Derby County’s three game unbeaten run in the Sky Bet Championship was put to an end on Tuesday night, as the Rams succumbed to a bitterly disappointing 2-1 home defeat to Bristol City.
The Rams battled hard to grind out a point against Stoke City on Saturday afternoon, with Martyn Waghorn netting a brace at the bet365 Stadium, but Phillip Cocu’s side failed to replicate any kind of performance in midweek.
The Robins, meanwhile, were bound to be full of confidence heading into the clash at Pride Park, having picked up their first three points of the season at the weekend – goals from Adam Nagy and Benik Afobe securing a 2-0 win over QPR.
Nagy was injured ahead of Tuesday night’s clash, so the evening allowed Han-Noah Massengo to make his first league start for the visitors – their only change from the weekend victory at Ashton Gate.
The latter showed exactly why he was rated so highly in France, and why he became the youngest French player to feature in a UEFA Champions League fixture for AS Monaco last term, before his reported £8m move to Ashton Gate in the summer.
The 18-year-old had some fine touches in the middle of the park, picking out some neat passes and showing some real flashes of pace and energy alongside Josh Brownhill throughout.
The night also saw two former Derby players combine to score the game’s first goal after just 16 minutes. Former loanee Kasey Palmer, deployed as a number 10 on the night, saw his shot be deflected into the path of Andreas Weimann, who had all the time in the world to convert into the bottom corner.
Derby had to improve on their lacklustre showing, and they did show glimpses of getting back into the game. Mason Bennett and Max Lowe both venturing on marauding runs down the right-hand side.
The latter, after 38 minutes, whipped in a fantastic delivery which evaded Tom Huddlestone and Waghorn. It found Tom Lawrence, who was denied at the back post at point-blank range from Dan Bentley – the Rams’ best chance of the half by a long way.
But after losing possession far too cheaply on more than one occasion, it was Weimann who played an integral part in making his former side pay for their mistakes again.
The Austrian used his clever attacking instincts to full effect, dummying a Jack Hunt cross which was met emphatically by captain Brownhill, who doubled the Robins’ lead after Scott Malone was dispossessed.
Malone was withdrawn at half-time and was replaced by Florian Jozefzoon, with Cocu’s men switching to a 3-4-1-2 system in an attempt to throw more players forward.
It was the Dutchman who looked lively with some threatening runs down the right, but he continued to frustrate the Rams faithful after two crosses were put out for goalkicks.
City were quite happy to sit back and defend for the early stages of the second half, with Johnson’s side possessing so much pace on the counter through Afobe and Weimann. Callum O’Dowda replaced Palmer just before the hour mark, to add even more speed to their attacking armory.
As minutes went by, Derby’s hopes of getting back into the game dwindled. In a desperate attempt to get a goal back, the Rams brought on Jack Marriott, who replaced Mason Bennett, and similarly, City brought on Famara Diedhiou to replace Benik Afobe.
Marriott looked lively upon his introduction to the field, dropping back to collect the ball, evading the challenge of three City players on the edge of the area, before his effort was blocked well by Tomas Kalas.
But it didn’t take long for Marriott to make an impact. On 84 minutes, he once again collected the ball on the edge of the area, teed up a shot, and curled the ball beautifully into the top left-hand corner of the net.
This made up for an electric atmosphere in Pride Park in the latter stages of the game, with Derby throwing men forward at every opportunity as they searched for an equaliser.
Max Lowe had a golden chance for Derby in the final few minutes of the match – his deflected effort from 10 yards out was put wide for a corner, but to no avail. Bristol City held on, to claim their second win in as many games.
It was a game that mirrored the previous encounter at Pride Park – Derby failing to break down a resilient, organised opposition unit, and made to rue sloppy possession in midfield.
But the game was won thanks to one of Derby’s former outcasts – Weimann found the net only nine times in 81 league appearances for the Rams, but a goal and an assist on Tuesday night gave fans a timely reminder of the guile and work-rate they lacked up front on the night.