High fives for Derby County as Mason Bennett caps fine all-round show in FA Cup
FIVE goals, five different scorers, a history-making first goal for 16-year-old Mason Bennett, a clean sheet and a place in round four of the FA Cup.
Saturday went rather well for Derby County.
Third round day is an opportunity for the underdogs to make life difficult for opponents from a higher division, as Wolves, Cardiff City and Newcastle United can testify. They are licking their wounds today following defeat at the weekend.
Derby themselves were slain by Crawley Town at this stage of the competition two years ago on a miserable night in West Sussex.
The Rams were in no mood to become another such statistic this year.
From the moment the full-time whistle blew on an impressive League victory over Middlesbrough, attention turned to the Cup and the message was clear.
This was not going to be a case of "after the Lord Mayor's Show".
League One leaders Tranmere Rovers visited Pride Park and Derby knew they had to approach the tie in the right manner and perform. They did both.
Assisted by some sloppy goalkeeping and defending, they eased to a 5-0 victory after a tight first half.
Derby have successfully negotiated the third round in eight of the last nine years. The draw permitting, they are eyeing a Cup run and feel they are in good shape to have one.
They are certainly in shape to give most teams a game at home, where their level of consistency this season has been impressive.
This was their first meeting with Tranmere other than in the League and there has never been a shortage of goals when they have played – 37 in eight clashes.
However, Derby had to wait until three minutes before half-time to make the breakthrough.
Tranmere had two sights of goal early on through Ash Taylor, with a header, and Max Power, a shot after a mistake by Ben Davies, while Derby, not in fully fluent mode, kept chipping away.
Neither goalkeeper made a save of note in the opening half-hour. John Brayford and Richard Keogh headed wide as Tranmere, organised and resilient in defence, kept the Rams at bay.
Michael Jacobs, lively against Middlesbrough, had less time and found it more difficult on this occasion but the young guns in central midfield, Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick, became more influential as the game unfolded.
Hughes' knack of making angles to receive the ball and pass it simply but effectively is marvellous to watch and Hendrick is in terrific form just now.
Patience is important in certain types of games, this being one. Derby were rewarded for theirs with goals late in the first half and early in the second.
Paul Coutts' 42nd-minute strike from the edge of the area squirmed under the body of Owain Fon Williams and Ben Davies slid in at the back post to bundle the ball over the line.
Going behind so close to the break and through a goalkeeping error was a blow for Tranmere. To their credit, they displayed plenty of belief immediately after the interval only for Derby to double their lead in the 54th minute.
Cracks started to appear in the visitors' well-drilled defence and when they dithered as they tried to deal with a Davies free kick, Conor Sammon nicked the ball and his shot on the turn found the corner of the net from 12 yards with the help of a deflection.
Sammon now has seven goals in 24 starts this season.
Derby switched formations two or three times during the game, using 4-5-1 or 4-4-2, and they went three up just after the hour.
Shortly after Tranmere's Cole Stockton fired a shot narrowly over, Derby won a corner.
Davies delivered and Brayford's first effort was blocked. Tranmere tried in vain to clear when they should have done and Brayford was able to hook the ball past Fon Williams from a sitting position six yards out.
His second goal of the season was reward for the right-back's form. He has been excellent since Nigel Clough signed him from Crewe in the summer of 2010. He is playing as well as ever this season and has established himself as a key figure in the side.
Hendrick got the goal his performance deserved when he made it 4-0 after 72 minutes.
Davies picked out Hendrick on the edge of the area and the midfielder controlled the ball with his left foot before he dispatched a low right-foot shot wide of Fon Williams from 18 yards.
Hendrick has scored three goals in his last six games and his tally for the season is four.
A place in the next round assured, it was time for changes.
Gareth Roberts, back in the side after injury, Coutts and Davies made way for Kieron Freeman, Conor Doyle and Bennett.
Roberts played almost 350 games for Tranmere earlier in his career and it was nice to see and hear the Rovers' fans recognise that service.
The changes meant the average age of the Derby team at the end of the game was 21.
The youngest of the players, Bennett, completed the scoring three minutes from the end of normal time and in doing so he became the club's youngest-ever scorer at 16 years and 174 days.
Doyle's pass found Bennett whose crisp angled drive from 18 yards nestled in the corner, despite a touch from Fon Williams. It was a fine strike and Bennett enjoyed the moment.
There had been little sign in the opening half-hour that Tranmere would concede five and both managers agreed it was not a 5-0 game.
"The first goal was important because we went in at half-time with a big boost," said Clough.
Tranmere boss Ronnie Moore also felt the first goal was the turning point and he was not happy with the defending on the next two. "Really, we gifted them three goals," he said.
It is the first time Derby have scored five in the FA Cup since they recorded a 5-1 victory at Luton Town 20 years ago and this was their biggest FA Cup win since they thumped Telford United 6-1 in December 1985.