Well-organised Blues freeze out Rams

NOT the most aesthetically pleasing game in the world but three points, two goals and a clean sheet, meant it was a job well done.

Derek Davis

NOT the most aesthetically pleasing game in the world but three points, two goals and a clean sheet, meant it was a job well done.

The Blues made light of their own disruptions in the defensive department and took advantage of some shocking defending by Derby to make amends for last week's disappointing showing at Doncaster.

Town's blend of hard work, discipline and balance added to the mix of quality and good finishing ensured that once they got their noses in front through Pablo Counago they stayed there and Jon Walters' ensured a comfortable finish.

Rams' boss Paul Jewell described this as his team's worst performance for some time and few will argue - but that should not detract from how Town set about their business.

For the first 20 minutes it was a fairly drab affair but the good football was coming from the Blues, stemming from a solid foundation.

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Alex Bruce and Richard Naylor gave Rob Hulse and Emanuel Villa little space to work in, not that they had much service to play off anyway.

Ben Thatcher may rarely go beyond the half way line but he allows little to get past him and Darren Ambrose's appetite for hard work meant the full-back was never outnumbered.

Ambrose was lively on the left, clearly relishing his homecoming and might have marked it with a goal after getting a good head on the end of a perfect David Wright cross but he steered it straight at Roy Carroll.

The on-loan Charlton player was hoping to make things permanent in January but the sacking of Alan Pardew over the weekend could mean a spanner in the works if the new manager wants Ambrose back at the Valley for the latter half of the season.

He was a denied a couple of times by the Derby keeper who had a busy afternoon and was the only Ram to come out with any sort of credit after making a string of top saves.

The Northern Ireland keeper especially frustrated David Norris, twice in the first half as he bore down on goal and once in the second half when he saved a well-struck left-footed effort moments before Norris was being substituted.

But while Norris and Ambrose impressed the midfield was won by Owen Garvan and Veliche Shumulikoski.

There was a thought that the Macedonian may well be rested once more after coming back from international duty but instead he nullified the threat from the imposing Miles Addison and busy-bee Paul Green with sharp tackling, closing down and simple distribution.

Garvan was more cultured with his left foot passing and his probing play and dangerous set pieces had County scrabbling around at the back.

Someone who might have benefited from being rested after being away on international duty with Jamaica was Claude Davis, although his replacement Darren Powell did not cover himself in glory.

Davis was out of sorts even before Pablo Counago eased him away from a knock-on from Jon Walters and he was left trailing in the wake of the Spaniard, who dipped his shoulder before clinically slotting past a flat-footed Carroll for his fifth goal of the season.

Strike partner Walters has had less luck in front of goal this season and after going 10 games when keepers have pulled off great saves, he has hit the woodwork a few times and gone close countless times, it looked like this was going to be another one of those days.

Moments after the break he burst through but the ball ran away from him and Carroll was able to save.

Then he shot across an empty goal only for the ball to pass inches outside the far post and a third effort skewed off his boot for a throw in.

His luck changed when Garvan picked out the impressive Wright, playing in his old right back slot in the absence of the suspended Moritz Volz, who put in a dangerous low cross.

Debut-making substitute Powell made a complete hash of his attempted clearance and the ball fell kindly for Walters, who turned and finished from three yards out.

That prompted a bizarre celebration by Walters, in contrast to what looked like Counago's personal gesture for his wife and son.

Both goals punctured the comparative silence of a Portman Road struggling for atmosphere on a cold day.

With Derby so poor - their best chance fell to Przemyslaw Kazmierczak, which Wright saved well - Town didn't need the crowd and even without injured skipper Gareth McAuley did the business.

They will need to use their strength of character and depth of squad again tomorrow at second-placed Birmingham.

With Norris suffering a dead leg and Walters coping with a hip problem, Magilton may need to change things at St Andrews and we are seeing the benefits of a squad that appears comfortable with any permutation.

The strikers look interchangeable, although Walters and Counago will be full of confidence after their goals, while the back five have given no reason for change, which means Volz and McAuley sitting out a bit longer.

After all it is about getting the job done.