A Leandro Bacuna brace coupled with a goal apiece from Kieffer Moore and Will Vaulks ensured that Cardiff City returned to winning ways on Tuesday evening in emphatic style.
After being held to a 1-1 draw at Middlesbrough over the weekend, stakes were high in the build-up to Tuesday night’s showdown, Cardiff looking to reinstate their presence in the play-off spots.
And, for now at least, they have done just that.
This performance was arguably the most impressive of the Mick McCarthy era to date. Although second best in terms of possession, Cardiff ran out 4-0 winners – highlighting their ruthlessness in front of goal.
The buoyant Bluebirds have extended their unbeaten run to ten matches and look a formidable force under McCarthy.
Three points will be the target once more on Friday evening as Cardiff host Huddersfield Town at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Derby, meanwhile, will need to dust themselves down and recover quickly if they are to return to winning ways this weekend when they make the short journey to Birmingham to face Coventry City.
Here are the five key talking points from Tuesday’s game from a Cardiff City standpoint
An unlikely hero
You do not often associate Leandro Bacuna with a goalscoring prowess. Instead, he is typically associated with energy, robustness and high-tempo play.
Deployed in an unusual attacking midfield role in place of Harry Wilson, Bacuna was Cardiff’s standout player as he found the back of the net twice, the second goal coming in truly enrapturing fashion.
To open the scoring, Bacuna latched onto a precise through ball from Joe Bennett and, requiring nothing more than a single touch, coolly slotted the ball past Rams stopper Kelle Roos from close range.
Shortly after the break, Bacuna struck gold with his second goal of the match and it really was one to savour, too.
Sheyi Ojo found the former Reading man in space on the edge of the area and again, merely a solitary touch was needed before he crafted a luxurious effort into the far-left hand corner of the goal, putting his side three goals to the good in the process.
It topped off a glorious evening for Bacuna who, as well as displaying a keen eye for goal, used his energetic presence to maximum effect by injecting an additional sense of dynamism into the Cardiff attack.
Joe Bennett’s injury
On a more depressing note, Cardiff City have been left fearing the worst after stalwart Joe Bennett was stretchered off on the half hour mark.
The trusty left-back dropped to the floor in a heap as he tried to turn on the halfway line and following a six-minute stoppage in play, Bennett was replaced by Joe Bagan.
As he broke down, Bennett let out a scream. It was a thorough indication of the severity of the injury.
In his post-match press conference, City boss Mick McCarthy offered a trembling account of the incident.
“He’s not good,” said McCarthy. “I’m not a doctor or a surgeon but he’ll be assessed tomorrow.
“He’s not in good shape anyway. It’s his knee. Exceptionally tough for him, you could tell it wasn’t right. There will be suspicions of it being ligaments or ACL all that.
“Until he has a scan and the doctors have decided what it is, I’m not going to try and attempt to say what it is. Everybody will have a guess.
“You could tell, he didn’t move. When someone goes down and doesn’t move you know he’s hurt and it’s a real sore one.”
Arriving into the final stages of the campaign, losing such an experienced, entrusted member of the group is going to come as a stern blow for the high-flying Bluebirds. Thankfully, a degree of solace can be unearthed in the youthful form of Joel Bagan.
Bagan, who has featured in six matches this term, is a player held in high regard at the Cardiff City Stadium and will seemingly be licensed with an extended run in the team as a result.
For Bagan, it is a monumental opportunity to prove his worth at Championship level and, if his displays so far are anything to go by, that seems an achievable task.
Did Dean Whitestone get it right?
Cardiff would soon embrace their spoonful of justice but, after fifteen minutes on the clock, the hosts rightfully felt aggrieved following a particularly controversial decision.
Perry Ng distributed a menacing through ball into the path of Sheyi Ojo, who cut in threateningly with a sixth league goal firmly in his sights.
But as he looked set to release his effort, Derby defender Matthew Clarke slid in and seemingly blocked it with his outstretched arm.
Despite numerous complaints, referee Dean Whitestone dismissed the appeals and play continued.
Ultimately, the decision did not prove detrimental to Cardiff’s fortunes. But it could have been.
You would be forgiven for expressing shock at the fact Perry Ng only has eleven Championship appearances to his name.
Ever since making his debut in the 1-0 defeat to QPR, Ng has looked like a reliable, almost flawless operator in the wing-back berth for Cardiff City.
Possessing immaculate positional awareness, accompanied with an ability to read the game that belies his age, Ng has seamlessly transitioned into the rigours of second-tier football.
And despite not having a broad physique, the former Crewe skipper can frequently be seen pulling off powerful challenges, which, almost always tend to be successful.
He was a constant threat marauding down the right flank all evening and his energetic approach in the final third eventually paid dividends.
In the closing moments, Ng was a chief presser for Cardiff City as they chased a fourth goal. After winning possession deep into Derby’s half, a light pass opened up space for Will Vaulks, who struck a spellbinding effort to catch Kelle Roos by surprise from long distance.
In hindsight, securing the services of Ng for a mere 350,000 was nothing short of a serious coup for the Bluebirds.
The 24-year-old is embracing improvement upon each game and his potential progression certainly invites a wealth of awe-consuming anticipation.
Is there a ‘right’ way of playing football?
If you are a football supporter who fantasises over possession-based, tiki-taka football, Cardiff City may not be the club for you. They are quite the opposite.
As they romped to a 4-0 victory over the Rams, the Bluebirds soaked up a miniscule 27% possession – a surreal statistic for a side that won by such a sizable margin.
But when Cardiff did have the ball, they made the most out of it. The hosts registered fourteen shots (twice as many as Derby), created eleven chances and, most crucially, scored four goals.
It does not suit the satisfaction of everyone but for Cardiff, it works.
Seeing less of the ball allows for more time to regroup and with the speed, dynamism and overlapping tendencies in the side, they can quickly break and catch teams out.
Only three Championship outfits record an inferior average possession percentage to Cardiff’s 45.3%. Those sides are Rotherham, Sheffield Wednesday and Wycombe Wanderers, all of whom are occupants of the bottom three places.
In spite of this, Thomas Frank’s star-studded Brentford are the only side to have scored more goals, proving pragmatism doesn’t have to be dull.
Whilst everyone is buying into the footballing philosophy within the Welsh Capital, midfielder Will Vaulks particularly relishes it.
“It suits me as a player, because I always felt, why can’t we just embrace what Cardiff City is?” said Vaulks.
“We are horrible to play against, we are physical, we run further than other teams, we win our battles, but we also have quality now.”
Cardiff are not going to absorb the lion’s share of possession, and they most certainly will not be emulating a tiki-taka style.
Nonetheless, what they actually do is extremely effective. When they do have the ball, Cardiff know how to create chances and score goals. And further back, Cardiff know how to organise the midfield and how to defend as a unit.
So, with their present success, why should they have to play a certain way?