The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Matt Lloyd

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.

PIC­TURES: Ac­tion Images

HAVE SOME OF THAT: Derby’s Chris Martin scores his side’s sec­ond goal

NUTS: Jamie Ward tricks Lee Peltier of Cardiff City

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