Steve McClaren believes he has landed a real gem in Tom Ince as the loanee scored his first league goals in a year to inspire Derby to a 4-1 victory over Bolton at the iPro Stadium.
The 23-year-old attacking midfielder marked his debut in style - following his loan move from Hull on Monday - with a performance that delighted Derby’s head coach.
There had been little in the game until Liam Trotter bundled over Chris Martin just outside the box on the right in the 39th minute and Ince curled a superb free-kick into the top corner of Andy Lonergan’s net.
A clever pass from Will Hughes invited Jeff Hendrick to spin away from Josh Vela and fire low past Lonergan just before half-time and Ince powered in his second from another Hughes pass two minutes after the break.
Bolton hit back when a free-kick was headed in by substitute Filip Twardzik in the 51st minute but Derby sealed victory in the 68th minute when Jake Buxton headed across goal for Hendrick to score from two yards.
Ince was denied a hat-trick when he rattled a post and his impact on the game drew rich praise from McClaren.
“We knew we had to be patient if we didn’t score in the first 20 minutes and it was a beautiful goal to start off from Tom Ince,” said the Rams boss.
“The first goal was always going to be important and it was a cracker. He’s slotted into our team and he’s done that in training since day one. It looked like Tom had been in the team all season.
“The key thing is Tom can score goals, he’s got that knack. He wants to score and he can handle the ball, it’s a great debut for him.”
McClaren admitted knowing Paul Ince had helped in bringing his son to Derby.
“I know his father very well, I coached him so I told him we would look after Tom,” he added.
“He just needed an opportunity and a chance to find a home and that’s what we want to give him and I think with this team he can play in it.”
Bolton manager Neil Lennon conceded Derby deserved to win but was disappointed with his team’s display.
“It was a poor performance,” he said. “We were comfortable for 40 minutes, then Tom Ince scores a fantastic free-kick but we didn’t deal with the reaction at all well and we shot ourselves in the foot.
“Derby are a quality side at this level and have strength in depth but we looked a bit lightweight in the second half and I’m not happy with the performance today at all.
“I want a reaction as quickly as possible. It’s all right the players lifting themselves for Liverpool, anyone can do that but these are the games they earn their living from and we were second best for large parts of this game but you have to give Derby credit.”