MARTIN’S MAGIC CRACKS CARDIFF
DERBY strolled to victory but manager Steve McClaren admits there were still important lessons to learn from their trip to Wales.
Chris Martin was the star as the Rams rarely got out of first gear in beating Cardiff, a result that kept their promotion hopes from the Championship well on track.
Martin missed a penalty but responded by heading his 19th goal of the season.
That was after Scott Malone’s own-goal gave Derby the lead at the Cardiff City Stadium, and they rarely looked like surrendering.
But the Rams stalled in the second half and had goalkeeper Lee Grant to thank for snuffing out a brief Cardiff rally.
Derby manager McClaren said: “It was a professional performance and we won the game in the first half.
“Missing that penalty would have affected us a year ago but not now with the maturity of this team. They kept competing and got the two goals.
“I told the players at half-time to take it on and we had opportunities to get the third. But we got sloppy and too casual and should have scored again because anything can happen at 2-0.
“Lee Camp made an unbelievable save but that could have been 2-1 and then it’s a very different last 15 minutes. So it’s a lesson to the players: when they are in control, to stay in control.
“The second half was disappointing and we relied too much on the back four and Lee.”
It was a different story for Cardiff City and Russell Slade who are sliding towards a potential relegation fight after just one win in nine.
Their fourth defeat in a row was met by a chorus of boos from the disgruntled fans and raised questions over the decision to leave top-scorer Kenwyne Jones on the bench despite six goals in his last eight appearances.
Slade said: “We left Kenwyne on the bench because of the shape we wanted to play with against Derby.
“We wanted one tall striker with two players with pace outside but we should have supported Alex Revell better.”
He added: “I’m a positive person and I don’t think we are getting dragged into a relegation fight.
“We need to stop this trend of losing but I don’t see why we can’t go and win next week and get some momentum. This has been a tricky period as we go through transition with payers leaving and coming in but it’s not impossible to make the play-offs.”
Derby arrived in South Wales under pressure to take all three points after watching promotion rivals Bournemouth and Middlesbrough both win in earlier kick-offs.
So McClaren will have been hugely satisfied to lead 2-0 at halftime and it could easily have been more despite the Rams not even hitting full stride.
They looked to have grabbed an early breakthrough when Martin was fouled by Aron Gunnarsson in the ninth minute. But the Scotland striker scuffed his shot that was easily saved by Simon Moore’s right arm.
However, Martin swiftly made amends when his flicked pass released Jeff Hendrick. Jamie Ward then drove a low pass that deflected off Scott Malone that wrong-footed Moore.
McClaren re-shuffled his back- line when influential defender Jake Buxton limped off but they still struck next.
Cardiff stood off and Derby capitalised on the free space. Will Hughes had time to find Buxton’s replacement Cyrus Christie and his cross was met at the far-post by Martin.
The hosts only looked a genuine attacking threat when Jones came on and immediately forced a save from Grant with his first touch.
Derby should have grabbed a third but it was to be a comfortable three points for the visitors in the end.
HAVE SOME OF THAT: Derby’s Chris Martin scores his side’s second goal
NUTS: Jamie Ward tricks Lee Peltier of Cardiff City