06:00 Monday 09 December 2013

SLIDESHOW: Derby County 5, Blackpool 1


KEEP knocking on the door was the message from head coach Steve McClaren to the players at half time.

Derby County had dominated possession first half, racked up eight corners without reply and forced Blackpool back.

To trail 1-0 was harsh.

How would they respond?

The vast majority inside the newly-named iPro Stadium waited and wondered.

What they saw left them delighted.

Derby upped the tempo, an important ingredient for this team, and did more than knock on the door second half - they battered it down to run out comprehensive 5-1 winners.

A fifth consecutive league win for the first time in almost seven years, going back to the promotion campaign of 2006-07, cemented fourth place in the Championship and further fuelled expectation.

These are exciting days for Rams fans.

McClaren is trying to keep feet on the ground. A sensible and understandable approach given how much football is still to be played, but Derby’s impressive run has made the division sit up and take notice.

Consider the facts.

They are the form team in the Championship, the highest scorers with 40 in 19 games, and they have hit 26 goals in McClaren’s 10 games, from which 23 points have been bagged.

A few things are running for them right now it has to be said, including bits of good fortune here and there, and one or two refereeing decisions at defining moments.

Middlesbrough had to play for an hour with 10 men in the previous game and Blackpool went down to 10 midway through the second half and then nine for the closing minutes – although the match as a contest was over by then.

All teams need a break, something Derby have been due, and they are taking full advantage.

Free-scoring they may be, but they could not find a goal in the first half.

They fell behind in the third minute when Tom Ince’s inswinging free-kick, delivered with pace, glanced off the head of Isaiah Osbourne and the ball flashed over Lee Grant.

Stung, Derby largely dominated the rest of the half without really testing Matt Gilks.

Blackpool, displaying resilience, dug in.

Suspensions left the visitors with a patched up defence and Neal Bishop and Jack Robinson helped to keep the Rams at bay, just about.

The pair denied Chris Martin, twice, and the lively Simon Dawkins whose darting runs continually stretched Blackpool.

Jake Buxton headed over. Dawkins also lifted a shot over before Craig Bryson scooped a chance too high from a few yards – after more good work by the impressive Dawkins.

Was it going to be one of those games?

Any concerns were extinguished by Derby’s blistering start to the second half.

Johnny Russell came on for Jamie Ward, who has had better games, and three goals in 11 minutes floored battling Blackpool.

The key moment arrived 40 seconds after the restart.

Robinson was caught out of position when Andre Wisdom’s pass released Martin.

There was contact by Robinson as he tried to recover, but minimal – and it was outside the box. Martin went down and the referee awarded a penalty.

A soft decision, certainly, and Martin sent Gilks the wrong way with an emphatic spot-kick.

The second half had promised to be tough for the visitors.

It was the last thing they wanted, but exactly what Derby needed, and an equaliser was thoroughly deserved.

They went ahead six minutes later.

Dawkins capitalised on an error from Chris Basham whose header back fell well short of Gilks.

The goalkeeper managed to save from Dawkins but the ball fell to Martin who found the net from 12 yards.

Blackpool had shot themselves in the foot. Now, they were on the rack.

Dawkins fizzed an effort inches wide before Bryson cleverly flicked in the third goal after 57 minutes, following a neat Dawkins pass and strong work by Wisdom.

Full-backs Wisdom and Craig Forsyth are eager to support attacks when they can – and both are in good form.

Grant, a spectator for long periods, pushed out a free-kick from former Rams striker Steven Davies, but Derby had control of matters.

A solid defensive base with John Eustace stationed in front of the back four allowed Will Hughes to get on the ball, and Bryson, Dawkins and Russell to trouble Blackpool with their movement and running.

Martin’s value to the side as the focal point of the attack has been evident all season, and he completed the first league hat-trick of his career and the first league treble by a Rams player at Pride Park/iPro Stadium in the 69th minute.

Dawkins, on another darting run, went down under a challenge from Bishop and the assistant referee correctly signalled a penalty – although a straight red card for the defender was harsh.

Martin outwitted Gilks from the spot again after the keeper went slightly early.

Martin now has 13 goals for the season. Could he become the first Rams striker to hit 20 in a season since Dean Sturridge in 1995-96?

Derby had worn Blackpool down and forced errors from their opponents.

On-loan defender Michael Keane came on for his debut and Buxton was given a standing ovation as he left the pitch.

Blackpool’s red card problems continued when Angel Martinez was dismissed three minutes from time to leave the Seasiders with nine men.

That is five red cards in two games and eight for the season.

Martinez can have no complaints. His challenge on Keogh when already on a yellow card was silly.

The final word, and rightly so, belonged to Derby in added time when skipper Richard Keogh scored from close range after Keane’s header from a Bryson corner struck the legs of Gilks.

Derby have now hit five goals on three occasions this season (v Blackpool, Millwall and Brentford), as well as a four (v Ipswich) and three in five different games (v Yeovil, Leeds, Watford, Sheffield Wednesday and Wigan).

They are the talk of the Championship.

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