Iesha Rollins scored twice as Derby County Women U20s recorded a 2-0 victory over East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest in front of a strong crowd at the Don Amott Arena.
The young Ewes, who usually play their home matches at Moor Farm Training Ground, scored early in both halves to earn their ninth straight win in the FAWNL Reserve Midland League and move level on points with Forest at the top of the table.
Derby have only dropped points once this season and condemned Forest to their first league defeat of the season and currently hold a game in hand on their local rivals.
Ewes boss Dan Dobrzycki admitted last week that he had somewhat of a selection headache due to the depth of his squad and recent returns from injury.
He made two changes from last week’s thrashing of Doncaster Rovers Belles, with Laura Monk and Marli Rhodes-Andrews coming in for Ruby Barnes and Charlie Duthie-Thompson.
Top scorer Isabel Sheridan, who was absent from the squad last time out, returned to the bench.
The visitors were wanting to show early top-of-the-table intent from the off, Olivia Edwards racing away but stopped in her path by Sasha Brassington inside the opening minute.
The Ewes found the opener just a few minutes later and it came in spectacular style. After strongly dispossessing a Forest defender inside her own half, in-form Rollins unleashed a dipping strike from 25 yards that caught Ashleigh Hind out in the visitors net.
The game slowed in pace following the goal, Forest happy to let Derby have possession while maintaining a threat of their own on the counter-attack.
Midway through the half, the visitors found an opening when Summa Betts flicked a neat ball round the corner to Edwards, but Lola Smith confidently smothered the loose ball ahead of the Forest attacker. It was brave goalkeeping.
The division leaders were finding their stride and were forcing the Ewes into conceding niggly fouls in midfield. Smith, though, was more than comfortable in dealing with high balls into her box from the subsequent set pieces.
Holly Otter, playing in a more advanced position at the top end of the pitch, saw a neat turn inside the box create an opening. Rosie Hunt struck the loose ball low into the hands of Hind.
Captain Hunt, who returned from a long-term injury last weekend, had been showing exactly what her side have missed in her absence, knocking the ball about with ease and showing composure in possession.
A Forest corner looped directly onto the top of the crossbar before the Reds had their best opportunity to equalise. A combination of Newton and Smith miraculously kept out Betts at the back post after a flick-on had found her in space.
That turned out to be final kick of the half and the Ewes took a narrow 1-0 lead into the interval.
Forest, as they did in the first half, began with real intent from the whistle and created a chance within 30 seconds of the restart. Takiah Burnett’s cross found Jessica Waplington, who could only find the side-netting in an early let off for Derby.
The visitors would be made to pay when the Ewes and Rollins doubled their respective tallies just a few minutes later. Alex Owens’ free-kick from the left was instinctively poked home by Rollins for her sixth goal in two matches and her 12th of the season.
Derby’s tails were up and Rollins, who scored in this fixture last season at Mickleover, saw an opportunity to seal her hat-trick go begging, as her strike was tamely gathered by Hind following a neat ball forward from Monk.
Smith was soon called into action as she hacked away a fizzing ball to her left before tipping the resulting corner over the bar.
The Ewes goalkeeper was having a superb game and did well to keep out Isabella Hodson as the clock reached 65 minutes after a trio of Forest substitutes had invigorated some energy into their side as they attempted to chase the deficit.
Burnett fired wide for the visitors before the game slowed in pace and intensity in the closing stages. That suited Derby to the ground with the two-goal cushion over their East Midlands rivals.
A looping ball came off the Derby crossbar in the final minute as the Ewes maintained a clean sheet and recorded their sixth straight shutout in the league.
Derby are in action again next week at Moor Farm where they take on Lincoln City.
Derby County (4-3-3): Smith; Owens, Brassington, M. Towers, Newton; Hunt (c) (Barnes), Monk, Abadi; Rollins (Humphrey), Otter (Sheridan), Rhodes-Andrews (A. Towers). Subs: Goodwin.
Report by Kallum Brisset