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24th January

Derby County 2    Darren Bent 20, Will Hughes 82

Chesterfield 0

The FA Cup provided some relief for the Rams after last Saturday’s disappointments though this game was never as straightforward as the 2-0 scoreline may suggest.

It was not so much as rotation of players that Steve McClaren employed as a rotation of formations. We set up in a 3-5-2 arrangement in the first half, changed to a 4-4-2 diamond in the second half initially and then reverted to a 4-3-3 later in the game.

The Boss explained after the game that the experimentation was very much part of the game plan to see how we performed away from our normal 4-3-3 structure.

When you think about it this was quite a risk to our involvement in the FA Cup considering that Chesterfield proved themselves to be a very capable side, but the chance to work on that much demanded “Plan B” proved to be both useful and successful.

Personnel wise Raul Albentosa came in for his debut, Kelle Roos was in goal, Jeff Hendrick started and Darren Bent made his first start with Johnny Russell, Lee Grant, Jamie Ward & Craig Bryson missing out.

The prospect of using Albentosa, Keogh & Buxton in a back three had been suggested by a number of fans in forums and social media and it was interesting to see it being put into practice – it felt very late 1990’s and Jim Smith all over again.

The new system almost came unstuck immediately though with only a good block from Cyrus Christie preventing Armand Gnanduillet getting a shot on target from inside the six yard box in the first couple of minutes.

Chesterfield were composed and impressive opponents, looking comfortable on the ball and pressing us when had possession.

The right side of our defence with Christie and Richard Keogh in place looked shaky and Chesterfield obviously thought so too as their attack tended to focus on that flank.

Keogh missed a routine header on the quarter hour that almost let in the troublesome Gnanduillet who could not take advantage and that let off was compounded shortly afterwards when we took the lead.

Jake Buxton won a towering header from an Omar Mascarell corner and there poaching from inside the six yard box Darren Bent planted a header into the net for his first Rams goal.

The Rams created little else in the first half and did not look totally secure at the back. Having said that I was impressed with our first look at Raul Albentosa, the big centre half winning a number of defensive headers and looking composed on the ball.

Early days I know, but he looks powerful and skilled and I think he will be challenging for a start very soon.

More experimenting after the break with Johnny Russell replacing Albentosa and the team shuffling into a 4-4-2 diamond shape with Russell partnering Darren Bent up top with Chris Martin at the advanced point of the diamond.

For me this set up worked well. It showed that Darren Bent provides a different threat for us, playing on the edge of the defence and looking to break on a through ball. As well as his first half goal the Villa loanee could have, and should have, bagged two more.

A superb through ball from Chris Martin sprang Bent and although Tommy Lee in the Spirites goal made a fine save he should have scored. 

A similar chance later for Bent in the half was again saved by Lee and while it was disappointing not to see him score more than his first goal it was promising to see his eye for position that puts him in the right place.

Chris Martin is an intelligent footballer and playing in a different position in the second half gave him the chance to show this in a different way. His through ball for the missed Darren Bent chance was superb and while I would not want him playing in that position on a more permanent basis ( Will Hughes since you ask ) he fitted in smoothly and created space and opportunities for Bent and Russell to feed upon.

Will Hughes was our best player throughout the game, creative, bright and hard working and it was him that put the game beyond doubt, stealing the ball just outside the Spireite area, gliding on and smoothly firing home.

Our young midfield talent is on a good run of form at the moment and with others injured or off form we are very reliant upon him.

Talking of injuries it was worrying to see Johnny Russell only last 19 minutes before being replaced in some distress. It was a surprise to many to see him appear considering the tight hamstring Simmo confirmed he was suffering from and if he is out for a few weeks we will miss him badly.

Next up is Blackburn on Tuesday and will we revert to 4-3-3 with the two wingers left standing (and not training with Burton or on loan to Notts County) Jamie Ward and Simon Dawkins ? – or will we be tempted to polish the diamond with Martin & Bent upfront and Will Hughes pulling the strings?

My money is on the diamond….