Leicester City climbed back up to third in the npower Championship with a handsome victory over local rivals Derby County at King Power Stadium.
Irresistible in the opening exchanges of an entertaining East Midlands derby, the Foxes powered their way into a two-goal lead through Zak Whitbread’s headed opener and a well-worked second from the outstanding Martyn Waghorn.
Overwhelmed in the first half-an-hour, a youthful Rams side recovered to hit back through Theo Robinson before half-time and produced some probing possession football that offered genuine hope to the travelling supporters after the break.
But the surprise introduction of leading scorer David Nugent, missing for two weeks with a neck injury, gave the hosts fresh impetus in the game’s final third and the England international completed City's fifth straight win over the Rams with two goals to take his tally for the season to 11.
The end result hardly reflected the contribution Nigel Clough’s visitors made to a game that was very much in the balance for the 36 minutes that passed between Robinson’s well-controlled reply and Nugent’s first.
But it was difficult to say the score-line flattered Nigel Pearson’s hosts, whose opening assault on the Derby goal could easily have prompted a similar avalanche to the one that befell Ipswich Town here a fortnight ago.
City hit six that day, including four in the first half, and started in similar mood as they went in search of an eighth win in 10 games on home soil.
Waghorn, a player reborn after a consistent run in the side uninterrupted by injury, was the spearhead of their early barrage. Combining his ox-like power with the technique of a thoroughbred, the England Under-21 international was a force Derby struggled to contain.
On six minutes, it was his corner that brought about the opener. Whipped in from the left, it was perfectly placed for Whitbread to attack and the defender duly directed his header past Adam Legzdins for his first goal in City colours.
Just the start the visitors didn’t want as the home fans got behind their team, adding another gust of wind to sails already billowing. Waghorn was halted unceremoniously by Andy Keogh, before drawing a stunning save from Legzdins from the resulting free-kick.
This was the Waghorn of old, the player City initially signed on loan from Sunderland during Pearson’s first spell in charge. One minute dropping deep to link the play, the next he was bullying centre-backs, or waiting on the shoulder, daring them to leave space in behind.
Paul Coutts was forced to handle to prevent a Waghorn pass setting Lloyd Dyer free down the left. Brimming with confidence, Waghorn took the free-kick on from an impossible angle and left the crossbar shaking.
Derby couldn’t get out of their own half, or keep Waghorn out of the game. On 19 minutes, he wound up an acrobatic volley from Dyer’s measured cross and Legzdins somehow managed to keep it out.
The frustrated look of weeks gone by was replaced by a knowing smile. A smile that knew, not hoped, a goal was coming.
It duly arrived on 23 minutes, with a sizeable slice of credit going to strike partner Jamie Vardy – who redirected Anthony Knockaert’s centre with surgical precision. Waghorn, just onside, finished first-time.
Vardy pierced Andy Keogh’s defences only to be denied by Legzdins from a tough angle. Knockaert stretched him full-length with a dipping curler from the edge of the box.
But Derby slowly started to get a grip of the ball, utilising the outstanding talents of young midfielder Will Hughes to wield some influence on the game.
Coutts and Michael Jacobs warmed the palms of Kasper Schmeichel, then the Rams struck. Jacobs teased a pass into the path of Robinson, darting in off the right flank, and Robinson finished smartly.
Derby were in business. Schmeichel had to save from Conor Sammon, before parrying less comfortably from Robinson on the stroke of half-time.
And as the Rams began to dominate possession early in the second half, a goal to level the scores was not a million miles from anyone’s mind.
Just after the hour-mark, City failed to clear from a corner, Sammon drove across goal from the right and Robinson was denied by the chest of Schmeichel from barely a yard out.
City looked capable on the break, but were having to defend increasingly well as Wes Morgan blocked from Jeff Hendrick on the edge of the box.
But Pearson timed the introduction of Nugent perfectly and the City striker put the result beyond doubt with 16 minutes to go – nodding home fellow sub Ben Marshall’s cross from the left.
It sapped the energy out of Clough’s men, who never looked likely to recover from that and Nugent rubbed further salt into their wounds with an instinctive finish after Danny Drinkwater had jabbed Paul Konchesky’s low pass in his direction.
The Foxes continue to look very much the part on home soil and will hope to continue their impressive run when Barnsley come to town next week.
City (4-4-2): Schmeichel; De Laet, Morgan (c), Whitbread, Konchesky; Knockaert (James 80), King, Drinkwater, Dyer (Marshall 66); Vardy (Nugent 66), Waghorn.
Unused subs: Logan, Schlupp, Moore, Futacs.
Goals: Whitbread 6, Waghorn 23, Nugent 74, 89.
Derby (4-3-3): Legzdins; Brayford, Keogh (c), Buxton, O’Connor (Freeman 77); Coutts, Hughes, Hendrick; Robinson (Tyson 81), Sammon, Jacobs (Bennett 85).
Unused subs: Fielding, O’Brien, Davies, Hoganson.
Goals: Robinson 38
Attendance: 20,680 (883 away)
Referee: Geoff Eltringham (Durham)