Match Report Derby County vs Charlton Athletic, Sat 15th August 2015, iPro Stadium

Well, that’s a bit more like it, isn’t it Rams fans?

Granted we only came away with a point in a game we dominated for large parts, and the visitors’ goal, courtesy of a massive deflection from Tony Watt’s effort, was fortunate in the extreme, but the team and (with a couple of exceptions) the players looked back to their old selves. Whilst the result was disappointing, I think you’d struggle to find many sane Rams fans who were not buoyed by the much improved performance, especially after the limp League Cup exit to Portsmouth in mid-week.

I’m a big fan of 4-3-3. I still feel it is the formation which gets the best performances out of our best players. The likes of Chris Martin, George Thorne, Tom Ince and Will Hughes all seem to know and thrive in a system which plays to their individual strengths. The tinkering with formations and personnel in pre-season was wholly justified in giving us the options we sorely lacked last campaign, but I was beginning to worry that the set up which had generally served us so well during the last two years had been discarded due to the strong whiff of McClaren it carried. The old adage about babies and bath water was playing on my mind somewhat, so there was a huge sense of relief when I heard the team news and saw how we were setting up.

As a big advocate of building from the back, I was also pleased to see such experienced and solid personnel in defence. Chris Baird, Richard Keogh and Jason Shackell all have a wealth of know-how and have captained for long periods in the past, and Forsyth looked back to his best, spending a good portion of the match camped out on the left wing, high up the pitch. We seem to have regained the balance we had with Andre Wisdom, with Baird staying back and he, Keogh and Shackell all moving 10 yards to the left when Forsyth galloped forward in order to provide a back three. The former Watford man looked to have rediscovered the freedom and confidence he had in the 13/14 season and he was a dangerous outlet throughout.

As far as Keogh is concerned, I think the best compliment I can pay him is that I hardly noticed him at all throughout the match. There was a distinct lack of nervousness from him and he seemed to have the tall, imposing Simon Makienok in his back pocket for 90 minutes. It may well be that removing the burden of the captaincy will let him concentrate on his own game, but I also feel the simple act of surrounding him with experienced and reliable players will have helped hugely. He didn’t have to worry about Cyrus Christie’s naive positioning, nor Ryan Shotton’s habit of racing out to meet an on-rushing attacker thus leaving a gaping hole behind him. If we can keep a settled defence for the majority of the season, I think we’ll see a whole new side to Keogh.

In midfield, there seem to be insufficient superlatives to lavish upon George Thorne. The man is in a different class to anyone else, and I found myself transfixed by him for large parts of the game. Time seems to slow down when he receives the ball and the bloke near me mentioned that he though the Charlton players were giving him too much time. I disagree. I think George makes that time himself by the simple act of finding space. He plays a simple ball and then immediately finds a pocket of empty grass to move into. He then demands the ball again, and lays it off. Pass, move, receive, pass. All the while, his movement is creating pockets of space for other players to occupy and only when he thinks the time is right does he unleash the killer ball. His pass completion statistics for the afternoon were stunning, with 110 passes at an accuracy of 97% which is quite phenomenal whichever way you slice it. He has patience, vision and accuracy and it is imperative that we keep him fit this season.

Alongside him, Jamie Hanson made his league bow and more than held his own. Having only previously seen him play in the middle of defence for the U21s, I am impressed at how he is adapting to a role further forward. His tenacity and hunger for the ball are a breath of fresh air, and he can’t half ping a pass either. An afternoon of high-energy play took its toll on his young legs and he was substituted towards the end to a fully deserved standing ovation. He must now be firmly established in the first team squad and, if he can keep up this sort of performance he’ll be some player (told you so)

On the other side of things, Jeff Hendrick looked a little sluggish. He sometimes takes a while to get going in games, but he appeared off the pace and his reactions were sometimes slow in goal scoring positions. His one decent effort was cleared off the line, but aside from that it wasn’t his best day at the office sadly. Not terrible, just half a yard slow to everything.

Up top, Chris Martin was obviously relishing being the focal point again and he took his goal well. Tom Ince was double-marked whenever he had the ball, but looked much more dangerous cutting in from wide areas. A few neat little tricks to get round defenders were reminders that he’s truly one of those “something-out-of-nothing” players, and even when he’s not playing at 100%, the fact that he occupies so much of the opposition’s efforts means that simply giving him the ball opens up space for others. He’s obviously been identified as our number one threat by opposing teams so he’ll probably have to adapt his game to avoid being marked out of things, but he’s got the talent at his disposal, no doubt. On the other flank, Johnny Russell, like Hendrick, wasn’t quite on his game. He’s been the stand-out player in pre-season but today there was lots of endeavour and sadly not much coming off for him. He’s a confidence player though, so a run of games and a goal or two and I’m sure he’ll be flying.

Some were questioning why Darren Bent, the definition of a fox-in-the-box striker, was not brought on when we were pushing for a winner. It’s a valid point, but I feel that the only thing lacking was the finishing. We were creating plenty of chances and moving the ball around well, we just needed to be a little more clinical. It’s obvious to say that Bent would have provided that had he been brought on, but as we’ve seen in the past he struggles in a 4-3-3. By bringing him on, I think we would’ve had to adapt the formation and style of play as well, to the detriment of everything else that we were doing so well. If 95% of things that you’re doing are working, do you risk disrupting that on the off chance that you can improve the 5% that is missing, or do you keep plugging away and hope that the players on the pitch can find find that extra bit of quality? It’s a tough call for sure, and I think I would’ve done as Clement did and left Bent on the bench.

So, overall a positive afternoon despite the result. The players looked more comfortable, the gaping hole between midfield and attack which was evident in Wednesday’s 4-2-3-1 set up had been addressed, and the long balls which came with it were banished. Martin was back amongst the goals (his first at the iPro since January, incredibly), Jamie Hanson showed that our academy can still produce some real quality, and George Thorne gave me even more reasons to name my first-born after him.

Final score
Derby County 1 – 1 Charlton Athletic

Scorers
Derby County: Martin (’68)
Charlton Athletic: Watt (’48)

Derby County
Carson, Baird, Keogh, Shackell, Forsyth; Thorne, Hendrick, Hanson (Christie ’87); Ince, Russell (Weimann ’67), Martin
Subs: Grant, Christie, Dawkins, Bent, Weimann, Shotton, Warnock

Charlton Athletic
Pope, Solly, Diarra, Bauer, Fox, Berg Gudmundsson (Ba ’92), Kashi, Cousins, Ceballos (Bergdich ’61), Watt, Makienok (Jackson ’88)
Subs: Jackson, Sarr, Ghoochannejhad, Ahearne-Grant, Bergdich, Ba, Mitov

Match Report Derby County vs Blackpool, Tue 14th April 2015, iPro Stadium

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever celebrated a win (much less a 4-0 win) with such a lack of enthusiasm.

Maybe it was the fact that the season feels like it’s spluttering to an end with the glory we all expected back in August disappearing over the horizon after the woeful last few months. Maybe, despite the scoreline, it was a case of “too-little-too-late”. Or maybe it was simply the fact that Blackpool truly are a club in tatters, and to celebrate too fervently in front of the 150 die-hard Tangerines who’d made the 120 mile trip down from the seaside felt a little like kicking someone when they’re down. Whatever it was, the atmosphere at the iPro was decidedly flat from start to finish, with the feeling of an end-of-season game (perhaps even, the end of a mid-table finish season).

McClaren once again cranked the handle on his defensive selection tombola and pulled out a back-four of Ryan Shotton, Richard Keogh, Zak Whitbread and Stephen Warnock. Despite his rather ropey performance against Brentford at the weekend, I thought it was a little harsh on Craig Forsyth to be benched. You can’t play a man out of position and then bin him when he doesn’t have a terrific game (and nobody from the defence which faced the Bees came out of the match with much credit). At least we were back to round pegs/round holes, with Whitbread (our only fit, naturally left sided centre back) slotting in alongside Keogh. I’ve never been 100% sure about Whitbread. He looks composed enough on the ball, but I feel he’s too ponderous in possession at times. He has a habit of taking one too many touches when he receives the ball, which often means the chance for the right pass has gone and he’s left with no option but to lay it off to his CB partner. Still, we’re running out of fit/confident defenders and, as a wise man once said: “Needs must, when the Devil vomits into your kettle”.

Midfield looked an interesting prospect with Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendrick joined by Simon Dawkins. I assumed Hendrick would play the deeper of the three (and consequently had ‘Nam style flashbacks to the King Power last season where he put in a frankly garbage performance in the role), so I wasn’t hopeful of us being overly dominant in the middle of the park.

Craig Bryson fires a shot in

Craig Bryson fires a shot in

As expected, the Rams came out all guns blazing against a very poor Blackpool side and within two minutes were ahead thanks to Bryson’s speculative 25-yard shot. The Scotland international (whose metamorphosis from last season’s 16 goal Player of the Year into the ineffective and aimless passenger we’ve seen this year will remain one this campaign’s great mysteries) found himself with acres of space in front of the visitors’ defence and drove forward before powering the ball low into the corner. A goal to the good so early on was exactly what the home side (and fans) needed.

Tom Ince added to the Seasider’s woes on the half-hour mark with a precision curler into the bottom corner of the net after a cheeky little through-ball from Ryan Shotton, only for the visitors to go three goals down immediately after the kick-off. A lazy pass to nobody from Charles Dunne was pounced upon by Darren Bent who held off the chasing defenders to slot the ball home. Bent was on the move before the ball had even been played, and I’m of the opinion that he is the only player in our squad who would’ve read that situation and taken the gamble. The Rams went in at the break 3-0 up and no doubt breathing a collective sigh of relief.

After the break, the hosts noticeably too their foot off the gas and the victory was sealed by an emphatic penalty from Bent after Ryan Shotton was dragged down in the box by Peter Clarke.

Simon Dawkins did well in an unfamiliar role

Simon Dawkins did well in an unfamiliar role

Just a quick note on Simon Dawkins: I’ve never been his most ardent fan. When played in his usual position as a wide forward, he always seems reluctant to push forward with any great urgency, often preferring to knock the ball sideways or backwards which drains any momentum out of our attacks. However, I think we might have found a new role for him with this performance. He did three things tonight exceptionally well: he found space and made himself available, he kept the ball when he needed to, and he used the ball well when he needed to. He was dropping deep to pick the ball up off the defence and then he was acting as the key distributor to start attacks off. His job tonight wasn’t to dribble from the halfway line and skin 3 or 4 players, it was much more of pivot role, doing the simple things well and keeping it all ticking over (something we miss in the absence of Will Hughes). I got the impression he found himself under a lot less pressure to do the flashy stuff, and I think his overall game benefited as a result.

Special mention must go to the travelling Blackpool fans who braved a long, mid-week trek to see their already-relegated, basket-case of a club once again given a sound beating without really offering so much as a whimper of resistance. The lack of baiting and usual abusive songs between the sets of supporters was noticeably absent, replaced by a genuine camaraderie and shared disgust for how the Oyston family have bled the club dry. Hopefully they will disappear soon and Blackpool can begin their long rebuilding campaign.

Obviously, it’s difficult to get too excited over this result, given it was against one of the worst teams I think I’ve seen. One swallow does not a summer make, and the goals and clean sheet here does not (and should not) paper over the cracks which have riddled the Rams over the last few months. Still, at this stage it’s all about points on the board, and the three collected here will go some way towards securing the Rams’ play-off berth. Hopefully, the players will also take some much-needed confidence going into a very tough meeting with Huddersfield at the weekend.

Final score
Derby County 4 – 0 Blackpool

Scorers
Derby County: Bryson(’3), Ince (’28), Bent (’29, ’65)

Derby County
Grant, Shotton, Keogh, Whitbread, Warnock, Dawkins, Hendrick (Thomas ’78), Bryson, Lingard, Ince (Ward ’74), Bent (Russell ’68)
Subs: Roos, Christie, Forsyth, Ward, Russell, Thomas, Albentosa

Blackpool
Parish, Maher (Barkhuizen ’54), Clarke, O’Dea, Dunne, Cubero Loria, Perkins, O’Hara, Orlandi, Madine, Cameron (Osavi-Samuel ’69)
Subs: Oliver, Ferguson, Barkhuizen, Telford, Higham, Boney, Osavi-Samuel

Article Chelsea are opponents. Nothing more.

First of all, apologies for the tumbleweed currently rolling through this blog. I realised that writing match reports somewhat detracted from my enjoyment of actually being there. I was so bothered about noting down incidents/talking points that I found myself not really watching the game, so I decided to take a break from them.

I think I’ve accepted the fact that my ramblings on here may become a little more infrequent, and perhaps a little shorter, but there are still some things I want to waffle about, if you’ll indulge me.

The first of which is last night’s news that the Rams will once again be welcoming Chelsea to the iPro, this time in the fourth round of the League Cup. When the Blues last came to town in January of this year, Derby put on a brave display for over an hour but were eventually undone by goals from John Obi-Mikel and Brazilian, Oscar. There was no shame in it at all. Derby gave a great account of themselves and could walk off the pitch with their heads held high. The fact Mourinho fielded a very strong team (and had to bring £80M worth of substitutes off the bench to break the hosts down) was testament to how much of a challenge he thought Derby would pose. Great day out, knocked out of the cup but absolutely no shame in that when you consider the opposition.

However, something stuck in my craw that day, and in the build-up to kick-off. Understandably, drawing one of the top teams in the world was always going to be big beans, but I found the fawning over the visitors left a very sour taste in my mouth. The crowds of kids (many of them Rams fans) jostling outside the iPro to catch a glimpse of David Luiz, Fernando Torres, Ashley Cole and co, the seven minute pre-match video which seemed to mostly consist of fans waiting for Chelsea, the Chelsea team bus arriving, Chelsea players walking down the tunnel, the Chelsea manager talking to McClaren, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it snippet of the Derby players (yes, believe it or not, they were there too) walking out for their warm-up.

There are two issues I have with this. Firstly, it feels like we gave them a goal head-start. The club seemed to welcome Chelsea with almost tangible awe. As a club, we appeared star-struck by them which, with the best will in the world, must have some sort of psychological effect on the players (and even the fans – both sides). We didn’t view them as opponents, but rather some sort of Colossus who we were there to toy with us like a cat with a mouse.

The second (and perhaps more worrying) problem I have was the message it sent to our young Rams fans (many of whom were among the crowds outside the iPro as the visitors arrived). There’s already an arrogance in the Premier League, and that filters down to a fair few fans of the clubs in it. I know of a fans of Football League clubs who feel they have to have a PL club to support as well. Guys who are life-long Charlton fans, who also (for some inexplicable reason) support Liverpool. I’ve heard anecdotes from friends who, when asked who they support, have replied with their club, only to have that followed up with something along the lines of “Yeah? But who’s your main team? Y’know, Man City? Chelsea? Liverpool?”

Our young fans should be worshiping Chris Martin. They should be waiting in their droves outside the stadium on a Saturday afternoon to catch a glimpse of Jeff Hendrick. They should be having a kick-around on the park and dreaming of being Craig Bryson, smashing in a hat-trick against Forest. These players should not only be their heroes, but more importantly, remain their heroes no matter who else rocks up at the iPro.

If all goes well, next year we’ll be playing Chelsea twice. And Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and all the other clubs who make up the Premier League. We’ll see the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Aguero, Daniel Sturridge all trotting out onto our turf and we need to view them as opponents. If (when?) we do get back into the Premier League we’ll have earned that right, no doubt about that, and these players will be our contemporaries; quite literally, in the same league. We need to start thinking and acting like it.

Match Report Derby County vs Fulham, Sat 23rd August 2014, iPro Stadium

An unexpected afternoon at the iPro for me today, as our Bank Holiday sojourn to sunny Plymouth was nixed by back injury to my better half. So not feeling guilty in any way whatsoever, I left her slumped on the sofa with a pack of painkillers and set off for the match.

Both teams came into today’s fixture in need of a good result. Fulham had dropped down from the Premier League at the end of last season and had seemingly not stopped dropping. Without a point in their opening three matches, a team who many expected to be amongst the favourites for the title were instead mixing it with the early relegation fodder. The pressure was mounting on manager Felix Magath already and so points were desperately needed for the visitors.

For their part, the Rams had enjoyed a rather stuttering start to the 2014/15 campaign, labouring to a 1-0 win in their opening fixture against Rotherham, before sharing the points away at Sheffield Wednesday and then putting in a frankly poor showing in a 3-2 defeat at Charlton. Derby seemed to be struggling to get into gear and the slick champagne football of last season seemed a distant memory.

In terms of the line-up, McClaren had clearly decided it was a day for round-pegs-in-round-holes as John Eustace was reinstated as the defensive midfielder to join Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendrick in the middle of the park, with Jamie Ward and Johnny Russell lining up either side of Chris Martin.

Jamie Ward fires the Rams in front

Jamie Ward fires the Rams in front

As we’ve seen many times before, the hosts started very brightly and could’ve been in front within the opening two minutes. Cyrus Christie’s whipped cross was met beautifully on the volley by Russell but the Scotsman saw his effort fizz just passed the top corner. The Rams were clearly in the mood today and Christie and Russell were involved in the opening goal on 23 minutes. Exchanging passes in the corner, Russell floated a lovely ball into the box where Jamie Ward was able to steal in front of the ‘keeper and guide it into the roof of the net.

Things went a little flat after the goal and Derby seemed to take their foot off the gas somewhat. Fulham saw plenty of the ball but looked completely out of ideas, leading Ross McCormack to chance his arm with a dipping shot from the half way line, which Grant was able to watch all the way. The Rams went in at half time in the lead and deservedly so.

As the second half got under way and Fulham continued to dominate possession in the early exchanges, there’s was a feeling that Derby might come to rue the lack of urgency which they showed in the first half, and sure enough, Fulham pulled level with a goal from Scott Parker. Derby failed to clear a McCormack free kick properly and the ball was laid off to the Fulham number 8 who slotted it just inside Grant’s post, much to the traveling fans’ relief.

Craig Bryson volleys home beautifully

Craig Bryson volleys home beautifully

This seemed to be the kick in the arse that Derby needed and Fulham weren’t level for long. Jeff Hendrick picked out Johnny Russell with a lovely ball over the top of the defence. Russell cushioned the ball back across goal where Craig Bryson was waiting to tap it into the net.

From that point on, Fulham just seemed to fall apart. The Rams extended their lead only two minutes later when Chris Martin twisted and turned inside the visitors’ penalty area before driving a low shot passed the despairing Jesse Joronen.

Rather than sitting back and holding the visitors at bay, as they had done in the first half, Steve McClaren made two attacking substitutions, bringing on Simon Dawkins and Will Hughes to give the weary Fulham defence some fresh legs to worry about.

Simon Dawkins seals the victory

Simon Dawkins seals the victory

And what an impact they made. Hughes, playing in a much more advanced position than we’ve seen of late (and in my humble opinion, his best position), carved open the Fulham defence with one of his surging runs, before finding Dawkins in acres of space on the left of the pitch. I honestly thought Fulham must have had a player down injured or something – there was NOBODY within ten yards of Dawkins as he picked the ball up and slid it goal-wards. It bounced agonisingly off the foot of the post, but landed right in the path of Martin who was able to poke it home.

The re-start after the goal was perfectly described by @FootballCliches as being “like someone who’s getting thrashed on FIFA and doesn’t want to play anymore“. Martin and Hughes simply picked the ball off the visitors and set off on a near identical attack. This time Dawkins made no mistake as he drew the ‘keeper to his near post before sliding the ball back across goal to cap off a brilliant display by the Rams and a horror show for the visitors.

Final score
Derby County 5 – 1 Fulham

Scorers
Derby County: Ward (’23), Bryson (’59), Martin ’61, ’87), Dawkins (’88)
Fulham: Parker (’54)

Derby County
Grant, Christie, Forsyth, Eustace, Keogh, Buxton, Hendrick, Bryson (Hughes ’84), Martin, Ward (Best ’89), Russell (Dawkins ’83)
Subs: Dawkins, Naylor, Whitbread, Hughes, Roos, Best, Mascarell

Fulham
Joronen, Hoogland (Voser ’67), Kavanagh, Williams, Bodurov, Burgess, Roberts (Eisfeld ’80), Parker, McCormack, Woodrow, Stafylidis (Kacaniklic ’60)
Subs: Hutchinson, Eisfeld, Kacaniklic, Voser, Dembele, Hyndman, Bettinelli

Match Report Derby County vs Rotherham United, Sat 9th August 2014, iPro Stadium

 All seasons start with hope. This one has expectation too. But for the 1st time in a long time I like what my head says as well as my heart. 

Simon Hare for BBC Radio Derby pretty much sums up my feelings there as we start the season proper. A season which we all hope will bring us more of the same and, of course, the final prize which we just missed out on last time around. The sense of excitement and expectation was palpable amongst the crowd outside the stadium prior to kick off. McClaren had gone on record as saying the word which had been stressed to the players in the aftermath of the Wembley defeat was “re-commitment” and the Rams’ faithful had clearly re-committed to another season, turning up in their droves to provide an opening day attendance of 30,105

First up at the iPro this season were Championship new boys Rotherham. Fresh from their Wembley triumph and bringing with them a strong and vocal contingent of travelling support, they were clearly full of confidence and their fans certainly played their part in whipping up a terrific atmosphere ahead of kick-off.

The Rams line up was a familiar set of names with Cyrus Christie the only new man to start and new signings Leon Best and Omar Mascarell on the bench. This match was the proverbial banana skin, and so it seemed sensible that McClaren would want a predictable and safe set of players out there to ensure the Rams got off to a winning start. The new boys would no doubt get their chance, but they would have to be patient.

Any concerns that the hosts would be nursing a collective Wembley hangover were dashed as soon as the whistle blew. The Rams flew out of the blocks and the Championship new comers must have wondered what hit them. Within the opening three minutes, Jeff Hendrick had glanced a header just wide from a Craig Bryson corner and Derby were piling forward in wave after wave of attack.

Simon Dawkins skips through the Rotherham defence

Simon Dawkins skips through the Rotherham defence(photo from www.dcfc.co.uk)

Simon Dawkins was seeing a lot of the ball on the left flank but was having one of his indecisive days. However, he did curl a beautiful shot just wide of the post on 24 minutes, shortly before Johnny Russell’s header forced a terrific reflex save from Adam Collin.

After the opening onslaught, the visitors seemed to regain some composure and shape, packing men into the midfield and making it very difficult for Derby to use their passing game to generate space. This season, the Rams are not only among the favourites for the title, but they’re also no longer an unknown quantity, meaning that teams will arrive at the iPro having done their home work, and Rotherham had certainly done theirs. Dawkins and Russell were both crowded out as soon as they looked to cut inside and former Ram Paul Green did an excellent job of stifling Craig Bryson and preventing him from linking up with Chris Martin.

As time ticked on and the Millers successfully frustrated Derby, so their confidence grew and they could have snatched the lead on 30 minutes, were it not for Will Hughes on hand at the back post to clear the ball off the line.

The visitors ended the half on the front foot, pushing Derby back and forcing several throw-ins. Their compact shape was exacerbated by Dawkins and Russell’s tendency to cut inside, further crowding the middle of the park. Derby needed to reassert their dominance and look for ways to stretch the play in the second half and make more use of the flanks.

With no changes at half time, the match carried on in much the same vein. Rotherham restricted space on the edge of their box, meaning Chris Martin found himself dropping deeper and deeper to try and pick the ball up and link the midfield and attack.

As with the previous weekend against Rangers, Will Hughes was playing a very defensive role and performed his duties with terrific discipline. There’s never been any doubt about his willingness to get stuck in, but his tackling has always seemed a little lightweight (unsurprising, given his frame). However, it’s clear that’s something which has been worked on during the pre-season, with the youngster charging around the middle of the park and making some beautiful tackles to re-gain possession. As a consequence, he took quite a battering during the game and not only took a raking boot to his side, but he could also be seen rubbing the back of his neck on occasions. It was no surprise therefore to see him substituted just before the hour mark, to be replaced by Real Madrid loan signing Omar Mascarell.

This seemed to be the signal for both full-backs to push forward more, with Cyrus Christie in particular looking very positive whenever he had the ball. The introduction on Jamie Ward seemed to spur him on even more, as he now had a right-footed player in front of him, rather than Johnny Russell, who is always more inclined to cut inside onto his favoured left peg.

Jeff Hendrick puts the Rams in front

Jeff Hendrick puts the Rams in front(photo from www.dcfc.co.uk)

Indeed, it was some great link up play between Christie and Ward which lead to Derby’s goal. The right-back put in a great tackle to gain possession, fed the ball to Ward and then continued down the flank. Ward laid it into his path again, he cut inside the on-rushing defender and then tee’d it up for Jeff Hendrick to sweep into the top corner. A beautiful finish and a stark reminder of the type of quality the Rams have in their side.

As the final minutes ticked by, Rotherham threw everything they could at the Derby goal and only a fine reflex save from Lee Grant and another goal-line clearance (this time from Craig Forsyth) kept the hosts in front until the final whistle.

A challenging, and at times frustrating, opening game for the Rams then, but surely a taste of what’s to come this season as teams look to stifle them at home in the hopes of snatching a point. The hosts’ patience paid off but Rotherham can certainly feel slightly hard done by that they left the iPro empty handed. A cracking start to the campaign.

Final score
Derby County 1 – 0 Rotherham United

Scorers
Derby County: Hendrick (’82)

Derby County
Grant, Keogh, Christie, Forsyth, Buxton, Hughes (Mascarell ’53), Bryson, Hendrick, Dawkins (Best ’79), Russell (Ward ’64), Martin
Subs: Roos, Ward, Eustace, Whitbread, Sammon, Best, Mascarell

Rotherham United
Collin, Morgan, Skarz, Broadfoot, Arnason, Agard, Frecklington, Pringle, Green, Revell (Bowery ’58), Derbyshire (Swift ’70)
Subs: Loach, Brindley, Wood, Hall, Bowery, Tidser, Swift

Match Report Derby County vs Rangers, Sat 2nd August 2014, iPro Stadium

I’d felt like a kid at Christmas the night before this match. Granted it wasn’t the start of the season proper, but the thought of pulling on my Rams shirt once again (ignoring the hideous sponsor, of course), joining the stream of people walking to the iPro and settling down into my usual seat in the East Stand was something I’d been looking forward to for a long time.

And so, today’s visit of Rangers would offer me my first glimpse of the team for this season and aside from the general interest in how we were looking, I was particularly keen to seeing Cyrus Christie at right back and wondering how Will Hughes would do in the holding role. The youngster played there against Burton earlier in the week and looked likely to be stationed there once again.

Rangers fans had turned up in numbers

Rangers fans had turned up in numbers (photo from www.dcfc.co.uk)

Rangers fans, as you would expect, had turned up in their thousands (most estimates had it at around 9,000 in the ground, but I’m sure there would have been a fair few more in the city during the day). Walking round the back of the south stand, I could hear a cacophony of noise both inside and outside the ground and their passion and enthusiasm made sure this felt like a bit more than just a pre-season friendly. To be perfectly honest, I could do without the politics. I know that football and politics are intertwined in Glasgow, but their “Four countries, one flag, our United Kingdom” banner, the sea of Union flags and the repeated rounds of “Rule Britannia” made the whole thing feel like some sort of weird Royal wedding/BNP rally hybrid. The standing ovation given by the folks around me to the aforementioned banner made me feel a little uncomfortable to be honest, and I definitely saw at least one Israel flag in the away end. I’m there to watch the football, not have politics shoved in my face for 90 minutes, thank you very much.

Anyway, onto matters on the pitch. An injury to Jake Buxton, and the injuries to Mark O’Brien and Zak Whitbread meant that McClaren had to perform a little defensive reshuffle. Craig Forsyth moved inside to partner Richard Keogh in central defence and Lee Naylor took up the left back position. As expected, Hughes played as the defensive midfielder behind Jeff Hendrick and Craig Bryson, with Simon Dawkins and Johnny Russell (who recieved all kinds of abuse from the Rangers fans for his Dundee Utd past) playing either side of Chris Martin.

As expected, the Rams looked a little rusty in the opening exchanges, with passes going awry and some players a little on their heels and not quite anticipating the play as you’d like them too. Individually, nobody looked slack however, with Dawkins in particular seeing a lot of the ball and causing the Rangers defence some headaches. Indeed, with only a few minutes played, the forward found himself through on goal after a mistake from Darren McGregor, but his shot was blocked by the ‘keeper.

Rangers looked little threat going forward until Fraser Aird missed a golden opportunity from close range. Former Rams striker Kenny Miller floated the ball over from the left, only for Aird to nod it wide from five yards.

In terms of how the Rams were shaping up, Christie looked a little naive at right back. Indeed, there was a run of play where Rangers were targeting that flank and the former Coventry man was being turned inside out. He seemed to have a tendency to get dragged into the middle of defence at times, leaving the right side open to overlapping attacks , but hopefully this will improve with experience. He did look a threat going forward though, and appeared willing to drive up the field when he had the ball.

Will Hughes bossed the midfield

Will Hughes bossed the midfield (photo from www.dcfc.co.uk)

Will Hughes, on the other hand, was a revelation. I still maintain that we lose too much of his attacking skills when he’s in the DM role, but he looked calm, assured, and most importantly, very physical. My concerns about his lack of strength appear to be unfounded as he bossed the midfield and attacked everything that came his way. He seemed dangerously close to losing his head at times, but if he can learn to keep his seemingly new-found aggression under control, I think we should have no worries about the absence of George Thorne. The old adage of Hendrick, Hughes and Bryson not being able to play together was based on the three of them playing their usual game. Today it worked because Hughes had the discipline to change. Very impressive indeed.

There was a noticeable shift in team formation today when the Rams had the ball. Last season, Andre Wisdom was on the receiving end of some criticism for not going forward enough. Whenever he did cross the halfway line, he would appear to stop, put his foot on the ball and play a pass before retreating back. Looking at the bigger picture, however, this is exactly what he should have been doing. With Forsyth bombing forward on the left and giving us a terrific outlet (something which we missed today), Wisdom’s role was to hang back and create a back three, with Keogh playing centrally and Buxton moving more the the left, ensuring we always maintained numbers in defence. However, today, it seemed that Naylor and Christie were both under instructions to play high up the pitch and as soon as we gained possession, Will Hughes would drop back in between Keogh and Forsyth. Essentially, this gave us a 3-4-3 formation in possession, with Naylor and Christie as wing-backs and Hughes making up the third defender. Hughes’ was incredibly disciplined in this role and it seemed to be something which had been worked on hard in training.

However, Hughes’ deep position did mean we were starved of his passing higher up the pitch and it showed. The link up play between the midfield and attack seemed to be lacking somewhat, with the game seemingly passing Bryson and Martin by. Going in at half time with the score 0-0, the Rams had certainly seemed the better side but the game needed a goal desperately.

With no changes at half time, Derby started on the front foot and seemed to get their passing game going a bit more. Some lovely one-touch movement carved open the Rangers midfield but the hosts couldn’t get a shot away and snatch the goal they deserved.

Chris Martin slides in to put the Rams in front (photo from www.dcfc.co.uk)

Chris Martin slides in to put the Rams in front (photo from www.dcfc.co.uk)

When it did come, the first goal was the culmination of some terrific build-up play. A beautiful inside pass from Naylor was latched onto by Dawkins, who skipped round a defender, only to see his shot bounce off the post. Christie kept the play alive, feeding Dawkins again, with the former Spurs man cutting back for Chris Martin to slide the ball into the net. The sense of relief from the home crowd was palpable.

The Rams second came about after one of Hughes’ rare forays forward. He danced through the Rangers midfield before playing one of his trademark reverse balls to Martin who wrong-footed the defender and calmly finished lowly into the visitors’ net. 2-0 to the Rams and they were starting to look their old selves.

From the second goal onwards, the game lost some of it’s spark until some of the Rangers players forgot this was a friendly and decided to start throwing in some tasty tackles. Hughes was on the receiving end of several and the nadir came when Bilel Mohsni was shown a straight red card for an incident with Chris Martin. Martin appeared to body-check Mohsni as the Rangers man released a pass, which obviously irked him somewhat. With both players on their knees, Mohsni launched himself at the Rams striker and head-butted him in the chest. Luckily the referee saw it and the visitors found themselves down to ten men for the remainder of the match.

In the dying moments, Craig Bryson lashed a free kick just over the bar, but the game fizzled out until the final whistle blew and the Rams earned a difficult but deserved victory.

On the whole, I think Derby are looking good for the season, There are still some obvious gaps which need plugging (central defence, back-up for Martin and some right back options, at the least) but the core of the team is still there and can seemingly still turn on the champagne passing when they want to. McClaren will have a a difficult decision to make over whether playing Hughes in the DM role is better than not playing him at all, but based on today’s showing, the youngster can clearly cut it in the position (albeit against a team lacking any real quality). The question is, do we lose too many of his other attributes and if so, can Hendrick and Bryson compensate for this?

Overall, a good workout for the Rams and some hopeful signs for the season ahead.

Final score
Derby County 2 – 0 Rangers

Scorers
Derby County: Martin (’57, ’72)

Derby County
Grant, Christie, Keogh, Forsyth, Naylor, Hughes, Hendrick, Bryson, Dawkins, Russell, Martin

Rangers
Bell, McGregor, McCulloch, Mohsni, Wallace, Hutton, Black, Macleod, Law, Aird, Miller

Article The summer gone and the season ahead

Hello there Rams fans, long time no see! Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts/match reports at the tail-end of last season. Changing jobs, moving house and other “real life” stuff sort of took over right when the season was reaching its climax, so at precisely the point when there was the most to write about, I had the least time to do so. Ho hum.

I was also intending to overhaul the blog, making it a lot more mobile friendly and a bit more visually appealing, but as we creep closer and closer to the season opener against Rotherham, that might have to wait until later in the year. I will get it done though, so keep an eye out.

For now, gentle reader, I’d like to just skirt over some of the big talking points since last we met. No doubt you will have read more expansive (and probably better) musings on these subjects over the last few months, but please indulge me…

Play-offs/Wembley

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Fans on the iPro pitch after the Rams booked their place at Wembley

It seems so long ago doesn’t it? The rather lucky rebound off Kuszczak’s back at the Amex, Will Hughes’ ridiculous back-heel at the iPro, the Rams faithful pouring onto the turf at the final whistle (well, a little before if we’re being honest). We had such hope, didn’t we? We’d been the league’s top scorers and played arguably the most attractive football over the course of the season. Surely a team of well coached, hard-working, honest lads would triumph over ‘Arry’s over-paid mercenaries and has-beens.

Well, no as it happens. We all know the story of what unfolded next. The footballing world saw us dominate QPR for 89 minutes only to have our dreams shattered by a single moment. Not even a moment of genius (which might have made it a little easier to bear). They had one shot all game and that was all it took. However, you’ll get no bitterness from me. We had our chances and didn’t finish them off (which at times was a recurring theme last season). Aside from anything else, Craig Forsyth seemed to just stop running in the build up to the goal and Jake Buxton completely failed to hoof it into row Z when it was needed. Richard Keogh’s gentle poke straight into Bobby Zamora’s path was simply the final nail in the coffin. A kick in the teeth, undoubtedly, but at the start of the season, if you’d have offered any Rams fan a trip to Wembley and the title of “League’s top scorers” they would’ve snapped your hand off.

Now, you may know I’m not the greatest fan of Joey Barton (indeed, I think I’ve been downright critical of him in the past), however I noticed something at the final whistle that day. Amid the scenes of QPR players jumping, singing and dancing around in their celebratory “The Rs Are Going Up!” t-shirts, somebody was noticeably absent. I scouted around and then spotted Barton stood with the Derby players. With his t-shirt tucked into the back of his shorts, he made his way around each and every player and member of the coaching team, shook their hand and seemingly offered his condolences. I’m still not his biggest fan, but I thought that was the perfect demonstration of how to be a good winner.

Derby County fans at Wembley

Derby County fans at Wembley

For me, it was my first trip to the new Wembley and I must say, the stadium itself was mightily impressive. As you walk in, it seems more like an airport terminal than a football ground, with shops and fancy eateries dotted around. Coming out of the concourse and alongside the pitch, I was struck by how intimate it was. The tiers reached high above me (I was sat pretty much at pitch-level) but it felt very cosy and compact which made for a good atmosphere from both sets of fans.

In stark contrast, the actual location of the stadium was dire. Stuck in the middle of an industrial estate, I did wonder on several occasions if the coach driver had taken a wrong turn on our way there. Granted there was a large shopping centre next to the ground, but on the whole the area was a bit of a dump. There were also lots of bottlenecks which meant getting out of the area around the stadium and back to the coach was a nightmare. No control of the flow of people, just every man for himself and if a crowd of several thousand people going one way came up against a crowd of several thousand going the other, then it was complete gridlock. Surely they could organise something to combat this free-for-all.

Ins and Outs

On the whole, the club’s activities in the transfer window have come as no surprise to me. I don’t think anyone was truly shocked to see James Bailey sent on his way, likewise Adam Legzdins, who should really be playing first-team football (even if it is in a lower league).

My main concern (as I’m sure everyone’s was) at the end of last season was to keep our squad together. One of the obvious pitfalls of having such a successful season is that it thrusts players into the spotlight, which in turn generates interest and can potentially rip a squad to pieces. You only have to look at what’s happening to Southampton to see what can happen and how it can completely change a team and their potential for the upcoming year. My attitude going into the window was that I could handle not signing anybody (even missing out on George Thorne) if it meant we kept our key players from last year. Our togetherness and sense of team spirit seemed to be such a huge factor in our success last year, that to lose that would have been catastrophic.

Craign Bryson signs a new contract

Craign Bryson signs a new contract

So, to say I was relieved when we managed to tie down Buxton, Forysth, Hughes, Hendrick and (eventually) Bryson would be a huge understatement. The Bryson situation was especially nervy as there were specific clubs being linked to him, both of whom stopped us from getting promoted. To lose one of our most important players to either of them would not only have caused us problems on the pitch but I think it would have sent a terrible message from the board to the fans. Selling him to a higher Premier League club would be one thing, but to lose him to a team who were only slightly better than us would have been even harder to take.

In terms of in-comings, it seems that most have been ear-marked for the U21 squad, with a view to involving some of the current U21s in the senior squad more. Jamie Hanson has been involved in a number of pre-season friendlies and I’d be very surprised if we didn’t see him make an appearance for the first team at some point this year.

Of the new faces, I’d probably only expect right back Cyrus Christie to go straight into the starting XI, for the sole reason that we’re very short in this department (even more so if this morning’s reports of Kieron Freeman being on his way to Sheffield Utd are true). Former Arsenal man Alban Bunjaku is vying for a spot in an already over-crowded midfield, Zak Whitbread and Lee Naylor will no doubt continue to be our bench-warming defensive back-up and Spanish youth international Ivan Calero seems a bit young and will perhaps need a season in the U21s to get used to English football.

Hopefully, this season will herald the return of Paul Coutts and maybe even Shaun Barker, which will (to coin a cliche) be like two new signings. As far as Coutts’ position is concerned, he may find he needs to adapt to find a place in the team. Since he suffered his injury at Leicester, the team has changed significantly and his place on the right side of a four-man midfield simply does not exist in the current set-up. However, it’s worth remembering that he came to us as a central midfielder, so could he perhaps move back in there? We already have an abundance of riches in the two attacking midfield spots, but maybe he can change his game and fill in as the anchor, especially now that George Thorne is injured.

Which brings us nicely onto…

George Thorne

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The Rams finally get their man

Our pursuit of Thorne played out as expected to be honest. West Brom knew he was our number one target so their initial “He’s not for sale” stance was hardly surprising, nor was the softening of their position as the offers from Sam Rush presumably went up. However, as the clocked ticked on and there were still no signs of Thorne being snapped posing at a desk, pen in hand I did start to wonder if we were putting all our eggs in one Thorne-y basket. I was sure the Derby brass had back-up targets in mind, but I was also hopeful that we had a cut-off point. A date which Rush had circled on his calendar at which point we would bail out of our chase and still leave ourselves time to get somebody else.

For his part, I don’t think Thorne helped matters. Everyone knew he wanted to leave, but as we’ve seen in the past, the best way to engineer a move is to make it known politely, but to continue with your job and let the agents/managers/chairmen sort it out. Thorne, however decided to air some dirty laundry in a rag newspaper, which not only failed to endear him to his then-employer, but also made things more difficult for his prospective one. West Brom held all the cards. They knew Derby wanted Thorne, they knew Thorne wanted Derby, they were slighted by Thorne’s comments and as a consequence of all that, they would make sure Derby paid through the nose.

Defensive midfield situation

So after such a highly public chase, Derby finally got their man for an “undisclosed fee”. Rams fans rejoiced, the final piece of the puzzle was in place and now we’ll surely win the league at a canter and finish the brilliant work we started last year. Except Thorne then goes and knackers his knee, putting him in the treatment room for nine months. You honestly couldn’t make it up.

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Thorne goes down injured during a pre-season game in Austria

So, who should fill in for him? Of the current squad, John Eustace is the most natural fit, however as we saw last campaign, the veteran simply doesn’t have the legs to play such a physical role for an entire season. I’m guessing the plan this year was to split the duties between Thorne and Eustace 80/20, so we need to either find someone who can do the 80% Thorne would have done (and to an equal standard), or get someone of perhaps slightly lower quality and hope Eustace can cope with a 50/50 split.

I’m still nowhere near convinced that either Hughes or Hendrick should be in that position as I think we lose both of their best qualities. Hendrick is best when he picks the ball up deep and drives forward. He has pace and power and can simply steamroller his way through the opposition. The defensive midfielder simply does not have the freedom to do this. Likewise, Hughes’ best attribute is his passing, and whilst he can impact the game from deep and start attacks off, he is also equally devastating sitting 25 yards from goal and threading balls through the opposition’s back line. Force him to concentrate on defensive duties and we lose this threat. He is also far too lightweight to be acting as a midfield destroyer, something which Thorne and Eustace both do well.

Some are calling for Jamie Hanson to be given a shot in the role, however I think the hype which surrounded the Thorne transfer saga has generated a huge amount of pressure on the position, and I don’t think we should chuck a youngster in there and expect them to deal with it.

So for me, it looks like we need a loan in. There have been several names bandied around over the last week or so, but I guess McClaren will be looking to get a Premier League player so we’ll have to wait until they announce their squads and see who’s available.

The season ahead

So after catching our breath from last season, we look ahead to the up-coming year.

On the pitch, we need a Plan B. It was apparent last year that we struggled to break down teams who sat men behind the ball, but the shortcomings in that department were compensated for by the free-flowing attacking football we produced at times. However, the impact of that was largely down to the fact that it was new and unexpected. The change in formation and attitude which McClaren instilled caught the league by surprise and teams failed to deal with it. This year though, we’re a known quantity. Teams will know that by snuffing out the likes of Martin and Bryson, they can nullify our attacking threat, so we need to come up with something else. It seems that McClaren has been trying different formations in pre-season, so the coaching staff are clearly aware of this issue. It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with.

My main hope is that we maintain the momentum we built up last campaign. The Wembley loss (and the manner of it) hurt a lot, but the club and fans need to re-focus and simply go again. The south stand project and relocation of away fans will hopefully go a long way to continuing the improved atmosphere at the iPro and if the team can repeat the champagne football of last season, we should have another exciting year ahead.

COYR

Match Report Derby County U21 vs Birmingham City U21, Tues 15th April 2014, iPro Stadium

For their final match of the season, the U21 side were once again in action at the iPro Stadium, this time facing off against Birmingham City on a deceptively chilly April night.

It seemed fitting that I spent my evening in a football stadium on this, the 25th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy. Indeed, the impeccably observed (as you would expect from a crowd of less than 100) minute’s silence which preceded kick-off was made all the more poignant by the sight of the un-used north, east and south stands around us. A haunting panorama of silent, empty seats.

As far as matters on the pitch were concerned, Mason Bennett returned from his loan spell at Chesterfield and was spearheading the attack, with Andy Dales, Charles Vernam and Callum Guy lining up behind him. Ayrton Wassall and Niall Dawkins anchored midfield in front of Mark O’Brien and Josh Lelan, with Dylan Hayes and Luke Hendrie playing right- and left-back respectively.

It was instantly noticeable what a difference Bennett makes to this team. When you see him play for the senior squad, you can see his strength but he’s still not quite the brute some would have us believe. However, at this level he is an absolute tank and was full of running right from the off. After only seven minutes, his persistence and determination caused Blues’ keeper Connal Trueman to spill the ball, which then fell to Callum Guy. Guy’s driven shot took a slight deflection and cannoned back off the post. An early warning shot for the visitors.

Just a few minutes later, Guy was in the fray again, cutting inside from the right on the edge of the box and curling a shot just wide of the post.

The Rams kept up the pressure and were rewarded on the 16th minute when Bennett floated a lovely ball over from the left flank, deep into the Birmingham box. Guy (yes, him again!) peeled off to the back post and nodded the ball home to give the hosts a deserved lead.

Derby were playing a style rather reminiscent of the senior squad, pressing high up the pitch whenever Birmingham had the ball and using quick footwork to negotiate their way out of any tight spots. Perhaps the absence of target man Kwame Thomas had necessitated a different tack and reduced the temptation to launch long balls into the channels.

Derby nabbed a second goal on 23 minutes and it was almost identical to their first. This time Hendrie was the provider, whipping the ball over to the right side of the box. Bennett flicked it on to the back post, where Guy was on hand again to bundle the ball home and claim his second of the night.

Minutes later, Bennett had the chance to make it 3-0 after a lovely through ball from Dales saw the striker bearing down on goal, only to drag his shot narrowly wide.

For their part, Birmingham offered little going forward and the hosts deservedly went in two goals up and half time.

Within the opening minutes of the second half, Derby could’ve put further distance between themselves and the visitors after Dales’ flashed a dangerous cross into the six yard box. Bennett stretched as far as he could but missed the ball by a whisker.

Derby continued to pile the pressure on during the second half, hitting the post and drawing several fine saves out of Trueman, the best of which were near identical reflex stops from headers; the first from O’Brien and the second from Josh Lelan.

As the minutes ticked by, Birmingham took more and more risks but it was too little too late and the Rams ended their season with a comfortable victory.

Final score
Derby County U21 2 – 0 Birmingham City U21

Derby County
Legzdins (GK), Hayes, Hendrie, O’Brien, Lelan, N.Dawkins, Wassall, Guy, Vernam, Dales, Bennett
Subs: Moulton, Barnes, Rawson, Revan, Zanzala

Birmingham City
Trueman (GK), Dacres-Cogley, Kelly, Webb, Fry, Swan, Gray, Truslove, Asante, Allan, Hales
Subs: Higgins, Preston, Moseley, McDonald, McFarlane

Match Report Derby County U21 vs Huddersfield Town U21, Weds 9th April 2014, iPro Stadium

Tonight was another opportunity to see the U21 side as they took on Huddersfield Town at the iPro stadium. A smattering of fans had made the trip down to see the future talent (and some fringe first team players) go head-to-head with the young Terriers, who sit top of the Professional Development League 2.

As I’ve noted before, the Derby youth team plays a slightly different formation to the senior squad, setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Today’s line-up saw Kelle Roos in goal, with Mark O’Brien, continuing his return from injury, partnering Josh Lelan in the heart of defence. This meant Jamie Hanson was moved out to right back, with veteran Lee Naylor on the left of defence. James Bailey and Niall Dawkins anchored midfield, with Andy Dales, Charles Vernam and Luke Hendrie lining up behind lone striker Kwame Thomas.

As you’d perhaps expect, it was a frantic, and sometimes sloppy, game to watch, with both teams pressing quickly and trying to impress their mark upon things.

Derby were on the attack right from the off and were unlucky not to score in the opening minutes. Some strong, persistent work down the left flank by Dales enabled him to whip a cross into the box but Thomas’ header was cleared off the line and Huddersfield managed to recover.

It was notable that both the Rams’ full backs were pushing very high up field, which meant that Niall Dawkins role seemed to be to drop back into the heart of defence to create a back 3 with O’Brien and Lelan, in much the same way John Eustace does for the senior team. Bailey would then push a little further forward and try to act as a distributor in the middle of the park.

Huddersfield’s best chance of the first half came after ten minutes when Joe Lolley’s shot from the edge of the box cannoned back off the post and was cleared by the Derby defence.

As we approached the half-hour mark, Derby were gifted a chance to take the lead. Hanson’s driven corner found Charles Vernam who was bundled over in the box. The referee awarded a penalty but Thomas’ spot kick was rather tame and was easily saved.

Derby seemed to be lacking ideas and their tactic of playing long balls into the channels to Thomas was not yielding any results. Whilst the hosts were happy to keep hold of the ball in their own half, there was a lack of penetration going forward.

The second half was much the same, with both teams scrapping for possession and fashioning few chances.

A defensive mix up on the hour-mark put the visitors in front. Roos’ ball out was missed by both Naylor and Lelan, and Huddersfield pounced and drove towards the Derby box. Roos came much too far out of his goal, O’Brien slipped at the crucial moment, and the ball was squared to Flo Bojaj who rolled it into an empty net.

As the game wore on, Derby became more hesitant in their attacks. O’Brien and Lelan in particular seemed happy to pass the ball back and forth between themselves, seemingly unsure of how to move the play forward. It was noticeable that James Bailey was dropping deeper and deeper, seemingly eager to see more of the ball and dictate the tempo a little more.

As the minutes ticked by, Derby found some momentum and the introduction of Offrandre Zanzala to partner Thomas up front seemed to add an air of urgency. Zanzala was involved straight away, linking up with Thomas, whose lay off to Dales was perfectly weighted. Dales, however, dragged his shot wide and the chance was gone.

Derby continued to pile on the pressure, however and as we entered injury time, Huddersfield’s goal keeper made a great double save, first blocking Zanzala’s shot and then tipping over a header from Thomas.

With time running out, Roos punted the ball forward for Callum Guy to run onto. The substitute saw his shot saved, resulting in a corner. The delivery from Hanson found Guy on the edge of the box and he drove the ball into the net to snatch a deserved point for the Rams at the death.

Final score
Derby County U21 1 – 1 Huddersfield Town U21

Derby County
Roos (GK), Hanson, Naylor, N Dawkins, O‘Brien, Lelan, Hendrie, Bailey, Thomas, Vernam, Dales
Subs: Barnes, Hayes, Wassall, Guy, Zanzala

Huddersfield Town
Allinson (GK), Carroll, Wilkinson, Wright, Sinnott, Billing, Tronstad, Charles, Crooks, Lolley, Mullin
Subs: Atkinson, Holmes, Bojaj, Wilczynski

 

 

Match Report Derby County vs Charlton Athletic, Sat 29th March 2014, iPro Stadium

Well, with my voice just about recovered after last Saturday’s historic victory over Nottingham Forest, it was time to wander down to the iPro again for today’s visit from Charlton.

The euphoria of the previous weekend’s performance had been dampened somewhat by the 2-1 defeat to Ipswich earlier in the week, a match which, by all accounts, we’d dominated and from which we were unlucky to come away with nothing. However, the Rams had fashioned enough chances at Portman Road and so were surely confident of taking all three points from today’s encounter against a struggling Charlton side.

Team news wise, our numbers were depleted to some extent with injuries to Jamie Ward, Simon Dawkins and Will Hughes. Whilst this didn’t have too much of an impact on the quality of our starting XI, our bench did look a little threadbare, with only Conor Sammon and the returning John Eustace having had any significant game time this campaign.

Derby started brightly and were on the front foot for the opening 10 minutes. Charlton’s game plan seemed to lack any sort of ambition, sticking men behind the ball and hoping for the best. Not only were they playing with one striker (not really surprising, given both teams’ positions in the league and the fact the Addicks were away from home), but straight from the off, they pulled everyone back to their penalty area when defending set pieces. The Rams were faced with a red wall whenever they had the ball which proved difficult to break down.

George Thorne’s continued deployment in the holding midfield role proved to be an astute decision on McClaren’s part. The West Brom loanee looked calm in possession and used the ball very well, constantly offering himself as an option when the hosts had the ball, in a way we only otherwise get from Will Hughes.

Derby continued to press and certainly seemed in the mood. Chris Martin, in particular, was pulling off some of his trademark deft touches and flicks, linking up well with Craig Bryson who, as we’ve come to expect, covered every blade of grass and was a constant menace. Craig Forsyth was a useful out ball as well down the left flank, driving forward on several occasions and asking questions of the Charlton defence.

Super Johnny Russell

Super Johnny Russell

When the Rams finally found a way through the Charlton back line, it was via the boot of Johnny Russell. Jeff Hendrick’s ball to Patrick Bamford was laid off to the Scotsman who looked like he had missed his chance when he cut back inside the defender onto his weaker right foot. However, he struck it sweetly low into the bottom corner to give the Rams a deserved lead after 18 minutes. Given his horribly bad luck with injuries and the stop-start nature of his career in a Derby shirt, it’s great to see Russell not only get a run of games, but also scoring in them which will no doubt give his confidence a huge boost.

Derby continued to dominate possession for the rest of the first half and were rewarded with their second goal just before the break. A cross from the left side was met with a poor defensive header and the ball fell into the path of Patrick Bamford who instantly slid in to poke the ball home. There had been a noticeable increase in the youngster’s work rate today and so a goal was the least he deserved. He still has work to do on his decision making however, particularly when he finds himself with the ball on the edge of the box. He obviously knows he has the ability to score from these sorts of areas (as we’ve seen), but there are occasions when he becomes very myopic and fails to see an available pass which would prove to be a better option than trying to curl one into the top corner. Still, he’s young (and a little bit cocky) so this will come with time and experience.

The second half was a very different story for the Rams. Whereas the hosts dominated posession in the first 45 minutes, they really struggled to get out of first gear for most of the second period. Charlton had obviously noticed the fact that everything was going through Thorne in the middle of the park and so shuffled their formation around and man-marked him out of the game. With Thorne’s simple, calm passing nullified, Derby were forced to look for other outlets which lead to some sloppy passing, a lot slower movement of the ball, and loss of possession on more than a few occasions.

Charlton, for their part, had more of a go in the second half and were camped out in the Derby half for a good 20 minute spell, resulting in several corners and drawing a couple of fine saves from Lee Grant, one of which as a consequence of a series of comical “more-up-than-out” clearances in the Derby box. The Rams were letting the visitors get a foothold back in the game and needed to reassert their dominance.

McClaren’s response to this was to bring on fresh legs at both ends of the attacking spine. George Thorne, who had been brilliant in the first half but successfully snuffed out by Charlton in the second, was replaced by John Eustace and Patrick Bamford made way for Conor Sammon. The Chelsea loanee’s work rate had dropped from the first half and he was starting to look sloppy in possession, so it was no surprise that he was brought off. This double change gave us fresh legs and experience in the defensive side of things and introduced the tireless effort of Sammon who would ensure the Charlton back line were pressed whenever they had the ball.

Chris Martin seals the points for The Rams

Chris Martin seals the points for The Rams

The second half passed by with few incidents or chances of note until the 84th minute when a corner from Bryson was met at the near post by Chris Martin, whose glancing header snuck inside the post and made sure of all 3 points for the Rams, leaving them only a point adrift of third-placed QPR and going a long way to confirming their play-off place.

A few thoughts on George Thorne & John Eustace

Today’s match was a great opportunity to compare the relative merits of both George Thorne and John Eustace. Eustace has been superb for us this season. The veteran’s defensive know-how and experience has not only added steel to our defence, but a freedom to our attack, enabling Hendrick, Hughes and Bryson to push forward, safe in the knowledge that there was someone behind them to act as a safety net. Given the fact that the deployment of a dedicated defensive midfielder has been one of (if not the) most crucial tactical change we’ve made this season, I was concerned over whether or not we’d be able to find anyone who could deputise for Eustace sufficiently. I needn’t have worried.

Thorne has had to wait patiently for his chance but he has grabbed it with both hands, particularly impressive considering his debut was in the biggest game of the season against our fiercest rivals. He has impressed immensely, not only in being able to do the same job Eustace has done, but by adding something else as well.

Whilst both players get the same job done, they do it in two very different ways. Eustace has a wealth of experience to call upon. His constant marshalling of the players around him and his knowledge of when to slow the game down and take the sting out of things is obvious to anyone who watches him on the pitch. He anticipates the play and is not afraid of putting a crunching tackle or two in when needed.

Thorne, on the other hand, appears to have a greater sense of positional awareness. If Keogh (for example) makes a surging run forwards, Eustace will drop back to cover him but he does so on a rather fixed trajectory, continuing to occupy the pocket immediately in front of the centre backs and adjusting his position up or down the pitch accordingly. Thorne on the other hand has a level of dynamism to his positioning, moving more laterally and adopting much more specific positions, even taking up the left back role on occasion today when Forsyth was marauding forward. This ability to fill in the gaps which are created by our defence enabled him to be in the right place at the right time and break up play without the need to resort to the more physical aspect of the game. This ability also covers the space better which discourages the opposition from making forward runs. His extra mobility also meant he was constantly on the move and available to receive the ball, which he would then use very well. It was telling that in the second half, Charlton man-marked him and effectively took him out of the game.

Eustace’s involvement next season is sure to be reduced (if he features at all) so we could do a lot worse than to try and hang onto Thorne, whether that be on another loan or, even better, try and snatch him on a permanent deal. The position he plays is integral to our style and the extra qualities Thorne brings to the team are something we could certainly make use of, whichever league we’re in next year.

Final score
Derby County 3 – 0 Charlton Athletic

Highlights

Scorers
Derby County: Russell (18), Bamford (38), Martin (84)

Derby County
Grant (GK), Wisdom, Keogh, Buxton, Forsyth, Thorne (Eustace 70), Hendrick, Bryson, Bamford (Sammon 70), Martin, Russell (Naylor 87)
Subs: Legzdins, Naylor, Eustace, O’Brien, Sammon, Whitbread, Bailey

Charlton Athletic
Hamer (GK), Wilson, Wiggins, Poyet, Morrison, Wood, Ghoochanneijhad (Harriott 45), Cousins, Sordell (Pigott 58), Jackson (Petrucci 82), Obika
Subs: Hughes, Harriott, Petrucci, Thuram-Ulien, Nego, Lennon, Pigott

Referee
Mark Haywood

Attendance
24,429