Tom Ince nets hat-trick as Derby claim big victory over Bristol City
Tom Ince ended his goal drought in style with a hat-trick as Derby County cruised to a 4-0 victory over struggling Bristol City on a murky night at the iPro Stadium.
Ince had not scored since early October but he followed a fine individual goal with two more before Johnny Russell wrapped up Derby's sixth home win in seven games and their biggest victory of the season.
What turned into a one-sided affair in the second half takes Derby back into third place while City are hovering one point above the relegation zone.
The result was a vindication for head coach Paul Clement who sprang a surprise by bringing in Darren Bent for top scorer Chris Martin, who dropped to the bench along with midfielders George Thorne and Jacob Butterfield.
City also made three changes but, after a disjointed opening with little action at either end, it was Derby who created the first decent chance to open the scoring in the 26th minute, only for Bent to head Jeff Hendrick's cross against the bar from three yards.
It was an opportunity the former England striker would have expected to put past the ex-Derby goalkeeper Frank Fielding and City threatened to take advantage with a swift counter minutes later, but Luke Freeman's low shot was comfortably held by Lee Grant.
Derby went close again in the 35th minute when Richard Keogh whipped a ball in that Fielding just touched from Ince but City almost scored five minutes later when an inswinging free-kick from Joe Bryan was turned against a post by Nathan Baker.
There had been few moments of quality in the game but Ince changed that in the 42nd minute when he received possession 25 yards out and slipped past three defenders before firing a low shot to Fielding's right from just inside the box.
That goal was a blow for City who had worked so hard to frustrate Derby and they almost conceded a second five minutes into the second half when Cyrus Christie's deep cross from the right was clawed out by Fielding.
There was a chance for the visitors to reply in the 55th minute when Korey Smith was tripped by Keogh just outside the area, but Freeman curled the free-kick over the bar.
However, a combination of careless play and a Fielding error handed Derby breathing space when City lost possession just inside their own half in the 63rd minute and Ince ran forward to score with a shot that went under the 'keeper's body.
Ince made sure of victory in the 71st minute when he beat Fielding from 10 yards after Bent got in behind City on the right and it got even better for Derby when Russell headed in Chris Baird's cross six minutes later.