Derby County 1 Chelsea 3
Craig Bryson 71 Eden Hazard 23 Jake Buxton sent off 78 Felipe Luis 56 Andre Schurrle 82
The Rams bowed out of the League Cup in the last eight after a spirited and skilful performance against an impressive Chelsea side.
The Premier League leaders showed their intent by fielding a strong side including ever popular captain John Terry, Cesc Fabregas, Nemanja Matic, Didier Drogba and, most damagingly for Derby, Eden Hazard.
For the Rams Jake Buxton replaced the suspended Ryan Shotton and Will Hughes was restored to the starting eleven replacing Jeff Hendrick.
A cagey start saw neither side create any meaningful chances, Derby being less keen to play out from the back at every opportunity as we tend to do in the Championship, probably a wise move with the likes of Hazard and Schurrle snapping away at our players.
This game was always going to be a good test of which of our players could cope with the demands of playing against a top Premier League team side and the performance should give us some cause for optimism.
I thought that Craig Bryson had an excellent game buzzing around with intent and causing problems for Chelsea as well as taking his goal very well. Similarly Will Hughes played well and as is par for the course Johnny Russell was tireless, chasing down, tracking back and also setting up our goal.
Omar Mascarell also played well and seemed much more at home than he sometimes does in the Championship perhaps reflecting the differing styles of those leagues and our opponents.
Also in the credit column for me was Jake Buxton who was strong, won a lot in the air and coped well with the challenges facing him right up until the wrong headed decision to send him off shortly after Craig Bryson’s goal had turned the noise in Pride Park up a notch or ten.
A ball over the top saw Bucko and Loic Remy, on for the injured Drogba, tussling as the ball skidded across the wet pitch, Bucko was clearly trying to shepherd the ball back to Lee Grant who duly came sliding out for the ball and, it seemed, possibly out of the area with the ball in hand.
At this point the linesman on the west side started waving his flag furiously ….Lee Grant clearly thought he was going to be dismissed, as did we, though being close to the linesman in question we were offering some words of wisdom to him in a sense of friendship and constructive criticism.
Confusion and anger greeted the subsequent waving of the red card in Bucko’s direction.
Denying a goal scoring opportunity? …really??
I am very confident that a similar situation in a, say, Chelsea vs. Manchester United game would not have resulted in a red card – we got the rough end of a Premier League vs. Championship decision there.
The momentum of our fight back was lost and it was no surprise to see Schurrle slot away a third goal shortly afterwards after Lee Grant saved well from Hazard.
Eden Hazard was impressive throughout and a constant threat to us. After the good start it was frustrating to see Richard Keogh play the ball to Hazard on the edge of our area, a quick exchange of passes with Cesc Fabregas saw Hazard firing into the bottom corner to put Chelsea ahead.
Chelsea’s second goal led from another Premiership decision from the referee as willo-the-wisp Will Hughes brushed past Didier Drogba and sent the man mountain centre forward flying. From the subsequent free kick Felipe Luis belted the ball into the corner beyond the flying Grant.
Despite the scoreline we played well in this game and a similar level of performance will win most Championship games – and there in lies the challenge for Derby’s coaching staff – how to replicate this again and again.
A 30,000 crowd, a loud away contingent and a home crowd in boisterous and supportive voice gave an attractive indication of what it would be like to be back in the Premier League.
We saw a glimpse of what we are aiming at in this game and a reminder of the challenges that would await if we were successful but, personally, I can’t wait for us to be back in that top league.