Derby County took a big step towards securing automatic promotion from Sky Bet League One with a hard-fought 1-0 victory at Cambridge United on Saturday.

Forward Mendez-Laing, on his 100th appearance in Derby colours, marked the occasion with a composed finish late in the first half for the only goal of the game.

Head Coach Paul Warne’s side now just need a point from their final game of the 2023/24 season at home to Carlisle United next Saturday to seal automatic promotion back to the Championship.

The win on the road was the Rams’ 13th this term, which is now a club record in league competition in a single season.

Key Moments

Warne elected to name an unchanged starting line-up from last weekend’s convincing 3-0 home win over Leyton Orient at Pride Park Stadium.

The only change in the matchday squad came on the bench with midfielder Max Bird returning to the fold after just over a month out with a calf injury and he replaced Tyrese Fornah as one of the seven substitute options.

In the Cambridgeshire sunshine and roared on by a 1,400 strong away following, Derby attacked towards the travelling Rams in the opening 45 minutes.

The opening stages brought very little in terms of chances at either end, although there was a scare for the hosts after 10 minutes from a Derby corner. Louie Sibley curled an inswinging delivery into the six-yard box and it was tipped onto the crossbar by goalkeeper Will Mannion before the ball was cleared.

Another Sibley corner two minutes later caused more danger for the home side but Derby were unable to create an opportunity as Cambridge defended resolutely to see off the spell of pressure.

Cambridge had a great chance to take the lead, with their first opportunity of the contest, after 14 minutes. Striker Macauley Bonne blasted an effort goalwards from around 12 yards after Derby failed to clear a cross from the right and a combination of goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith and defender Sonny Bradley saw the ball hacked away.

Derby responded with a chance of their own down the other end but Mendez-Laing’s low drive was easily saved by Mannion after being set up by striker James Collins. Midfielder Liam Thompson also had a chance a few minutes later as he had a shot blocked from inside the penalty area.

Mendez-Laing saw a deep cross almost dip into the net from the left as the half hour closed in with Mannion in the home goal having to be alert to move his feet quickly and tip the ball over the crossbar for a corner.

Jordan Cousins had a low strike saved by Wildsmith after a deep cross found him at the far post just after the 30-minute mark as Cambridge had another opportunity of their own.

Mendez-Laing came agonisingly close to opening the scoring a few minutes later. The Guatemala international curled a right-foot effort goalwards from 30 yards but he was unlucky to see his effort crash back off the bar and away to safety.

He didn’t have to wait long for his next opportunity, around a minute in fact, and he took it. A superb through-ball by Sibley sent Mendez-Laing clear on goal and he kept his composure to round the onrushing Mannion and roll the ball into the unguarded net for his tenth goal of the campaign and send the travelling Rams wild.

That was the last meaningful action of the first half with Derby a goal to the good at the turnaround and there were no changes for either outfit going into the second period.

Mendez-Laing had the Rams’ first opportunity of the second period as a cross by Sibley from the left picked him out at the far post. However, he was unable his first-team effort goalwards under pressure from a defender.

Cousins flashed a strike wide for Cambridge soon afterwards from distance as the hosts fired a warning they were still very much in the contest. They continued to test the Rams with several crosses into the box which ended with fine defensive blocks and clearances by the backline, which was a theme throughout the second period.

Bird replaced Thompson with just over 20 minutes remaining to provide a different characteristic to the side in the middle of the park while Tom Barkhuizen followed a few minutes in place of Kane Wilson, a move which saw Korey Smith switch to right wing-back.

Sibley had a chance to double the lead with 15 minutes remaining as he drove forward from wing-back and into the Cambridge box. He was, frustratingly, unable to produce real power in his strike and it was easily saved by Mannion.

Cambridge pushed forward in search of a leveller in the dying embers and flew balls forward but Derby stood tall, dug deep and found a way to win to claim a huge three points on their travels - and set a new club record in the process.

The Teams

Cambridge United: Mannion (GK), L Bennett (Brophy 63), Andrew, Digby (C) (Lankester 72), R Bennett, Ibsen-Rossi, Kachunga (Kaikai 80), Ahadme (Taylor 80), Cousins, Gibbons, Bonne.

Substitutes Not Used: Chadwick (GK), Okedina, May.

Derby County: Wildsmith (GK), Wilson (Barkhuizen 75), Bradley, Cashin, Collins, Mendez-Laing (C) (Waghorn 90), Smith, Thompson (Bird 69), Sibley, Adams, Nelson.

Substitutes Not Used: Vickers (GK), Hourihane, Washington, Blackett-Taylor.


7,649 (1,473 Derby County supporters).

What’s Next?

Derby will round off their 2023/24 League One games programme when they host Carlisle United, managed by former Rams player and coach Paul Simpson, at Pride Park Stadium on Saturday 27th April (12:30pm kick-off).