07:27 Monday 16 December 2013

SLIDESHOW; Charlton Athletic 0, Derby County 2


SIX wins on the spin and counting. Derby County are on a roll not seen since they last won promotion in 2007.

Charlton Athletic’s name has been added to a list of scalps that also features Sheffield Wednesday, Bournemouth, Wigan, Middlesbrough and Blackpool.

Six of the best equals the tally recorded by Billy Davies’ team seven years ago.

There are many different ways to win a game, as Davies’ functional side proved, and many different characteristics are needed to cope with the demands of the Championship.

Derby have displayed most of those characteristics – if not all – in their impressive sequence of victories.

Flowing football full of pace and movement dismantled Wigan and Blackpool. Determination and patience eventually got the better of Middlesbrough and Bournemouth.

On Saturday at The Valley, Derby had to chisel out a 2-0 victory over Charlton.

They were not at their best but still won – a highly-encouraging sign for any team.

Their passing and movement, and their tempo has caught the eye this season.

Now they have added a defensive platform which they are able to fall back upon when their football is not in full flow, as we witnessed at Charlton.

A third clean sheet in six games was especially pleasing.

Defending is a collective responsibility and each individual played his part but special mention must go to goalkeeper Lee Grant, the back four and their midfield shield, John Eustace, who is a terrific competitor.

Eustace’s experience allows him to spot danger and put out fires.

“The old warrior, he does a great job for us,” said head coach Steve McClaren. “They were all on their last legs but that’s what you’ve got to do to win games in this league – and you’ve got to do it every week.”

Derby are delivering every week at the moment, as one defeat in 11 including eight wins tells us – along with their fourth place in the Championship.

The task is to maintain that consistency.

The manner of the victory at Charlton suggests the desire to do so is in place.

Charlton need points to ease their growing concerns at the other end of the table and so the shape of the opening half hour of the contest was not a surprise.

They pressed Derby back.

Andre Wisdom made two important defensive headers at the back post.

Richard Keogh produced a vital challenge in the box and Grant held a drive from Michael Morrison, before he touched over a testing free-kick from Danny Green, whose right foot produces accurate deliveries.

Derby were without Will Hughes, who reported in sick the day before the game to end his ever-present run in the side.

Fit-again Jeff Hendrick came into the midfield for his first start since August and grew into the match to give a strong performance.

But the Rams found themselves searching for some control. They needed a foothold and one arrived after 32 minutes.

Chris Martin was bundled over 25 yards from goal and Jamie Ward’s free -kick took a huge deflection off Charlton’s wall to completely wrong-foot Ben Alnwick.

All teams need a touch of luck, and Derby have had their share in recent matches – although you can argue that they have made their own good fortune.

The slice of luck lifted them and was a hammer blow to Charlton’s spirited start.

There was now a sense of inevitability about the outcome, and Alnwick made a fine save to deny Craig Bryson whose swerving strike from 25 yards was heading for the net.

Charlton played some neat football and plugged away.

They gave manager Chris Powell everything but are struggling in the Championship for a reason.

They have taken only nine points from 30 at home and they are the lowest scorers in the Championship.

Their shortage of quality and confidence in the final third was evident.

Games are won on the pitch and not on paper, and each match is a new test to be tackled.

But Charlton did not have enough in their locker to dent Derby in the second half, as the stats suggested before the game.

Dale Stephens sent a shot wide and Cameron’s Stewart’s deflected effort was gathered by Grant.

At the other end, Derby almost doubled their lead when slick link-up play between Ward and Martin saw the former’s strike from 12 yards crash against the bar.

Charlton were at their most dangerous during a 10-minute spell in the closing stages.

Morrison, up from the back, somehow managed to head wide from Yann Kermorgant’s centre when he should have scored.

Grant was then out sharply to save from substitute Simon Church.

Derby dug in to protect their lead.

There is greater resilience about the team than there was earlier this season, and in the early weeks following McClaren’s appointment.

A steely determination not to concede coupled with plenty of goals – they are the division’s top scorers – is a winning combination.

And when they play their football, they are capable of producing beautifully crafted moves as they did to wrap up the three points in the 87th minute.

Derby also recorded a first win at Charlton since Paolo Wanchope and Francesco Baiano scored in September 1998.

Bryson turned the ball first-time into substitute Conor Sammon and went in search of a return pass.

It came courtesy of Sammon’s clever flick and as the home defence parted, Bryson moved through the gap and coolly dinked the ball over the advancing Alnwick.

It was the confident, deft finish of a player bang in form.

Bryson is enjoying his best season for goals. The Scottish midfielder has nine and double figures beckon.

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