Rams to the slaughter

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 May, 1998, 12:00am

POSTERS adorning the walls of Pride Park advertised the club's 'Silly End-of-Season Sale' next week. 'It's come bloody early this year,' a disgruntled home supporter lamented at half-time on Sunday.

Derby County were 4-0 down to Leicester City, the goals compressed into a frantic 15-minute opening spell.

At least Mr Angry stayed on to watch the second half, unlike some fellow sufferers. After Ian Marshall had risen high to nod in ? the fourth header to find its way past Mart Poom in swift succession ? a number of disbelieving Derby followers headed for the exits.

'It was an extraordinary start,' Martin O'Neill, the Leicester manager, said. 'All we wanted to do was to play it tight and not do what we did at Everton the week before, when we conceded an early goal. We were still on the bus when they scored. This time, I was as dumbfounded as everyone. We played brilliantly.' O'Neill often lapses into hyperbole, especially after a resounding victory, yet Leicester were brilliant ? for the first 15 minutes.

From then on, they needed to be no more than competent ? and they were.

As the second half drifted predictably in Derby's favour, Leicester sat back, absorbed sporadic pressure and comfortably climbed three places to ninth in the Premier League.

Qualification for the UEFA Cup next season is not beyond them, if they win their closing games against Newcastle United, Barnsley and West Ham.

'We've got over the first hurdle,' Marshall said. 'Only three more to go.' Fleet-footed and vibrant as Leicester were early on, Derby were awful.

A recent record of only one win in six matches, including four defeats, did not augur well and so it proved. They were shambolic defensively as their players were twisted and turned every which way by Leicester's marvellous momentum.

'I'm used to players kicking me all over the field, but I couldn't believe how much time and space I was allowed,' Emile Heskey, the Leicester striker, said.

Jim Smith, the Derby manager, felt that the 3-1 defeat against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park the previous weekend was bad enough.

'I don't remember being more disappointed with a Derby performance,' he said in his match programme notes. He was on Sunday.

A chorus of boos sporadically rung out around Derby's state-of-the-art Pride Park from the home fans, while the Leicester fans were singing 'We're going to win 10-0.' In reality, after 15 minutes it looked as though they would.

Smith had slammed his side as being 'too blase' in their defeat at Crystal Palace, accusing them of a performance which was both 'unforgivable and unprofessional,' but this time, for once, he was almost lost for words.

'It was horrendous,' he said. 'I looked at the clock, it read 4.15 and we were 4-0 down. We knew there would be a problem in the air and, to be fair, their crosses into the box were brilliant, but our marking was missing. It was terrible,' Smith said.

The carnage began after 95 seconds. Robbie Savage released Steve Guppy along the right flank and his centre was guided in by Heskey, with barely a challenge in sight. Sixteen seconds after the restart, Marshall fed a pass through, Heskey supplied a splendid cross and Muzzy Izzet, not the tallest of midfield players, dived forward to head in.

Five minutes later, Heskey headed his ninth goal of the season from a Guppy free kick and, seven minutes further on, Marshall made it four with another header.