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6th December – Stroll in Pride Park for Rams against Sami’s sickly Seagulls

Derby County               3       Brighton & Hove Albion         0

Chris Martin 10, 20

Johnny Russell 15

The last time these two teams played each other must have seemed a different world away for the thousand or so Seagulls fans that travelled north and roosted in the top of the south east corner.

The last time, of course, Sunday – 11th May 2014, tension in the air as the south coast team tried to overturn a 1-2 first leg deficit in an attempt to reach Wembley at our expense.

That game ended in a three goal win for the Rams, just as this game did, but the Seagulls look a shadow of that team of last year, denuded of manager and key players and, apparently, any confidence and verve they may have had. One win in sixteen games must do that to you though.

Three changes for the Rams from the disappointing loss at Leeds with Bucko-baur replacing injured skipper Richard Keogh and also taking over the armband while Craig Bryson & Simon Dawkins replaced Will Hughes & Jordan Ibe.

Strange to see Darren Bent in the Brighton line up, a premier league reputation on the pitch but he had little opportunity, save from scoring from an offside position with the score at 2-0, to prove his worth, most often operating in lonely isolation against Ryan Shotton & Bucko.

Strange also not to see Craig Mackail-Smith in opposition, strange and good as he is always a nuisance to play against. Despite three goals for the Seagulls this season he is now to be found back at Peterborough on loan.

Felt like ages since our last home game, that joyful 5-0 romp against the Wolves that took us top and while I was idly waiting for the pre-match activities to wrap up one of the songs being played on the stadium tannoy caught my ear.

Kudos to whoever chose “Sheep” by the Housemartins as a pre match track – took me back nearly thirty years and made me smile. I quite liked the relevance of the chorus (with a change to one word);

 “It’s sheep YOU’RE up against…….

Not quite the meaning that Paul Heaton had in mind when he wrote it, but even so…

We came out of the blocks firing for this game and it had the feel of an attack vs. defence training exercise for the first 20 minutes. The Rams were energetic, pinning the away team in their own half and attacking with threat.

Within those 20 minutes we were 3-0 up and the game was pretty much won. A neat composed finish from Chris Martin within the penalty area and a strong header home from the same player from a superb Cyrus Christie cross came either side of the peach of the three goals.

Martin and Dawkins combined, laying the ball off to Craig Forsyth who played a beautiful incisive pass into the area cutting apart the Brighton back line to find Johnny Russell who dinked the ball over the advancing David Stockdale.

3-0 after 20 minutes and I thought we might be in for an avalanche of goals, certainly Brighton looked ragged and short of ideas, but we eased off at that point and allowed the Seagulls to get a greater foothold into the game for the remainder of the half. The tactical switch on their part to bring on Rohan Ince before the half hour gave them more of a physical presence in midfield and the fact that both Cyrus Christie and Craig Forsyth had yellow cards by the break illustrated we did not have it completely all our own way.

We controlled the second half without ever reaching the heights of those first 20 minutes. More goals could have come though with Stockdale saving well from Jeff Hendrick, fumbling a Craig Bryson shot onto the post and Jordan Ibe flashing a shot narrowly wide after he came on.

Lee Grant was untroubled throughout and at one point in the second half sold Darren Bent a dummy as he dribbled a troublesome back pass out of his area, primarily to stave off boredom probably.

Craig Bryson was energetic throughout and always a problem for Brighton and Johnny Russell continued his campaign to be the ultimate team player covering every blade of grass, harrying his opponents as well as scoring and creating for his team mates.

It was good to see Jamie Ward make an appearance from the bench following injury showing his usual bite and snap though there still feels something not quite right about our defence, not that it mattered here, but there is a sense of vulnerability about us at the back that other teams may exploit.

The importance of the win was illustrated afterwards when we saw that Ipswich, Bournemouth and Middlesboro had all won.

We’re still top, it is a fierce fight, but we have the stomach for it, it seems.