DERBY County grabbed their second win of the season last night — but they had to cling on by their fingernails after almost blowing a three-goal lead.
The Rams had dominated the clash with Charlton Athletic at Pride Park and were 3-0 up and seemingly coasting after a Jamie Ward brace and Craig Bryson’s first of the season.
But Charlton — who had barely had a sniff — pulled one back with a wonder goal from Danny Green on 70 minutes and two minutes later threw the game wide open as Yann Kermorgant bundled in from close range.
There were a few hair-raising moments late on but Nigel Clough’s men somehow held firm take the three points in front of the lowest league crowd at Pride Park in eight years.
Of concern, though, is how the Rams seem to be vulnerable precisely at the point they should be seeing out games.
After Green’s super strike went in they should have been battening down the hatches — but were instead cut apart rather too easily down their left.
Derby need to find some bottle when they have built up a big advantage — as shown by the 2-0 lead spurned against Sheffield Wednesday on the opening day of the Championship season and in the shocking 5-5 draw with Scunthorpe United in the League Cup.
But last night they held on and got what they deserved for their attacking endeavour, but Clough will surely be asking for a tighter defence — and soon.
Derby showed one change, with Paul Coutts replacing Conor Doyle on the right of midfield after recovering from flu.
There was no place in the matchday squad for striker Nathan Tyson, who is suffering from a throat infection.
Ward opened the scoring on seven minutes with a typically stunning strike.
The front-runner blazed a scorching volley past Ben Hamer from 20 yards after Jeff Hendrick’s ball across for Coutts was cleared by the head of Michael Morrison.
Derby took confidence from the goal and went on to dominate the first half — but Conor Sammon’s wayward finishing prevented them from extending their lead.
On 13 minutes, the big striker surged onto Bryson’s through ball, but under pressure from Morrison could only slice it high and wide from around 16 yards.
Ward went sniffing after a second with the half-hour just gone but he found the side netting from a tight angle as he connected with Sammon’s neat pass.
The chance followed Charlton’s first sniff at goal, with Bradley Wright-Phillips dribbling one wide from distance after John Brayford was caught in possession by Dale Stephens.
His weak effort was as good as it got for the Addicks in the first half, and Coutts almost grabbed a goal on the stroke of half-time but his shot was blocked by the brave Chris Solly.
The summer signing from Preston North End then set up Sammon after a swashbuckling burst through three tackles, but the target-man dragged his shot badly across goal from 15 yards.
The Rams were indebted to Gareth Roberts on 51 minutes as he hacked Johnnie Jackson’s header from a corner off the line. Derby broke straight away and Ward almost connected with Bryson’s low cross.
Two minutes later, it was 2-0 as Bryson grabbed his first of the season.
Morrison inexplicably presented Sammon with the ball in the area and when the big striker’s shot was saved — it was not his night — Will Hughes coolly crossed the rebound for Bryson to tap home.
Kermorgant should have pulled one back on the hour but his bullet header from Green’s cross just cleared the bar.
Seconds later, sub Ricardo Fuller had the ball in the Derby net with his first touch, but his effort was ruled out for offside.
The Rams made it 3-0 soon afterwards — but it was a soft penalty which allowed Ward his second of the night. Green seemed in little danger as he marshalled Ward near the goalline but referee David Phillips felt he impeded the Derby man as he looked to get into the box. It looked a dodgy penalty but it mattered little as Ward drilled the ball in via a touch from Hamer.
Green made amends soon afterwards with an absolute stunner which left Fielding grasping thin air.
Sammon’s excellent defensive header reached him in space around 35 yards out and the midfielder blasted an unstoppable volley into the top corner.
It got worse for a shell-shocked Rams two minutes later as they were undone down their left. Green got into the box and hit a low cross for Kermorgant to bury from close range.
Derby looked dishevelled by the visitors, who had barely had a sniff until they were 3-0 down. But despite manic late pressure, the Rams held on for the win.