wanderers at the top of Group H.
Under fire from a lively Leeds crowd at York FC stadium, Derby started much the better of the two sides. Hepburn-Murphy opened his legs in the opening three minutes before whipping an excellent cross to the back post that was met by the oncoming Josh Shonibare whose attempt flew just over the bar.
Derby’s immense pressure, though, proved dividends after just 15 minutes of action. Shonibare was again at the heart of the action as the winger was unfairly bundled over in the area as he looked to press towards goal. Hector-Ingram – who missed a penalty in the side’s most recent defeat to Blackburn Rovers – regained his composure to give the Rams a deserved lead.
The intensity of the game was personified by Festy Ebosele’s late challenge on Liam McCarron; the Derby defender incensed the hosts’ dugout but looked to give Derby a timely boost... not soon after, they doubled their lead.
The double-barrel named duo of Hector-Ingram and new boy Hepburn-Murphy combined brilliantly in Derby’s second. The under-23s top scorer this season turned provider, powering a driven cross towards the back post. The Aston Villa loanee arrived and made no mistake with his header to score his first in the black and white of Derby.
After a good spell in possession, the hosts returned fire not long before half time. Joe Stanley’s bursting run down the right started a counterattack that ended with Theo Hudson sliding the ball in from a tight angle at Matt Yates’ far post.
Though, the halftime whistle didn’t come before Derby had one more glorious chance in front of goal. It was Shonibare once again who had the chance to restore the two-goal cushion for Derby. His neat footwork and pace created space for a shot that looked to be heading in but for a goal-line clearance from Pascal Struijk.
Derby were made to work for the victory in the end and work the did. Yates was forced to endure heavy pressure but didn’t fall short in the Derby goal. However, it was defender Jordan Brown who made the best save of the match. His clearance midway through the half shut the doors on what otherwise looked to be a sure equaliser for Leeds.
Derby withstood a lot of pressure but crated chances of their own. Their best in the second 45 fell to captain Ethan Wassall. The defender rose highest to meet an Alex Babos corner but saw his glancing header get denied by a wonderful acrobatic save from the opposition shot stopper.
In the end, Derby’s defence remained resilient to earn a hard-fought victory over a bolstered Leeds United side that include the likes of Barry Douglas and Kalvin Phillips.
Derby County team: Matt Yates, Festy Ebosele, Archie Brown, Liam Thompson, Ethan Wassall(c), Jordan Brown, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy, Cameron Cresswell, Jahmal Hector-Ingram, Alex Babos, Josh Shonibare.
Subs: Bradley Foster, Ethan Sephton, Eiran Cashin, Jaden Charles, Tyree Wilson.
Words by Joseph Lightfoot