REPORT: Derby County 2-1 Wigan Athletic - Rams drought ends with comeback victory
They did it the hard way but Derby County finally ended both their winless and goalless runs at Pride Park on Tuesday night.
Behind to a Gavin Massey goal at the break, Derby responded well in the second-half to turn the game around, sub Mason Bennett and full-back Scott Malone getting the goals that brought considerable relief to the home supporters, and no doubt to manager Frank Lampard.
It was far from a classic performance and improvement is still needed if the play-offs are to remain a possibility, but a win was the most important requirement here and on balance the hosts just about deserved it against a hard-working Latics side.
Six changes were made to the Rams side following the debacle at Aston Villa on Saturday, a far more familiar line-up taking to the field and, particularly in the second-half, looking a lot more fluid and confident than in previous weeks.
And those characteristics will be crucial to take forward with Sheffield Wednesday coming to town next weekend.
A bright start from the Rams saw Harry Wilson mis-hit a shot too high five minutes in, both sides showing good attacking intent early on.
Bradley Johnson saw a header from a corner pushed away by Wigan keeper Jamie Jones four minutes later, before chances dried up for a while as the atmosphere and tempo both dropped.
But Wigan would soon puncture any remaining home enthusiasm by taking the lead on 25 minutes. A Rams corner saw Malone lose possession on the edge of the penalty area and Michael Jacobs was able to break at pace in a two-on-one counter. He bided his time before sliding in Massey to his right and he slid the ball under Scott Carson and into the net.
Four minutes later, Leon Clarke was inches away with a header from Nathan Byrne's right wing cross as the hosts were again found wanting.
Derby suddenly looked bereft of attacking ideas again, Wilson's 30-yard free-kick going nowhere near the goal and Wigan defending resolutely and in numbers as you'd expect from a struggling side 1-0 up away from home.
Johnson, the best Rams performer by far in the opening half, skewed a Jayden Bogle cross wide three minutes before the break, then at the other end Jacobs headed straight at Carson as the Latics looked for a second.
But another half of football would soon end goalless for the Rams.
The second-half didn't begin much better as Wigan had the better of things early on, Frank Lampard introducing Duane Holmes and Bennett just before the hour mark to try and inject some pace into proceedings.
And Bennett would be the man to end Derby's goal drought within five minutes of his arrival. Malone found space on the left and crossed for Bennett in the area who fashioned a superb volleyed effort with the outside of his left boot and on the spin which looped over Jones and into the corner of the net.
Jacobs missed a great chance to put Wigan back in front soon afterwards but flashed his effort across goal and wide of the far post, before the other Derby sub Duane Holmes ran forward and fired an effort in from 25 yards which Jones pushed away.
Wigan responded with sub Nick Powell and then Lee Evans seeing efforts blocked and Clarke flicking a shot wide, before the Rams got themselves in front on 79 minutes.
A good break forward saw the ball eventually find right-back Jayden Bogle whose mis-hit shot in a crowded penalty area found the feet of left-back Malone a couple of yards out and he turned the ball into the net to send the home fans, and bench, into ecstasy.
Powell drove an effort too high with three minutes of regular time remaining, then Martyn Waghorn struck the post from a Bogle cross as the hosts looked to kill the game off, but two goals would be enough and Derby move level on points with sixth-placed Bristol City.
Derby: Carson, Tomori, Keogh (c), Wilson (Nugent 89), Waghorn, Jozefzoon (Holmes 57), Marriott (Bennett 57), Johnson, Bogle, Huddlestone, Malone
Subs not used: Roos, Wisdom, Cole, Bird
Wigan: Jones, Byrne, Morsy (c), Fox (Naismith 33), Massey (Powell 70), James, Jacobs (Windass 78), Kipre, Dunkley, Clarke, L Evans
Subs not used: O Evans, Gibson, Olsson, Garner
Ref: Tony Harrington
Star Ram: Bradley Johnson
Derby: Bennett 62, Malone 79
Wigan: Massey 25
Derby: Johnson (foul), Bennett (foul), Tomori (dissent), Wilson (simulation)
Wigan: Morsy (foul)