Wolverhampton Wanderers 2 Nouha Dicko 48, Lee Grant (o.g) 69
Derby County 0
Another evening full of the frustrations that have bedevilled Rams fans in recent games was the outcome of the Friday night trip to Wolverhampton.
A display much improved on that against Middlesbrough was for nothing as the woodwork was clanged, possession dominated but two dreadful defensive errors were punished and there was an all too familiar refereeing mystery that changed the course of the game in the first half.
I was at this game with a Wolves mate and watched from the unusual vantage point of the home stand so it was interesting that those fans around me knowing I was a Ram unanimously agreed that referee Keith Stroud should have either sent off Danny Batth for bundling over Darren Bent as he closed on goal in the first half, or played the advantage and allowed the goal that Tom Ince subsequently scored.
To do neither and only award us a free kick was baffling and with our fragile confidence damaging – as Steve McClaren put it afterwards;
“We’ve set standards at this football club in trying to be humble about accepting refereeing decisions. Tonight that was tested to the limit. It was difficult to take”
Two changes for the Rams coming into this game with the return of Darren Bent and the inclusion of Jesse Lingard at the expense of the two Jamies, Ward and Hanson. A change of formation too with the Rams lining up in an attacking 4-2-3-1 that seemed to morph into a 4-4-1-1 when out of possession.
For the players we had on the pitch the formation seemed to be an improvement as Will Hughes, Craig Bryson, Tom Ince and Jesse Lingard saw a lot of the ball throughout the game and worked well together. It was the most I had seen Lingard involved in a game and he looked sharp skillful and willing.
Ince worked hard, always looking to create and struck the crossbar with a looping shot in the first half and came close to breaking through with some intricate one – twos on a number of occasions.
Craig Bryson also hit the woodwork in the second half with a cross shot that Tomasz Kuszczak might just have got a fingertip to and these near misses added to 60% possession and 15 efforts on goal suggest a game that we should have won but for all of the above we were never clinical enough in front of the Wolves goal nor composed enough in front of our own.
Wolves set up with two pacy strikers in Benik Afobe and Nouha Dicko but were often happier to play on the break, conceding possession and territory to us and, particularly in the second half, setting up on the edge of their penalty area and looking to crowd out any of our intricate passing moves.
Our full backs, particularly Cyrus Christie, struggled to get forward effectively and while Craig Forsyth had plenty of opportunities to put in dangerous crossed his final ball too often found a gold shirt. There was a superb opportunity early in the first half when Fozzie was freed on the left and with Bent open and waiting in the penalty area he just failed to find him. A little bit of composure and precision then could have made all of the difference.
I’m beginning to doubt our half time routine and preparation. Is that pre-kick off warm up worthwhile?
Yet again we were slow and sluggish out of the blocks and a mistake by Fozzie gave the ball away to Kevin McDonald who played in Nouha Dicko who fired through Lee Grant to give the home team the lead and immediate deflation to Rams hopes.
There followed what felt like a long period of Derby pinning Wolves back onto their eighteen yard line without ever making an incisive breakthrough. Wolves withdrew Dicko to add another midfielder to add to the defensive barricades.
Unfortunately just before the 70 minute mark the Rams self destructed, Lee Grant opting to try and punch a sliced Richard Keogh clearance from under his own bar only managing to punch it into the net to make it 2-0.
The rest of the match consisted of the Rams playing some attractive approach play without ever creating a clear cut chance interspersed with Wolves breakaways most notably Bakary Sako rumbling through at least six apparently exhausted Rams players and finding himself one on one with Lee Grant only to blaze over.
I left Molineux with a palpable sense of gloom about our prospects even to make the playoffs this year, never mind automatic promotion. In the hours since I have remembered some of the good play we saw last night but at the risk of repitition to the point of boredom, we are so dearly missing the qualities of Chris Martin and some composure in defence.
We have a fortnight off now and it is to be hoped the Rams use the days wisely and that also injuries heal in that time.
The results today have been kinder to us than they could have been with both Watford and Middlesbrough losing and Brentford drawing so we at least have the destiny of the season in our hands.
This is a crazy division this year and we know anything is possible before season’s end but we need to find our mojo…and quick.