TOP scorer Chris Martin bridged an 18-year gap as victory over Blackpool saw Derby County climb to third in the Championship.
Martin became the first Rams player since Dean Sturridge in 1995-96 to reach 20 goals in a season.
His equaliser was part of a three-goal blast in 18 minutes at Bloomfield Road last night after they had fallen behind inside 15 seconds to David Goodwillie’s 25-yarder.
Patrick Bamford put Derby ahead before Craig Bryson increased their lead.
The emphatic response floored the home side and Derby left the seaside with a 3-1 win and three more points.
They are now on 72 and although not mathematically secure, they remain nailed on for a top-six finish and a play-off place with five games left to play.
While Derby are looking up, struggling Blackpool are in for a nervous end to the campaign and fans voiced their anger at club chairman Karl Oyston.
Blackpool’s slump since the teams met in December has been remarkable.
They sat sixth then, but only two wins in 23 league matches has left them in a relegation scrap.
Blackpool caretaker boss Barry Ferguson made four changes to the team beaten at home by Yeovil on Saturday.
Angel, Elliot Grandin, Stephen Dobbie and Andy Keogh all came in, but Ferguson was still without strikers Ricardo Fuller and Steve Davies, the former Rams forward.
Scoring goals has been a big problem for the Seasiders. They went into the game having hit 34 in 40 league fixtures – only Charlton have scored fewer.
The last time Blackpool scored more than one goal in a game was at the end of November.
Will Hughes returned to Derby’s side in place of the injured Jeff Hendrick, who has a hip-flexor problem which he felt after training on Monday. It was Hughes’ first start in five matches.
Derby’s disappointing defeat at Middlesbrough at the weekend was the result of a uncharacteristic low-tempo display that lacked the team’s usual energy.
Head coach Steve McClaren asked for a response, and he and Ferguson would have been left stunned by the opening two minutes as both teams found the net.
Blackpool went ahead after just 15 seconds.
Goodwillie was offered time and space, and accepted the invitation to shoot. His strike from 25 yards dipped over Lee Grant to send a goal-starved home crowd wild with delight.
But their delight was short-lived.
The clock showed one minute 50 seconds when Martin prodded home Johnny Russell’s centre at the near post to put the Rams level.
Boosted by their quick reply, Derby punished Blackpool with a quick four-man move that sliced through the home defence in the 14th minute.
Russell found Martin who picked out Craig Bryson’s run and the Scottish midfielder centred for Bamford to score from close range.
The forward has eight goals in his loan spell from Chelsea and 25 for the season, and he is not playing in his favoured position!
Derby’s double appeared to shred any confidence Blackpool had left after the Yeovil defeat, and they were on their knees five minutes later as the Rams scored a third.
Martin was fouled on the halfway line and the quick-thinking George Thorne caught Blackpool napping.
His quick free kick sent Bryson clear and he took a touch before drilling a shot from 12 yards low past Matthew Gilks.
Bryson has 16 goals this season - a terrific return from midfield - and it was a long way back for Blackpool who have not scored three in a game since the opening day of the season.
Russell, Bryson and Craig Forsyth continually found acres of space on the left. The Rams looked capable of scoring each time they attacked in that area of the pitch and it was difficult not to have some sympathy for Blackpool right back Tony McMahon, who had no protection from in front of him.
Blackpool cleared their heads a little to win a corner. McMahon delivered and Craig Cathcart headed wide, but the first half was very much about Derby.
Thorne and Hughes gave them control of the midfield. Both are comfortable receiving the ball and their accuracy of passing shaped moves. Thorne, in the holding role, possesses strength and composure, Hughes cleverness and awareness.
Their work allowed Bryson to stretch his legs and supplement attacks. Blackpool struggled with his willingness to run off the ball.
Bamford had a chance to increase the lead shortly before the break, his effort was saved by the onrushing Gilks, and Richard Keogh just failed to make a telling connection with Bryson’s inswinging free kick.
Derby’s travelling support gave the players a huge cheer as the whistle for half time sounded. Boos from the Blackpool fans were not unexpected, either.
How would Blackpool react?
They created the first chance of the second half when McMahon whipped in a centre and Andy Keogh’s header brought a fine save from Grant, diving to his left.
Martin in his role as the focal point of the attack was instrumental in Derby’s display. He gave Blackpool’s centre backs a difficult time and Cathcart showed his growing frustration with a crude challenge from behind that brought him a yellow card.
Bryson’s determination saw him work a shooting chance on the edge of the box, his effort was saved by Gilks, and the Rams’ grip on the contest showed no sign of loosening.
They may have squandered a two-goal lead at Brimingham two months ago but a harsh lesson was learned that day. There was no way that was going to happen again.