Derby County young guns hit their stride as Gateshead are shown no mercy in four-midable Pride Park show
DERBY County Under-18s celebrated their first win of the season as they progressed to the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup with a 4-0 victory over Gateshead last night.
The Rams have endured a tough start to life in the newly-formed Professional Development League Two North, drawing three and losing nine of their 12 games so far.
But they ran out comfortable winners in their final match of 2012 at Pride Park Stadium after being set on their way by a first-half double from England youth international striker Kwame Thomas.
Defender Josh Lelan and midfielder Andy Dales were on target for Darren Wassall's side after the break, while Derby keeper Ross Etheridge saved a penalty.
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Non-League Gateshead are top of the Football Conference Youth Alliance North Division, where they compete against the likes of Ilkeston.
They had already come through six rounds to get to this stage of the competition, knocking out Wrexham, Preston North End and Doncaster Rovers along the way.
Derby went close to opening the scoring in the third minute.
Adam Wixted's corner from the left was headed back across goal by Lelan, only for Mason Bennett, who was slightly unsighted, to volley wide.
The Rams looked the more dangerous going forward but the visitors kept them at bay until the 24th minute.
Bennett picked out Rhys Sharpe from the left and his low centre was converted by Thomas, possibly via a touch from defender Lewis Davison.
Derby doubled their advantage in the 26th minute. Dales embarked on a good run before chipping a pass into the middle to the unmarked Thomas, who had time to control before slipping the ball under keeper James McGregor from eight yards.
Bennett could have added a third three minutes later when he found himself clean through but McGregor saved well with his legs.
Moments later, Dales flashed a low half-volley inches wide from 20 yards.
The home side were well on top but were unable to put the tie to bed.
Gateshead might have pulled one back after 39 minutes when striker Dan Taggart got the better of defender Jamie Hanson before prodding narrowly wide from the edge of the box.
At the other end, McGregor kept his side in the game with a fine reflex stop to deny Sharpe from point-blank range following Bennett's low cross, before Wixted fired over in first-half stoppage time.
Derby left-back Max Lowe, recently capped by England at under-16 level, almost scored a stunning goal five minutes into the second half, beating five men on a mazy run into the area before firing against the foot of the post.
The third goal did come in the 56th minute, when centre-back Lelan, still up following a set piece, beat the offside trap to collect a high ball back into the box and coolly finish from eight yards.
Dawkins and Wixted both forced McGregor into saves before Gateshead were awarded a penalty for handball in the 62nd minute, after Thomas raised his arms to block the ball.
Midfielder Levi Oman slipped as he took the spot kick but still made a good connection – not good enough, though, to beat the diving Etheridge.
Wixted's 30-yard free kick in the 72nd minute took a slight deflection before coming back off the crossbar.
Five minutes later, it was 4-0, Dales picking out the corner of the net from 20 yards after substitute Kurtis Revan's shot had been blocked.
Thomas had a two great chances to complete his hat-trick but shot too close to McGregor before blazing over in the dying seconds, either side of substitute Farrend Rawson clipping the bar with a header from Sharpe's corner.