Max Bird’s late goal stunned the critics on Wednesday night as Derby County fought to a valiant 1-0 win over Real Betis at Pride Park.
The all-important goal came two minutes from time as substitute Max Bird curled home the winner against the La Liga opposition.
Despite dominating for much of the game, Betis struggled to overcome resilient Derby defending as the Rams set themselves in good stead for the start of the forthcoming Championship season in 10 days’ time.
Rams boss Wayne Rooney made four changes to the side that was beaten by League Two Salford City as many days earlier. Popular goalkeeper Kelle Roos returned to the starting line-up ahead of David Marshall, while Craig Forsyth, Graeme Shinnie and Sam Baldock started in County’s outfield.
Manuel Pellegrini named nine changes from Betis’ home defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Only Youssouf Sabaly and hot-property superstar Nabil Fekir kept their places in the team, with former Everton goalkeeper Joel Robles relegated to the bench.
The match began remarkably even, with either side enjoying time on the ball. Betis worked well on the right flank as they looked to work the ball into the feet of wing-wizard Sabaly. County’s defence were alert to the threat he provided and did very well to contain the 28-year-old in the opening exchanges.
As the visitors settled into rhythm, they began to stroke the ball around the pitch with confidence. Derby found themselves scrambling back on numerous occasions as Fekir displayed an arsenal of sumptuous passes in the middle third. Much of Betis’ forward play began with the Frenchman.
Betis saw the first real chance of the match squandered on the half-hour mark. Forward Aitor Ruibal was played in behind the defence by a lofted delivery from Fekir, but glovesman Roos was quick off his line and made an important block after forcing Ruibal into snatching at the opportunity.
Los Verdiblancos were kept at bay by resilient, organised Derby defending as the clock ticked into the break.
Betis flew out from the blocks after the break and could have put themselves ahead within five minutes of the restart.
The ubiquitous Fekir found space on the edge of the box and received a neat pass into his feet. The Frenchman took a single touch to set himself up before firing a blistering, right-foot effort on goal. Roos had dived early, but managed to reach a strong hand to the ball just as it looked like beating him. The Dutchman’s retreating backline arrived on the scene first and cleared to safety.
The Rams sprung into life following the early scare, and set about to find the opener. A good spell in front of goal saw fast football stretch the relatively-unchallenged Betis defence, but it eventually came to nothing. Rooney looked to build on this pressure with a flurry of attacking-minded substitutions as the clock struck the hour, including the introduction of striker Colin Kazim-Richards.
Kazim-Richards had a chance to put his side ahead within 10 minutes of his arrival. The 34-year-old outmuscled his marker and took aim, but he scuffed his shot comfortably into the hands of substitute ‘keeper Robles.
The Turk continued to pose a threat to Betis, and soon after, he was presented with another opportunity to take the lead. Kazim-Richards got the better of his man as he latched onto a long ball forward, but he chose power over placement as he slammed the shot high and wide of the near post. Derby were now very much in control of the game.
Rooney’s men snatched the win with just two minutes left on the clock when 20-year-old Bird received a pass from fellow substitute Louie Watson, who had picked up a loose ball from a mistake in the Betis ranks. Bird curled his effort from the edge of the box, and the ball sailed beyond the outstretched arms of Robles.
Takeaways from the match
Derby should not be written off
The Rams proved that they can compete. Against top-flight opposition, they held their own for long periods of the game and ultimately won. Derby rarely looked off-pace and, with a few tweaks, could comfortably survive in the Championship. Of course, the balance of the match should be taken with a pinch of salt, but the signs are there for Rooney’s men; and they are promising.
Betis failed to satisfy
Many expected Betis to blow Derby out of the water in a ruthless riot, and while they were on top for most of the match, they were poor in some key areas – after all, a mistake at the back cost them the game. However, Pellegrini does have time on his side to iron out the issues as his side’s La Liga campaign kicks off a week later than the Championship.
Man of the match
Nabil Fekir – Real Betis
Fekir’s absence was noticeable once he was taken off around the hour-mark. Suddenly, Betis looked as if they had run out of ideas and that was when Derby were able to take hold of a tie they had not been in.