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3rd January 2015

Derby County               1                                        Southport            0   

 Chris Martin (pen) 90+2  

A much changed Rams side struggled to put away a well organised and committed Southport side in this third round FA Cup tie but, as good teams do, eventually found a way and went through thanks to Chris Martin’s cool conversion of a late late penalty.

Easier to say which players remained from the team that eased past Leeds United – those being only Richard Keogh and Jake Buxton.

Otherwise in came Kelle Roos, Ryan Shotton ( at right back ) , Lee Naylor, Omar Mascarell, Craig Bryson, Paul Coutts, Jamie Ward (a welcome return from a lengthy injury), Simon Dawkins and, most surprisingly, Leon Best.

The arrival this week of Darren Bent on loan was taken by many as a signal that Best’s disappointing time at the Rams was coming to an end. It may still be coming to an end listening to Steve McClaren’s comments after the game (more on post match interviews later) but it was still a surprise to see him start today.

The Rams dominated possession as would be expected against a team from three divisions down but Southport never made it easy for us, were well organised and committed.

We struggled with the final killer touch but having said that, in the first half Craig Bryson hit the post ; from the rebound Leon Best missed (at which point I instinctively thought “Bent would have scored that”) Ryan Shotton missed the target with a free header and Southport keeper David Raya Martin made a fine save from a long range Paul Coutts strike.

As well as the Rams lack of killer instinct in front of goal the outstanding performance of the Sandgrounders on loan keeper was instrumental in almost winning them a replay. Raya Martin continued in the same vein in the second half saving a Jake Buxton header, another Craig Bryson goal bound effort and managing to intercept, block and catch any number of crosses into his area.

Of those Rams that had an opportunity to shine in this game few can be happy with how the game played out. Craig Bryson was busy and flickered around the penalty area and it was great to see Jamie Ward back who looked threatening at times but also a little rusty which was only to be expected.

Leon Best’s game summed up his loan spell with us, disappointing on the fringes of play and he did not take his one clear chance. Simon Dawkins’ quick feet got him into some good positions but he either neglected to shoot or was unable to play a telling pass.

Lee Naylor worked hard and was did all that was asked of him defensively but showed that he will never be a threat to Craig Forsyth as he misplaced too many passes when going forward.

The triple substitution that we made on the hour was illustrative of our frustration at the game still being goalless. On came Chris Martin, Johnny Russell and Jordan Ibe, three players I am sure that Steve McClaren would have preferred to have sat this one out.

They replaced Leon Best, Jamie Ward and Ryan Shotton in what was a change to a 4-2-4 / 4-4-2 formation with Paul Coutts dropping back into defence.

It was interesting to see Johnny Russell playing up top in a more central role and perhaps it was a glimpse of future plans and maybe even the Plan B often wished for when things are not going our way.

It was a combination of the substitutes that won it for us, Jordan Ibe looking lively and dangerous played a good ball into Johnny Russell in the area and as he turned and ran he was fouled by Luke Foster. With almost the last kick of the game Chris Martin put away his 17th goal of the season.

Southport deserved the applause they received from the Rams fans at the close of the game for their approach and their performance & they deserved a replay.

It was a cruel way for them to lose but credit to a Derby team that kept going and the win was the most important part of this game avoiding the extra game a replay would have required or the embarrassment of being a killed giant.

Much continued discussion and debate after the game, both in person and on social media over Steve McClaren’s intentions.

In the post match interview he again used the phrase “Pure speculation” when asked what his response would be to an approach from Newcastle United about their Head Coach vacancy.

He did also say that “I want to finish the job here” so there was something for everyone there whatever their point of view.

 It says something for the responsiveness of our club that later on Saturday night Sam Rush was giving interviews stating that our manager was “going nowhere” and that Steve McClaren had reiterated his commitment to the club.

 Whatever went on – and I do believe that something was going on – it is to be hoped this distraction from trying to win promotion is now dealt with and all we need to focus on is what happens on the pitch – starting with the huge clash at Portman Road against 2nd place Ipswich Town on Saturday