Cardiff City 0
Derby County 2 Scott Malone (o.g.) 23, Chris Martin 45
Having seen both Bournemouth and Middlesbrough win before we kicked off this was an important three points for the Rams to bring home from the Welsh capital.
Remembering back to the summer the Bluebirds were seen as being one of our key competitors for promotion this season. Despite the Premier League parachute payment though, the Welsh team have struggled back in the second tier and in this game looked like the mid table team that they are.
Games still need to be won, however, and this was a pleasing performance by Derby to do so, backed by a loud and raucous following of travelling fans.
No changes were made to the team that beat Blackburn though a hamstring injury suffered by Raul Albentosa in training kept him off the bench being replaced by his countryman Ivan Calero.
The Rams started brightly, keeping the ball well and moving it around quickly which is always an obvious sign of the mood and confidence of the team.
We got the benefit of an early penalty as Martin went down during a corner for the Rams when the ball was pinging around the Cardiff area – as penalties went it was on the soft side, had it gone against us I would not have been happy.
Chris Martin missed the spot kick though putting his attempt too close to the keeper allowing Simon Moore to push it away.
This team of ours has resilience though, evidenced by the response to that disappointing (to say the least) Forest defeat – two wins and two clean sheets coming in to this game – and also overcoming the missed penalty.
Both Simon Dawkins and Jamie Ward were playing well , both probably benefitting from more match time and it was Ward that received the ball in the 22nd minute following a lovely intricate move involving Hughes ,Hendrick and Martin, and his beautifully judged ball led to Scott Malone diverting past his own keeper for an own goal.
The home team were not offering much by way of a threat at all though Lee Grant and Jake Buxton gave the loud and bouncing Rams contingent a fright on 35 minutes by almost leaving a ball to each other as it was played through.
That was one of the last acts in this game for our rugged centre half as Buxton turned his ankle shortly afterwards and the normally indestructible Buckobauer was forced off after trying to run it off.
A shuffle of the defence ensued with Cyrus Christie coming on and Ryan Shotton moving across and Christie was instrumental in a perfectly timed second goal just before the break.
Another sweet passing move involving Jeff Hendrick, Chris Martin, Craig Forsyth & Will Hughes freed up Christie on the flank and he put in a superb deep cross that Martin connected with, thundering a header in to the top of the net to make it 2-0.
It had been an excellent first half performance, that second goal importantly emphasising our dominance and putting Cardiff in a very difficult position.
The second half started steadily with few opportunities at either end. After a sprightly first half Dawkins limped off on the hour to be replaced by Mason Bennett and it is to be hoped that his comeback to the team is not to be interrupted again, particularly considering our shortage of options in the wide areas of the team.
Cardiff bought on Kenwyn Jones just after the hour and he had barely been on the pitch a couple of minutes before his header brought out a great save from Lee Grant. Our keeper is having an excellent season and in the last couple of weeks alone he has made superb saves in games where he has not had much to do, always a good sign of keeping focus.
The closest we came to a third goal was when a characteristic pass from Hughes released Bennett in the area but a poor bounce held the ball up allowing keeper to make a save.
Three important points then with a comfortable win though it was interesting to hear Steve McClaren’s expressing his disappointment that we did not kick on in the second half – high standards in our coaching staff bodes well for the rest of the season.
The end of January sees us 2nd with 54 points from 28 games played.
This time last year Leicester City were at the top of the table with 66 points from one more game – QPR second with 56pts from 28 games.
With no team as far ahead as Leicester this year it is a fair bet that 90pts will secure automatic promotion – 36 more points then in our last 18 games.
Those games will start count down before we know it so wins like today are crucial and very welcome.