Three and easy for McClaren
TWO-GOAL Chris Martin highlighted Derby’s claim to the Christmas number one slot – although Steve McClaren isn’t unwrapping his presents just yet.
A blistering opening 20 minutes virtually settled the outcome as the struggling visitors conceded three times to football that was on a different, quick-thinking wavelength.
And the Rams boss declared himself ‘very satisfied’ with his team’s reaction to last weekend’s mauling at Leeds but warned: “We are still a long way off the best this side can become. The boys are taking more responsibility and maturing and we when we get it right – as we did here – we can beat anybody.
“We were focused and wanted to start well, press them back and not let them back into it. We lost a bit of control in the last 20 minutes of the first half but I was pleased with our second half. Not conceding and getting back our control was more important to me than a fourth goal.
“Chris Martin is our focal point. He is not just about scoring goals but his all-round game is tremendous.”
Teams who lined up on an equal footing in the play-offs barely six months ago with a Pre- mier League spot in sight now look light-years apart.
Brighton hadn’t got into Derby’s half before they fell behind after ten minutes, Jeff Hendrick and Johnny Russell were involved and Martin left David Stockdale a spectator with a low left footer from 15 yards.
Russell calmly clipped a second over Stockdale five minutes later and when a delicious right-wing cross by Cyrus Christie was powerfully headed home at the far post by Martin, it was almost all over before it began.
Derby took their foot off the pedal for the remainder of the half but, save for a Darren Bent header ruled out for offside between the second and third goals, Lee Grant remained untroubled. The home side went back through the gears and could easily have added another three in the first 20 minutes after the break.
Stockdale spilled a Craig Bryson shot onto a post, Hendrick saw a shot saved, then Bryson shot narrowly wide.
The Brighton goalkeeper then foiled Martin’s side footer and a powerful blast from substitute Jordon Ibe.
Martin reigned supreme for Derby with his sublime touch, well supported by the power and pace of Simon Dawkins and the guile of Russell and a goalhungry midfield.
Downbeat Seagulls boss Sami Hyypia refused to speculate about his own future but said:“If I didn’t think I could turn it around, I would walk away. And I intend to be in training on Monday morning.
“It’s difficult enough without conceding three early goals. We gave ourselves too big a mountain to climb and had to forget the game plan.We couldn’t get on the ball as we would have liked.
“It’s very difficult to stay positive after that but miracles do happen sometimes in football as I discovered back in 2005.
“We worked on our defensive side in midweek but the better team won here.
“They are a very good side with very good players. We pressed them after going three down but they had the courage to play through us. I am so down, it is difficult to think about what things were positive.”
EYES ON THE PRIZE: Derby’s Chris Martin scores their first
COOL: Derby’s Johnny