06:00 Monday 23 December 2013

SLIDESHOW: Derby County 3, Doncaster Rovers 1


DERBY County are setting a relentless pace.

They are gathering points with remarkable regularity and scoring goals in eye-catching numbers.

Victory over Doncaster Rovers at the iPro Stadium was the Rams’ seventh consecutive league win – a feat last achieved by the club in the promotion season of 1995-96.

While Derby have collected a maximum 21 points, breathless rivals have struggled to keep up.

Leaders Burnley, along with Leicester City and Nottingham Forest, have won 10 points in the same period.

Queen’s Park Rangers and Reading have amassed 11, while Leeds and Brighton have collected 14.

As for goals scored, Derby now have 45 from 21 matches played – a dozen more than any other side.

They hit three in seeing off Doncaster, but should have scored at least five, and maybe more.

Derby are in form, in the goals, in the points and in the promotion mix as things stand with the season almost at the halfway stage.

Nothing is decided in December of course, but the Championship table has taken shape and the Rams are genuine contenders.

When hot, they can scorch opponents as Wigan and Blackpool discovered.

When their level of performance dips, Derby still get the job done as we saw against Bournemouth, Middlesbrough, Charlton Athletic and now Doncaster.

The high notes are reached on few occasions in promotion and title-winning campaigns.

Most of the time it is about getting the job done, as Derby fans will recall when their team last went up in 2006-07.

On Saturday, the Rams were a mixture of fluent attacking prowess while being rather loose and a touch fragile without the ball. It made for an open contest.

The previous eight meetings had produced 24 goals and we only had to wait 13 minutes before Derby went ahead.

Doncaster’s defence dithered when it should have dealt with Craig Forsyth’s up-and-under.

The ball was allowed to bounce, something that should not happen, and Chris Martin spotted the opportunity.

He controlled expertly and threaded a clever pass into Jamie Ward’s darting run and he tucked his finish from 10 yards past Ross Turnbull.

Ward was top scorer last season. He has seven goals so far this season and all have come in his last 11 games.

Richie Wellens’ drive stung the palms of Lee Grant before Chris Brown’s header was deflected wide as Doncaster, neat in their approach work, responded.

Derby lost skipper Richard Keogh to a knee injury after 25 minutes.

His replacement, Michael Keane, won his first header – always a reassuring moment for a central defender – and the Rams earned a golden chance to double their lead 10 minutes before the break.

Craig Bryson kept Doncaster’s defence pinned back and Martin moved menacingly into the area.

Luke McCullough, now the wrong side of the striker and in trouble, was clumsy in his attempt to retrieve the situation and brought Martin down.

Martin picked himself up and with three penalties converted in the previous five games, the money was on him to find the net again.

Turnbull had other ideas and dived low to his right to keep out the spot kick.

Derby used the full width of the pitch and troubled Doncaster when they moved the ball quickly, but the visitors remained competitive, as you would expect from a side managed by former striker Paul Dickov.

He contests every decision from the technical area as though he is still playing!

In Mark Duffy, Doncaster have a wide player who can glide past markers with ease, although his end product does not always match his promise.

Duffy was lively throughout and the start to the second half was more than lively, it was hectic.

Keane somehow headed a Ward free-kick wide as Derby looked for a second goal only for Doncaster to carve out two clear chances – and both fell to former Rams striker Theo Robinson.

He drilled a shot inches wide and a minute later got in behind Jake Buxton to force an excellent save from Lee Grant – a defining moment in the game.

Robinson could easily have gone down before he got his shot away because Buxton made contact with the striker in his attempt to recover.

There was a real danger of a red card, and possibly a penalty, but Robinson stayed on his feet, much to his credit.

Rather than being pegged back, Derby found themselves two up after 50 minutes.

Craig Forsyth picked out Bryson who found Martin.

The striker laid the ball into the path of Simon Dawkins who surged through the heart of the Rovers defence and coolly clipped the ball past Turnbull from 15 yards.

Derby looked to finish off Doncaster. Keane, clearly a threat in the air, saw a header cleared off the line.

Ward had a shot parried and then he hit the foot of a post from Forsyth’s low centre.

Forsyth produced another confident performance. He is supplementing attacks from left back with great effect and Andre Wisdom continued his strong form at right back – but the visitors were back in the game just after the hour through Buxton’s own goal.

The defender, challenged by Robinson, got his defensive header all wrong and the ball crept into the corner of Grant’s net.

From seemingly being in control, Derby looked uncertain.

Both Federico Macheda and Duffy sent shots wide as Doncaster searched for an equaliser.

The last time they scored two or more in an away game was back in August, and their hopes dimmed on 77 minutes.

Derby needed to regain control and did by scoring a third goal 13 minutes from time.

Martin made a key contribution again. He set up Bryson who calmly stepped inside a defender and curled a low finish from 12 yards wide of Turnbull for his 10th goal of the season and his third in as many matches.

Bryson is on a golden streak right now and Steve McClaren has a golden touch.

His record of nine wins and only one defeat in a dozen matches since being appointed head coach is an incredible, and quite possibly unique record for a new manager.

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