IT IS advantage Derby County, although a slender one in their battle with Brighton to reach Wembley and keep their promotion hopes alive.
The Rams recovered from a difficult opening in last night’s Championship play-off semi-final first leg to beat the Seagulls 2-1 at the Amex Stadium.
They fell behind to a Jesse Lingard strike but showed terrific character to hit back twice before the break.
First, top scorer Chris Martin tucked away a penalty for his 24th goal of the season and then his thumping shot rebounded off the bar and found the net off the back of the unfortunate Tomasz Kuszczak.
Derby had their own keeper – Lee Grant – to thank for making at least three excellent saves and they held firm in the closing stages amid a crackling atmosphere.
We saw all the aspects of the Rams play in the 90 minutes – the quick counter attacking and the determined, dogged defending when needed. You need both to win games.
Now they have an opportunity to finish the job in Sunday’s second leg, but Brighton remain a dangerous opponent.
Supporters only have to think back to Derby’s last appearance in the play-offs in 2007 when they saw their team win at Southampton only to lose the second leg at home before they went through on penalties.
Derby, top scorers in the Championship and the team that finished third, started the tie as favourites to go through, and remain so.
This was the third time they have seen off Brighton this season.