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20th December

Derby County               2                                        Norwich City    2  

 Johnny Russell 43                                                    Cameron Jerome 51 

Chris Martin (pen) 55                                               Steven Whittaker 89

This was an uneasy and uncomfortable performance from the Rams, ill fitting to the festive period as we gathered for another lunchtime kick off hoping for an early Christmas present of 3pts.

Not even the pre match appearance of the Jim Smith era stalwarts Darren Powell & Jacob Laursen settled the game, though it did remind me of the admirable Dane belting a free kick past Peter Schmeichel at the Baseball Ground back in the day.

Three changes for the Rams as Ryan Shotton replaced the suspended Jake Buxton, Jordan Ibe replaced Simon Dawkins and, to some surprise, Jeff Hendrick replaced Will Hughes.

Any concerns about the structure of our midfield were muted after the game, not because anyone had played well, more that everyone had had a go and underwhelmed.

We were under par throughout this game, never in control even when leading and would have been fortunate to have won it in all honesty.

Norwich looked one of the better, if not the best team, to visit us this season – run a very close second by Bournemouth, but our performance contributed to the edginess around the ground as the game unfolded.

Thank goodness for Chris Martin and Johnny Russell who both had good games today. Martin was very good in fact.

We played more direct balls from Lee Grant; a little bit less of playing it out from the back, and our number 9 did an excellent job of accepting the ball and bringing others into play.

The move for our first goal was a prime example of this.

Martin superbly took down a Grant pass turned and moved into the area, laying off to Russell who very quickly sorted his feet out to stab the ball past John Ruddy before he could set himself.

JR has had an excellent run in the team, is scoring goals and endears himself to us fans by his sheer hard work, will to win and passion. His roar of joy at scoring today was replicated in the stands and he is very much “Super Johnny Russell”

The timing of any appearance on the sidelines by Steve McClaren is taken to be a reliable indicator of his happiness so when he appeared during the first half my eyes flicked to the big screen clock.

 22 minutes….not good then. The Boss was more vocal than I have ever seen him on the sidelines, giving very direct and precise instruction to a number of players, particularly Jeff Hendrick, and often turning away in exasperation as moves broke down or faltered.

To go in 1-0 up was a bonus, particularly as the referee had ruled out a Norwich goal before we scored owing to Cameron Jerome dummying a move to the goal bound shot in an offside position. It felt like a reprieve.

Will Hughes replaced Jeff Hendrick at the half, presumably owing to injury, but as happens too regularly we conceded early as our left flank was exposed allowing a cross to travel across our area which Cameron Jerome (onside this time) put away.

In our best phase of the game we hit back immediately though and Chris Martin won a penalty against his former team mates by drawing a foul from Carlos Cuellar and confidently put it away for his 15th goal of the season.

After our second goal we looked like we might not only hold onto the lead but extend it without ever actually carving out a decent chance and as the clock ticked beyond the hour Norwich stepped up the possession and pressure.

To almost make it to the end of the game before conceding is disappointing but it was hardly unexpected when Steven Whittaker fired across the penalty area after a corner and the ball pinged in off the far post.

It could have been even worse as Jerome fired a decent chance over after Norwich equalised, and the confident and secure defence that kept those six clean sheets in a row earlier in the season seems long gone.

Craig Forsyth has lost his attacking verve as well as his defensive confidence and our left flank was certainly targeted by Norwich leading to the Rams swapping Johnny Russell over to the left to provide Forsyth with more protection, but arguably restricting his attacking input also.

What to say about our midfield? – It did not influence the game today. In his position we need to see Omar Mascarell direct play more, or break up the opposition play more and he did not achieve either today. It is a lot to ask of a young player in his first season in English football but our set up and formation demands a lot of that position and it is a pivot to our success.

So fifth at Christmas with a Boxing Day visit to Gary Rowett’s resurgent Birmingham City to come. What do we want from Santa Claus Rams fans? A fit and firing George Thorne??