For 40 minutes, it was a non-event, but Barnsley evaporated as soon as Derby made the breakthrough. After the swift 1-2 to the gut that the Rams landed just before half-time, the only way Derby could have failed to win this was by beating themselves – but Barnsley lacked the quality to capitalise on the errors Derby made in the second half and the Rams, clearly superior to their hosts in every department, cruised to victory without ever really needing to get going.
On this showing, League One could yet await Barnsley, who slid tamely to a fifth successive defeat – while Derby must now be seen as genuine contenders for the top six. Certainly, they are a cut above the average Championship side – but as ever with the Rams, we must sound note of caution, because we have been here before, at this time of year, more than once. And there was a potentially serious dampener, the withdrawal of Tom Lawrence at half-time – the Wales attacker having gone down, seemingly badly hurt, shortly before the interval.
Derby lined up in their by now familiar 4-4-1-1, with Martin selected to lead the line. He put in an assured performance and did his chances of staying in the side no harm at all, with David Nugent relegated to a role entertaining the away faithful on the touchline (he also very nearly landed an artful lob onto the bald pate of a member of the coaching staff in the pre-match warm-up.)
George Thorne was unlucky to drop back to the bench, but Tom Huddlestone’s class on the ball helped to make the difference and the vital opening goal. At times, the first half degenerated into a scrap, but as soon as Huddlestone got on the ball, order was restored, the pace slowed, the beginnings of an attack constructed. He is excellent. His ability to calmly manufacture all the time he needs to pick the right pass is a rare treat to see in the usually frenetic Championship.
Andi Weimann played with his customary gusto, starting on the right before switching to the left for the second half. It’s a shame that his brain doesn’t work quite as fast as his legs can carry him, but it was great to see him smash in a volley in front of the 3,000+ away fans and celebrate like a man who meant it. He needed, savoured and deserved his goal.
Scott Carson was largely untroubled, but did make a fine one-on-one save to keep the score at 2-0, after Martin’s misjudged pass set Barnsley away on the counter and a goal looked inevitable. Other than that and a drive from the edge of the box which clipped the bar, after Derby fell asleep at a throw-in, the Tykes were pretty blunt in attack, Bradshaw ploughing a lone furrow without enough support. They livened up slightly after the introduction of the tricky winger Hamill and pony-tailed midfielder Moncur from the bench, but by then, it was too late – they were just doing that loser thing of having a five-minute spell of pressure when you’re 2-0 down.
Derby diligently defended the free kicks and corners they conceded – no more do we need to cringe at every set play – and finally, after numerous promising counter attacks ended in disappointment, Weimann’s emphatic goal killed the game stone dead.
So there you go – three goals, several other passable opportunities passed up, Carson forced into only one meaningful save, the home supporters sloping away dejected into the bitterly cold West Yorkshire night long before the end. You can only beat what is in front of you. Derby did that with minimal fuss and move on to tougher tests, starting next Saturday, against Aston Villa.
CARSON – Largely untroubled on a bitterly cold afternoon, yet had the concentration needed to come up with a big save to maintain Derby’s 2-0 lead when called upon. On current form, he has to be considered one of the best (if not the best) ‘keepers in the Championship – 7
BAIRD: Another reassuringly solid performance from the veteran, who even sent in a couple of dangerous corners. He may not have the pace to get up the pitch in support of counter-attacks, but his understanding of the game and positional sense can’t be faulted – 7
KEOGH: Not one of the most taxing afternoons he will face, but coped well with what Barnsley threw at him – 7
DAVIES: Seemed to enjoy his afternoon, getting stuck into challenges and more often that not, winning them – 7
FORSYTH – Defended well against the winger Thiam and chugged forward to support the attack, but as usual, he struggled at times to use the ball well. It was such a pity that he couldn’t finish off the dazzling counter-attack move late in the game, instead blazing over – 6
WEIMANN – His pace makes a big difference to Derby as a counter-attacking unit and he buzzed and bothered Barnsley all afternoon. His distribution and decision-making remain maddeningly erratic, but hisemergence into as a genuine first-team regular has been a major boost for Gary Rowett – 8
HUDDLESTONE – Huddlestone was an obvious cut above everyone around him in terns of seeing the whole picture on the field. Everyone knows he is not the quickest, but this is only a problem if opponents can exploit it – Barnsley couldn’t get the ball off him, or stop his passes – 8
LEDLEY – Can anyone remember a time when Joe Ledley wasn’t there? – 7
LAWRENCE – Hadn’t made a big impact on the game from the left flank, until suddenly, he got into the box, rode a challenge and smashed home the vital opener. We can only keep everything crossed and hope that his ankle injury isn’t as serious as it initially looked – 7
VYDRA – Much like Lawrence, Vydra struggled to find the space to do his thing, until suddenly, Barnsley lose him for a second, one chance, bang. His goal tally is starting to look mightily impressive this season, the quality everyone knew he possessed finally shining through – 7
MARTIN – Great to see the big man back. I know he will never be everyone’s cup of tea, but not even his detractors could claim that he doesn’t look fit and motivated at the monent. It’s a shame he couldn’t grab a goal, but this was a good performance in terms of his link-up play, shielding the ball – the things we know that he is good at were present and correct. He knows he has to play we to stay in the team – fair play to Rowett for giving him the chance – 7
RUSSELL – Showed up well after replacing Lawrence, buzzing around on the right and always looking likely to make something happen. Coming on at 2-0 up v Barnsley, with spaces to exploit, is a different challenge to facing Aston Villa, but Russell did his chances of getting a start no harm – 7
JOHNSON – Replaced Vydra and played on the left of midfield (his best position) for the last 20 minutes – gave the full range of Johnno features, winning headers and playing one astute through ball, while also occasionally giving the ball away. Claimed the assist for Weimann’s goal and basically did fine – 7
WINNALL – Expert trolling from Rowett to bring on Sam with the game already won – a pity he couldn’t bundle home his one chance, the ball somehow looping over the bar instead of nestling – 6