By Jonny Bonelli
Derby County Under-23s signed off their Premier League Cup group stage campaign with an emphatic 8-1 victory this afternoon. Nigeria’s Efe Ambrose enjoyed 61minutes of play for the winners.
Jayden Mitchell-Lawson and Cameron Cresswell were the stars of the show – bagging three and four goals, respectively, against Bristol City Under-23s.
Josh Shonibare was the other man on target in a clash that saw the young Rams out the blocks quickly and five goals to the good at half-time.
Mitchell-Lawson and Cresswell may have grabbed the headlines, but Louie Sibley – for the 45 minutes he played – and Max Bird were excellent in the middle.
Efe Ambrose looked calm and composed at the back, as he got 61 minutes under his belt in a bid to build fitness for first-team inclusion.
Darren Wassall’s men, who had already secured qualification to the knockout stages, climbed top of Group F but know Aston Villa could reclaim that spot with a big enough win over Plymouth Argyle in their last group game.
Ambrose was one of three changes from the side that beat Leicester City 1-0 in Premier League 2 last time out. Henrich Ravas and Sibley were the other two that come in, replacing Matt Yates and Aaron Eyoma.
It was a confident start from the home side, with Ambrose looking solid at the heart of the defence, and it took them just nine minutes to open the scoring.
Bird had space in the middle of the park, picked his pass down the right where Mitchell-Lawson showed his speed to get into the box. He could have shot, but unselfishly pulled it square to Cresswell, who had the simple task of tapping into an empty net.
William Buse was called into action on the 15-minute mark when he tipped a powerful Shonibare header over the top – but he was powerless to prevent three goals in the next 14 minutes that gave the young Rams a commanding 4-0 lead.
Mitchell-Lawson kicked it off with a carbon-copy build-up to the opener, as he got into the right channel of the box, but this time opted to go for goal and fired low into the far corner.
Two minutes later it was three.
Ambrose went on a Richard Keogh-esque marauding run out from the back. He got about 20 yards from goal and played it to Sibley. The midfielder slipped Shonibare into the box, he held off his man and fired home.
The fourth came shortly after the half-hour mark when Sibley, who had impressed in the midfield, cut in from the right and played Mitchell-Lawson in the box. The left-footed strike didn’t look to have too much power on it, but it proved too hot to handle as it squeezed past Buse at his near post.
Buse made up for that one two minutes later, when his instinctive save kept it at four and denied Shonibare’s powerful first-time strike.
It wasn’t four for long, though. Three minutes before the break Mitchell-Lawson completed his quick-fire hat-trick when he latched on to Sibley’s through ball. Mitchell-Lawson burst through the middle, took the ball round Buse and rolled it into the empty net.
Very much like the Plymouth Argyle game earlier in the competition, where Derby raced into a 4-0 half-time lead, the second half was of real comfort for the home side.
They knocked the ball about in and around the edge of the Bristol box with a confidence, half-time substitute Aaron Eyoma having an effort well blocked after a smart turn.
Number six arrived for Derby after 68 minutes. Bird sent a diagonal ball into the box, Cresswell brought it down expertly on his chest and fired a first-time effort past Buse.
Just a minute after that – Bristol City got themselves on the scoresheet.
Samuel Bell’s low strike look destined for the corner until Joe Bateman blocked it behind, but from the following corner, Derby failed to clear their lines and Bell was on hand to scramble home.
The six-goal cushion was restored with 13 minutes remaining.
Alex Babos was brought down in the box, Cresswell shouldered the responsibility, and nothing says ‘confidence’ like a chip straight down the middle. The penalty dispatched and a hat-trick secured for Cresswell.
He wasn’t done there, though. Cresswell rounded off a memorable afternoon at Loughborough by firing home his fourth and Derby’s eighth with three minutes remaining.