25th April – Rams rescue a point on day of sadness


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25th April

Millwall      3       Lee Gregory 26, 36 (pen), 50 (pen)

Derby County   3  Tom Ince 42, Chris Martin 70 (pen), Jeff Hendrick 85

This game was overshadowed by the sad sad news prior to kick off of the death of Colin Bloomfield.

Always a warm and engaging broadcaster and clearly a much loved & respected colleague & friend the news hung over the day heavily. I have huge respect and admiration for Ed, Owen and Craig for managing to hold it together on Radio Derby when remembering their friend prior to kick off

A further reminder of the trivial nature of football was the minute’s silence before kick off in memory of those that lost their lives in the Bradford City disaster in 1985.

It is difficult, therefore, to get too upset at yet another series of self inflicted defensive disasters in this game which required another Tom Ince inspired rescue act to scrabble together a point against a limited team.

It is unbelievable that we have scored seven goals in the last two away games yet only taken two points from those games.

Like any other Rams fan I am finding it difficult to think of new ways of describing the awfulness of our defence in recent weeks, no matter which players happen to be on duty.

The season has gone off the rails since we beat Charlton so comfortably 2-0 on 24th February – an awful run of performances and a complete absence of defensive structure since then.

Since that Tuesday night our record is –

P 12  W 2  D 6  L 4  F 17  A 20  Pts 12

Which is bang on relegation form.

Injuries of course have affected us – but the complete loss of confidence and competence when we are defending surely has deeper roots than missing personnel.

There are probably as many theories around about why this has happened as there are Rams fans but a lot of my favourite theories centre on Steve McClaren and what has or has not happened in the last three months involving Newcastle United.

Something has happened for sure, a feeling that was personally only strengthened by what I saw and heard at the fans Q&A at the iPro last Thursday evening.

We were hit again by absences when selecting the team for this game. In addition to the injuries that Craig Bryson and Zak Whitbread picked up in the Huddersfield game Darren Bent was also missing owing to illness.

With Chris Martin only fit enough to be on the bench this meant the return of Conor Sammon to the starting eleven. The scarcity of options for the Rams was also illustrated by Lee Naylor returning to the bench.

Milwall came out strong, walking the line between firm and foul with early robust challenges on Stephen Warnock (twice) Will Hughes and Simon Dawkins.

Real opportunities in the first 25 minutes were absent in a game where the Rams were comfortably gaining control but just when we should have been looking to press on we unerringly found the self destruct button once again.

Lee Grant messed up a clearance from a back pass finding Millwall’s Lee Gregory, Craig Forsyth proved unable to make a goal line clearance as the ball bobbled in.

Ten minutes later, with the assistance of the referee, we were at it again. Jeff Hendrick surrendered possession too easily and Milwall broke on us, Richard Keogh made an excellent block in the area but the ball flew from his foot onto his hand and a nonsensical penalty was immediately awarded.

Lee Gregory put the spot kick away and we were 2-0 down.

Rams working on the now established principle of starting to go for it only when we’re two goals down pulled a goal back just before the break.

We won a free kick on the edge of the area and resident rescue act Tom Ince belted it in for his eleventh goal of his loan spell. Goodness knows where we would be without him and his goals in this later part of the season.

Whatever was said at half time clearly had as much impact upon our defence as all of the good advice and instruction they’ve received over the last few weeks as we went 3-1 down within five minutes.

Another self inflicted wound as Lee Grant gave away an unnecessary corner and shortly afterwards Jeff Hendrick wrestled Nicky Bailey to the ground; the inevitable penalty was awarded and put away by Lee Gregory for his hat-trick.

It was welcome back to Chris Martin who came on after 64 minutes and it was him who pulled us back to 3-2 thanks to a soft penalty we received when Tom Ince tumbled under some contact.

Our equaliser came from some excellent work from half time substitute Johnny Russell and Tom Ince, Ince heading the ball across the box for Jeff Hendrick who volleyed the ball into the top corner with five minutes to go.

There was some unsurprising nonsense from Milwall fans with violent scenes at the end of the game. So much has changed in football over recent years but some things that have remained the same, the unpleasantness of Millwall being one of them.

Another curate’s egg performance then, a point gained but we still require a point from the last game against Reading to secure a place in the play-offs.

If we got that point, and the way we are playing there is no great confidence of that, how would we cope in the play-offs?

That is a thought for a day other than this.

Played GD Pts
1. Watford 45 +41 88
2. AFC Bournemouth 44 +47 84
3. Middlesbrough 45 +31 84
4. Norwich City 45 +38 83
5. Ipswich Town 45 +19 78
6. Derby County 45 +32 77
7. Brentford 45 +16 75
8. Wolves 45 +12 75

18th April – No defence as Rams take a point in eight goal shootout


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18th April

Huddersfield Town   4      Gobern 38, Hudson 41, James 45+2, Wells 72

Derby County           4       Ince 16,79Dawkins 52, Lingard 61

It’s never easy being a Rams fan is it?

The Rams travelled to sunny Yorkshire on a four game unbeaten run with hopes of consolidating a play off spot against a Huddersfield team drifting in the safe waters of lower mid table.

Straightforward game? Not a chance.

After taking the lead with a Tom Ince cracker some appalling amateurish defending in the first half saw us go in 1-3 down.

We hauled ourselves back to 3-3 only to gift the Terriers yet another goal which required another Tom Ince rescue mission to save a point.

The game was littered with injuries for the Rams, Craig Bryson, Zak Whitbread and Will Hughes being forced off at various points in the game – exactly what we do not need considering our injury problems this season.

Before we knew about the mayhem that would unfold Steve McClaren kept us on our toes by naming an unchanged back four with Shotton, Keogh, Whitbread & Warnock continuing.

Not that circumstance allowed us to keep that unit together for long with Zak Whitbread being forced off with injury after 27 minutes at which point the roof fell in for the rest of the first half.

Midfield saw a change with Will Hughes returning after suspension with Simon Dawkins making way and dropping down to the bench.

I was surprised at this as Dawks has played well on Tuesday against, the admittedly limited, Blackpool, looking composed on the ball.

No sign of Chris Martin in the match day squad suggesting that the “setback” mentioned on Tuesday night could be as serious as we had feared.

Missing also from the 18 was Raul Albentosa who has been selected intermittently after the long wait to see him in the team.

We worked very hard to sign the big Spanish defender and apparently spend a lot of effort planning our signings but things have not gone well which makes you wonder what is going on in the background, especially considering our need for defensive leadership is desperate.

Any debates about the rights and wrongs of Simon Dawkins being left out were soon neutralised as Craig Bryson was on the receiving end of a heavy Joel Lynch tackle on five minutes that ended his participation, Dawkins replacing him and having another good game.

The Rams started steadily, looking composed and Tom Ince gave us the lead with a belting shot from distance that arrowed into the top corner on 16 minutes. We looked comfortable and while not in control, certainly in a good position.

Everything went rapidly downhill when Zak Whitbread fell awkwardly after a coming together with the always physical Ishmael Miller and had to be substituted immediately with Cyrus Christie coming on at right back and Ryan Shotton moving to centre half.

Zak Whitbread has always looked a good player to me but whether he can stay healthy enough to be the calm head we need in that back four is a question – no report yet on his injury from this game but we have looked better with him playing – and looked chaotic without him yesterday.

We conceded three awful goals in eight minutes towards the end of the half and it was not only the number of goals that we let in but the manner of the surrender that was alarming.

Possession lost by the desperately shaky Cyrus Christie lead to goal one, an unchallenged header from a corner lead to goal two and a corner allowed directly into the net saw us go in 3-1 down at the half to a, no disrespect intended, middling team with nothing to play for.

The defence was yet again playing like strangers and with no confidence or structure – it is really shocking and disappointing to see and talk of promotion with displays at the back like this sounds delusional.

The second half showed no immediate improvement as Nakhi Wells should really have put the hosts 4-1 up as he went clear on our goal with only Lee Grant to beat. He only managed to catch Grant squarely in the face with his effort the ball going out for a corner.

And then just when hope was disappearing Simon Dawkins got himself on the end of a Stephen Warnock cross to bring us back into the game at 2-3 and suddenly the mood changed.

Dawkins having an excellent game contributed to the (first) equaliser helping to pull us back level at 3-3 laying off for Jesse Lingard who put away his second goal for the Rams since joining on loan.

A chance then for us to push on and win a vital 3pts ?……..not with the way our defence is playing.

Ryan Shotton gave the ball away under no pressure, Sean Scannell skinned Stephen Warnock again and from the ensuing melee the ball was bundled into the net for the hosts to take the lead again 4-3.

One final twist thanks to Tom Ince coolly putting away his second goal of the game and his tenth since joining us to bring it back again to 4-4 and at that point the scoring madness ended….though not before we played with fire at the back again and the Terriers had an offside winner ruled out.

Steve McClaren sounded either tired or disengaged in his post match interview – seemingly at a loss as to what to do and musing about taking the players away for a warm weather break this week to gee up team spirit.

Personally rather than catching planes and coaches here and there I’d be happier to hear about some focused work together at Moor Farm for the week to up the team spirit and get us ready for the last two games of the regular season.

We’re hanging on to our play off spot but it feels like by our fingertips at the moment.

Played GD Pts
1. Watford 44 +39 85
2. AFC Bournemouth 44 +47 84
3. Middlesbrough 44 +32 84
4. Norwich City 44 +38 82
5. Derby County 44 +32 76
6. Ipswich Town 44 +18 75
7. Brentford 44 +14 72
8. Wolves 44 +11 72

14th April – Rams in Seasiders Stroll


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14th April

Derby County     4         Craig Bryson 3, Tom Ince 28, Darren Bent 29, 65(pen)

Blackpool            0

This proved to be just the game we needed after recent disappointments and frustrations.

A relegated Blackpool suffering the kind of off-field traumas to draw the sympathies of right minded football fans everywhere put up minimal resistance and also created one of the goals for us along the way as the Rams sauntered to a 4-0 win.

The match was played on a beautiful spring evening and the warm sunshine that bathed the iPro was a joy to behold. Pitchside the temperature was positively balmy and had me thinking idly what is must be like to watch your football in La Liga as I considered the latest changes to a Rams starting line up.

Four changes today as Zak Whitbread, Ryan Shotton, Simon Dawkins and Jesse Lingard started replacing Raul Albentosa, Craig Forsyth, Johnny Russell and Chris Martin.

Another new back four line up for this game with Richard Keogh moving back to centre half alongside Whitbread, Shotton returning to right back and Stephen Warnock carrying on at left back.

Blackpool posed little threat and were poor ( not that this has stopped us struggling before) but before the value of the clean sheet we earned is this game is totally written off it should be remembered that the Seasiders only lost 2-3 to Ipswich Town last Saturday, the Tractor Boys needing a last minute winner to seal the win.

As has been the case for a few games we started well on the front foot. Unlike recent games though, we scored an early goal which set the tone for the rest of the game.

Craig Bryson picked up the ball in midfield in the third minute and pressed forward unchallenged to the edge of the area letting fly with a strong, but bobbling shot that evaded keeper and Elliot Parish and hit the net.

Bryson’s celebration was very obvious and very pointed “shhhhhh” to all comers which suggests that all is not well with the midfielder, though this is no surprise to us who have seen but a shadow of the player who bagged 16 goals for us last season.

Tom Ince was busy and threatening and a lovely shimmy on the quarter hour saw him free up space and shoot over. His “I’m not celebrating “goal celebration was not long delayed however as he put us 2-0 up on 28 minutes.

For want of a better description our second goal was created by Ryan Shotton’s fake long throw as he gave every impression of preparing to fling the ball into the area but instead went short to Ince who dropped a shoulder, lost a defender and deliciously passed the ball into the far corner for his eighth goal of his loan spell.

Our third goal took a further 30 seconds or so to arrive as Blackpool kicked off and Charles Dunne catastrophically misjudged his pass to Darren O’Dea and served only to play in Darren Bent who gleefully slotted home to make it 3-0.

The relaxed air around the game made it easy for Rams fans to express our support for the hardy band of around 100 Blackpool fans who had made the trip south. Numerous chants inviting Karl Oyston to take his leave from the club were aired as well as the amusing “Oyston for Forest”

It was good to see us support fellow fans who have seen their club abused by those who have a responsibility to run the club and set up for relegation even before the season had started.

To read some of the Twitter reactions of Blackpool fans after the game was genuinely heart warming as shivers of recognition when thinking back to our own traumas of the past.

The second half was routine, even including our efforts to gift Blackpool a goal. Jesse Lingard skied a very good chance but looked threatening and, to be honest, seems to offer us more at the moment than the lion hearted Johnny Russell.

Ryan Shotton earned the fourth goal, fouled in the area as he rampaged along and Darren Bent walloped the resulting penalty into the top corner for his twelfth goal since January – an impressive return considering that we are still working out how best to play to his strengths.

I was a little concerned at Jeff Hendrick’s substitution – some bellowed exchanges with Paul Simpson preceded the change and to me he seemed to be gingerly holding his side / stomach as he left the pitch.

Surely not another injury?

I was pleased to see Zak Whitbread play and feel he offers us some defensive know how allied to an ability to play a decent pass. Yes, the opposition was poor but Ryan Shotton played well and Stephen Warnock looked much less ragged than on Saturday.

Jamie Ward made a late appearance and almost managed to start a fight when going in hard on one of the Blackpool players, A frustrated Peter Clarke looked like he wanted to punch someone, anyone, he did not seem too fussed, in response.

You can always rely on Jamie to add a little niggle to proceedings.

After the game Steve McClaren, when explaining the absence of Chris Martin, said that our iconic number nine had experienced “a setback” in training.

Considering our luck this season when it comes to injuries “a setback” could mean anything from a stubbed toe to having been abducted by aliens who have promised to bring him back in “2-4 weeks”

Hopefully he will return (again) soon.

As is traditional in recent weeks every team above us in the league that was playing won their games meaning that fifth place is looking about as good as it will get for us this season.

Another spin at the playoffs is not to be scorned but we need to recover the momentum and form that took us higher in the league against opponents who will not be as obliging as Blackpool were.

Played GD Pts
1. AFC Bournemouth 43 +47 83
2. Norwich City 43 +39 82
3. Middlesbrough 43 +31 81
4. Watford 42 +36 79
5. Derby County 43 +32 75
6. Ipswich Town 43 +18 74
7. Brentford 43 +14 71
8. Wolves 43 +11 71

11th April – Rams steal a point & hang on to play off spot


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11th April

Derby County         1      Darren Bent 90+2

Brentford                1      Alex Pritchard 28

The Rams smuggled a point away from this game at the death in a manner that challenges the Hatton Gardens safety deposit box raid in terms of biggest heist of the week.

Brentford outplayed Derby throughout, looked better organised and missed a handful of decent chances to leave themselves vulnerable to the late equaliser that Darren Bent bundled home after a Jeff Hendrick miscued shot fell to him in the six yard box.

Satisfaction at gaining a point when it was scarcely deserved and hanging on to a play off spot were the only positives to take from this disjointed and confused Rams performance.

Light relief before the start of the game when I spotted Steve Claridge on the press benches at the iPro. It is safe to say that he is not a fan of doing his pre-match homework as he chatted on the phone and looked idly across the ground as kick off approached.

It was good to see Charlie George make a nostalgic appearance before kick off and be interviewed on the pitch, though slightly alarming to cast my mind back 40 years to remember seeing him play in a Rams shirt.

Chris Martin and Craig Bryson were the two additions to the starting line up replacing the suspended Will Hughes and Jamie Ward who dropped to the bench. A second outing then for the new look defence with skipper Richard Keogh and Stephen Warnock in the full back spots and Raul Albentosa & Craig Forsyth being the central defensive partnership.

The pre-match chit chat suggested we would set up in a 4-2-3-1 with Martin playing the central role but we quickly seemed to morph into a 4-4-2 with Johnny Russell and Tom Ince playing wide.

The first 15 minutes or so of the game was our best period with Tom Ince coming close twice with a whipped free kick that flew narrowly past David Button’s left hand post and then forcing the keeper into a smart save as he cut inside the area and shot towards the opposite corner.

We lost any control we had after that point though and Brentford increasingly came onto the front foot.

Even before the visitors took the lead, just before the half hour, with a very well taken Alex Pritchard strike from the edge of the area following a sweeping breakaway the Bees were looking organised, threatening and comfortable.

Uncertainty and lack of confidence leaked off the Rams players and transmitted itself to the fans. Steve McClaren was again on the sidelines early and in the first half Craig Bryson, notably, came to the technical area twice for an energetic exchange of views with the Head Coach leaving the discussion with an expression that suggested frustration rather than enlightenment.

The second half saw an ill Johnny Russell replaced by Simon Dawkins but there was no improvement and increased confusion as the game progressed.

Andre Gray missed three presentable second half opportunities for the Bees. Craig Forsyth, in his one high point of the game, made a superb goal line clearance to foil Jonathan Douglas and there seemed little prospect of us rescuing anything from the match.

Jeff Hendrick worked hard to get into the game and to try and create something but he was often isolated in his efforts.

For some unknown reason Chris Martin appeared to be stationed wide left for much of the second half which was an unexpected move and limited his involvement.

The suspended Will Hughes was sorely missed as we lacked creativity and control and as a final roll of the dice with fifteen minutes to go Stephen Warnock and Craig Bryson were withdrawn to be replaced with Jesse Lingard and Zak Whitbread.

Craig Forsyth returned to his normal left back berth – and spent much of the rest of the game being harangued by Steve McClaren to get forward.

In his short involvement Whitbread gave an assured and confident performance and I hope to see him starting on Tuesday when we take on Blackpool.

Time was running out when Jeff Hendrick picked up the ball outside of the Bees area and took his shot leading to Darren Bent bundling in his 10th goal of his loan period.

It was barely deserved but gratefully received and it felt unusual to be on the receiving end of some good fortune after our experiences this season.

This result along with wins for all of the top four realistically ends any hopes that we had for finishing in the top two this season. We are now in a battle for a play off spot with the table showing four teams fighting for two places, only a point separating the Rams, Ipswich, Brentford and Wolves.

Changing formations and experimenting with the defence in the final six games of a season is not something successful teams normally do.

There is something amiss at the heart of the team, the confident flowing Rams of last season seem a world away at the moment and we need to find some form quickly if we are to not only stumble into the playoffs but actually give a good account of ourselves in them.

That feels more like wishful thinking at the moment.

Played GD Pts
1. AFC Bournemouth 42 +46 80
2. Norwich City 42 +37 79
3. Watford 42 +36 79
4. Middlesbrough 42 +30 78
5. Derby County 42 +28 72
6. Ipswich Town 42 +16 71
7. Brentford 42 +15 71
8. Wolves 42 +12 71

6th April – Relief as Rams back to winning ways at Wigan


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6th April

Wigan Athletic    0

Derby County      2        Chris Martin 51, Darren Bent 81

Chris Martin’s 20th goal of the season and his inspiring performance after coming on as a half time substitute lead the Rams to our first win in eight at the DW Stadium.

There is no doubting the contribution our number 9 makes to our success and the difference he made to a poor and lethargic first half performance was a clear indication of the value he adds to the team.

The prospect of facing a poor and disjointed Wigan team heading for the Third Division (as it should be called…none of this League One nonsense) on a very poor pitch had the makings of a banana skin for a team as lacking in confidence as we were entering this game.

The first half was a poor spectacle that we allowed Wigan to increasingly dominate with their physical approach but the introduction of Martin at half time changed our approach and as soon as we took the lead Wigan’s threat receded.

The Rams made four changes for this game with Raul Albentosa, Stephen Warnock, Jeff Hendrick and Jamie Ward coming into the starting eleven replacing the injured Ryan Shotton, George Thorne and Craig Bryson as well as the struggling Cyrus Christie who dropped to the bench.

There was lots of puzzlement amongst the fans when looking at the defence  Richard Keogh at right back, Craig Forsyth at centre half.

It felt like a gambler’s throw of the dice to me and not the kind of experimentation you indulge in with six games of a season to go and all to play for….but I am delighted to be proved wrong as the new defence delivered the first clean sheet since our last win on 24th February when we beat Charlton 2-0.

Steve McClaren spoke after the game about having two “talkers” in the full back positions in Keogh & Warnock and also about how they had identified left centre half as being a position that Craig Forsyth could play.

Having seen Keogh & Shotton and also Keogh & Albentosa, both right footed combinations, sometimes struggle as a central partnership, it was no surprise that a lefty was being thought of but it was definitely a surprise to see us go for it with Fozzy today.

The back five had a good game, Granty making two excellent saves and the skipper and Fozzy coping well with their new positions. Raul started slowly but Warnock had a good game, as did the unit as a whole, albeit against a team that had not won a home match since August.

The Rams should have been ahead on 11 minutes when Darren Bent played Tom Ince in following a break lead by Craig Forsyth but Ince could only tamely shoot straight at keeper Ali Al Habsi.

Without ever really threatening in the first quarter hour the hosts forced five corners which tested the new look Rams back line. All were coped with competently if not always comfortably.

It was truly a dull and lifeless first half – we struggled to make any impact upon the Wigan goal and the only real moment of note after the Tom Ince chance was a great save from Lee Grant as the game moved beyond 35 minutes keeping out a McLean header.

The talismanic Chris Martin replaced Jamie Ward at half time who, like most other Rams, had had a very quiet first half.

There was a feeling of being back on the right track when a couple of minutes into ths second half we saw our first Chrissy Martin “wardrobe” free kick. – How we have missed those….

Joy two minutes later as Chris Martin started and finished a move with the assistance of Johnny Russell, the lively Scot finding Martin with a precise pass from the edge of the area which Martin put away with a clinical finish to put the Rams 1-0 up and send the 4,000 plus Rams fans into loud raptures of delight.

Without wishing to labour the point there was such a change of mood and performance as soon as Chris Martin was back on the pitch.

We have sorely lacked leadership on the pitch and this is something that Martin gives us, of all our players he appears to be the one with the greatest will to win.

Steve McLaren spoke after the game about Martin having 45 minutes in him today. For our prospects for the rest of the season it is to be hoped his journey back to full match fitness is rapid.

The crucial second goal came for the Rams on 81 minutes with a move started by Will Hughes and again involving Johnny Russell, the chance fell to Chris Martin who missed his attempt but Darren Bent was on the spot to fire in his ninth goal of his loan spell.

Lee Grant rounded off his excellent game making another vital save, this time from Kim-Bo Kyung as we moved into five minutes of injury time.

One downside of today was Will Hughes’ 10th booking of the season which will see him miss the games against Brentford and Blackpool.

As good a player as he is, and by god he is, it is frustrating that so many of Will’s bookings are silly niggly ones – just as today’s was.

Yet more changes in the leadership of the league that no-one wants to win as the leaders coming into today, Middlesbrough, were beaten 2-0 at Watford and dropped back to 4th allowing Bournemouth to return to the top with a 4-2 win against Birmingham.

Norwich City rose into the second automatic spot with a 2-0 home win over Sheffield Wednesday.

The automatic places may seem a long shot for us now but we have a real opportunity to push on with the two home games coming up against Brentford and Blackpool.

We have already seen this season what a good and resilient team Brentford are but this is crunch time now and the early kick off on Saturday is our chance to build on the excellent second half performance today.

Played GD Pts
1. AFC Bournemouth 41 +44 77
2. Norwich City 41 +36 76
3. Watford 41 +34 76
4. Middlesbrough 41 +28 75
5. Derby County 41 +28 71
6. Brentford 41 +15 70

3rd April – Shaky Rams let it slip against 10 man Hornets


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3rd April

Derby County       2        Darren Bent (pen) 45, Tom Ince 57

Watford                2        Matej Vydra 23, Marco Motta sent off 44, Odion Ighalo 75

The Rams winless streak stretched to seven games after a frustrating night at the iPro.

Down to an opportunistic goal after another defensive error, the Rams hit back to take the lead through a Darren Bent penalty and a fine finish from Tom Ince.

Yet again though Derby failed to close the game out despite the visitors being down to ten men, Watford equalising with a quarter of an hour to go.

Thanks to wins for Wolves and Brentford earlier in the day we kicked off in eighth place and out of the playoffs for the first time since September.

The only real consolation for me as I left the ground last night was that the point we gained lifted us back up into the top six but that feels like scant consolation indeed.

Uncertainty over the team sheet added hung over this game – it was great to see George Thorne back in the starting eleven the presence of Chris Martin on the bench raised a few more questions – fit enough to play part of the game but not the 90 minutes ??.

The boost of seeing our midfield linchpin back in the side only lasted half an hour though as he was replaced by Jeff Hendrick and left the field a downcast figure.

As I write this there is no update as to the nature of any injury for Thorne but I did see him gingerly stretch his right thigh barely five minutes into the game so it would be no surprise were this to be a reoccurrence of his most recent injury.

Along with Thorne’s reintroduction into the team (with Jesse Lingard dropping to the bench) Raul Albentosa was replaced in central defence by Ryan Shotton in what looked like the regular “horses for courses” approach we seem to take to our defence with Shotton’s greater pace being preferred to negate Watford’s attacking threat presumably.

We started brightly keeping possession well as Watford seemed content to sit back. Will Hughes had another good game and seemed to be trying to push the team over the line through sheer force of will at times with Johnny Russell being as energetic as ever and proving a potential threat throughout, though his control was sometimes a little lacking. Richard Keogh also had a good game, looking to drive us forward regularly as well as keeping tabs on the dangerous Watford strikers.

We could (and should?) have been 2-0 up before Watford’s sucker punch of a goal Darren Bent having two decent chances both of which he did not quite connect with – one being created by a superbly worked short corner involving Tom Ince and George Thorne that Heurelho Gomes in the Hornets goal managed to keep out with his legs.

Another in a long sequence of avoidable defensive mistakes handed Watford a chance which Vydra took clinically on 23 minutes.

Cyrus Christie was heading away from goal with the ball but turned back towards our area and lost the ball. Even then we had a chance to deal with the threat but two weak tackles saw the ball at the dangerous Vydra’s feet and the ball was past Lee Grant in a heartbeat.

Will Hughes flashed a shot just wide in response but just before half time a superb ball from Tom Ince gave the Rams a chance to square the game finding Johnny Russell in the Hornets area.

Russell was brought down by Marco Motta and it was no surprise to see a penalty awarded and the Italian defender sent off.

Darren Bent’s penalty was emphatic and we were going in at the break with a great chance to give our season some renewed impetus.

The substitution of Cyrus Christie at half time saw the introduction of Jesse Lingard as well as giving Jeff Hendrick a chance to brush up on his right wing back experience.

The Rams started at pace and forced a number of corners. A lovely piece of skill from Tom Ince put us ahead just before the hour, finding space in the area and curling in a sweet left foot shot.

The Rams were ahead, the large crowd was loud and boisterous and the game was there for the taking but as has so often been the case we seemed to stop pressing forward, stop taking the initiative and increasingly Watford had more of the ball and did not necessarily look like they were one player down.

Troy Deeney was a constant threat throughout keeping our defenders busy but it was from the flanks again that we conceded the deflating equaliser. We did not clear our lines and the ball came back enabling Odion Ighalo to finish from a Guediora pass with a quarter of an hour to go.

This was the signal for the return of Chris Martin as we desperately pushed for a winner. In his limited time on the pitch it was clear to see how much we had missed our centre forward, his link up play immediately giving us momentum. He also played a superb ball that released Darren Bent into the area but he was unable to finish Gomes again saving his strike.

There was no lack of effort from the Rams in the search for a winner but apart from that saved Darren Bent effort, a Richard Keogh header clawed away by Gomes and a last gasp scramble in the area we could not regain the lead. Another winning position at the iPro had been let slip.

We play with a lack of confidence that leaks off the players and our defence is unrecognisable from that which kept six consecutive clean sheets earlier in the season.

We must get a win, any kind of win from our visit to Wigan on Monday to halt this damaging run of form and start rebuilding the fragile confidence of the team.

Played GD Pts
1. Middlesbrough 40 +30 75
2. AFC Bournemouth 40 +42 74
3. Norwich City 40 +34 73
4. Watford 40 +32 73
5. Brentford 40 +15 69
6. Derby County 40 +26 68

20th March – Groundhog night at Molineux as Rams downed again


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20th March

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.

Played GD Pts
1. AFC Bournemouth 39 +42 73
2. Watford 39 +32 72
3. Middlesbrough 39 +29 72
4. Norwich City 39 +33 70
5. Derby County 39 +26 67
6. Ipswich Town 39 +16 67

17th March – Injuries continue to bite as toothless Rams are bested by Boro


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17th March

Derby County     0             

Middlesbrough    1       Patrick Bamford 64

The winless run for the Rams now stretches to five games with this deflating defeat to well organised promotion rivals Middlesbrough; a defeat made all the more frustrating by identity of the goalscorer.

Particularly worrying to see was the complete lack of threat we posed in this game with (arguably) one clear cut chance created all night.

The continued absence of Chris Martin and Darren Bent is something we are not coping with at all and the Rams are suddenly 5pts away from the automatic promotion spots with only 8 games to go.

That one chance fell to substitute Jesse Lingard late on and with little time to steady himself he flashed his shot wide.

Indeed we did not force goalkeeper Dimi Konstantopoulos into one meaningful save all game and as the night wore on we may have huffed and puffed but it never looked likely that we would score.

There were two changes for Derby from the team that took a battling point away from Carrow Road on Saturday. Cyrus Christie and Craig Bryson were selected replacing Ryan Shotton and Jeff Hendrick.

There was no return to the match day squad for George Thorne though despite Paul Simpson’s pre match interview suggesting that the Rams would give the influential midfielder every chance to be involved, including the alarming comments about “taking a risk” on him if we had to .

This left me conflicted as to whether I was disappointed he was still missing or pleased we weren’t taking a gamble on him.

His absence meant a home debut for Jamie Hanson who again acquitted himself very well, combative in the tackle and neat and organised in his passing.

He is looking an incredibly mature player for his age and a hell of a prospect for us, though it is a big ask to be throwing him into the business end of a promotion battle against two of our rivals.

Injuries to the three players we would be selecting in front of Hanson though have left the Rams with few other options.

The game started steadily, the Rams pushing Boro back but without threatening in front of yet another 30,000 + crowd.

I was getting a little déjà vu from that awful refereeing performance in the Birmingham game as Andy D’Urso made a few idiosyncratic decisions early on but that was forgotten as a superb whipped cross from Cyrus Christie so nearly found Jamie Ward sliding in at the far post.

This was almost immediately followed by a superb double save from Lee Grant as Boro showed what they were capable of.

I found myself thinking we might have a bit of luck on our side when, later in the half, Granty shanked a clearance straight to Jelle Vossen who lobbed the ball back toward the empty net only for it to bounce off the post back into the grateful Grant’s grasp.

Johnny Russell again had the thankless task of leading the line as the central striker but despite his endless work and application he had little to work with as time and time again he was fighting for balls better suited to Andy Carroll than a player of his stature.

There were flashes of creativity and intent from us in the first half, a lovely pass from Jamie Ward nearly putting Tom Ince in after half an hour and a lovely move involving Richard Keogh, Tom Ince and Cyrus Christie almost unlocking the defence.

As the first half ended I optimistically thought that we could nick this with a little bit of magic from either Will Hughes or Tom Ince but we never seemed to get started in a second half that started in a haphazard way with injuries to Vossen and Grant Leadbitter interrupting play.

Johnny Russell snatched at a half chance just before the hour, pulling his shot wide of goal and shortly afterwards the sense that Boro had been holding us off waiting for their chance became all too apparent.

The Rams gifted possession to Lee Tomlin who played in Patrick Bamford superbly, and with a crushing sense of inevitability the on loan Chelsea striker evaded Lee Grant and slid the ball into the net.

We never looked like rescuing the game when we fell behind. Jeff Hendrick, Jesse Lingard and Kwame Thomas were thrown on, Raul Albentosa played increasingly as an emergency striker but Middlesbrough kept us at bay with ease, I’m afraid to say to take a vital three points and hold on to 2nd place.

Realistically we have moved from one of the favourites for automatic promotion to outsiders with that 5 point gap opening up.

It would be foolish to say that we have seen the last of the myriad twists and turns that the Championship has served up so far but our form is poor, our confidence is low and we are missing key players.

If we are to wrest back some initiative and control over our destiny this season a win at Molineaux is a must on Friday night – to do that under the current circumstances would be impressive and so very welcomed.

Played GD Pts
1. Watford 38 +33 72
2. Middlesbrough 38 +32 72
3. AFC Bournemouth 38 +39 70
4. Norwich City 38 +31 67
5. Derby County 38 +28 67
6. Brentford 38 +12 65

14th March – Rams dig deep for crucial point as Bruiser takes a bow


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14th March

Norwich City     1          Cameron Jerome 31

Derby County    1          John Ruddy (o.g.) 66

Sometimes a point is a bitter disappointment.

Last Saturday, for instance.

Sometime a point is a terrific result.

Today, for instance.

On the back of three disappointing results and visiting the division’s form team with a squad diminished by injury the Rams did very well to take a point, a point that may just be crucial come the season’s end.

Pre game discussion inevitably centred upon Jamie Hanson’s first team debut, one of two changes to the team that played Birmingham last week.

A Friday training injury to Omar Mascarell enabled the impressive academy player to step into the defensive midfield position that is so important to our style of play.

And how well he played in such a crucial game. Initially the Norwich midfield dominated but as the game went on Hanson got more involved and showed he is a player of poise and promise.

Talk in the week of either or both of George Thorne and Chris Martin being involved in some way proved not to be the case and what once felt like a deep squad is starting to look skimpy as injuries take their toll.

Our other change was a swap with Ryan Shotton coming in at right back for Cyrus Christie, a change happening increasingly regularly for away games, presumably for greater defensive solidity offered by the former Stoke City defender.

The hosts dominated possession in the early periods of the game without creating any clear cut chances and the Rams worked hard with players tracking back. There were notable defensive interventions from both Johnny Russell and Jamie Ward.

Rams had a spell of greater possession from 25 minutes or so in with Hughes and Ward featuring and looking to create something. Our only decent attempt on goal at this time came with a Will Hughes shot going over.

Just as it felt as if we had subdued the hosts, Cameron Jerome gave them the lead on 31 mins after Hoolohan and Olsson combined well to get behind our line and set up the big striker for a tap in.

Good work by Johnny Russell after a quickly taken free kick on 40 minutes almost created a chance for the Rams, the opportunity just failing for the lack of someone to tap the ball in, the hosts clearing away from danger.

With results in other games going against us we needed a big second half and the Rams started promisingly, again without really creating any clear cut chances, but nearly were authors of our own downfall in giving away a needless corner on 55 minutes after a phase of messing around with the ball in defence.

Jamie Hanson lived up to his nickname of “bruiser” after a clash of heads with Alexander Tetty left the Norwich man prone on the turf and gained the debutant a Terry Butcher tribute head bandage.

It was our debutant that created our equaliser from an unexpected source, John Ruddy turned around a Tom Ince shot round for a corner. Jamie Hanson’s corner was then bundled into the net by Ruddy to bring us level. The credit for the goal may go to the Norwich keeper but in spirit this was a debut goal for Hanson.

Johnny Russell worked as hard as ever throughout the game, proving to be a nuisance, he struggled to find threatening positions with the ball but his work rate off the ball was as terrific as ever and he kept the Canaries defence occupied throughout.

Jamie Ward was similarly hard working and committed and it is good to see him getting back to his early season form.

Until they started lumping the ball forward towards the end of the game the Canaries were subdued for much of the second half and credit to the Rams for that. However it took a superb save from Lee Grant, keeping out a Jerome free header from no more than six yards, followed up by great save even later in the game from a shot from Norwich substitute Gary Hooper to preserve this point.

This was a good gritty and pleasing performance from the Rams in the second half, disciplined and organised.

As if we did not have enough injuries to worry about Johnny Russell took a kick to the face from the already booked Russell Martin that left blood splattered all over his face and questions being asked about why his Scottish international team mate did not get his marching orders.

Steve McClaren mused afterwards that JR has a broken nose so we can look forward to another outing for the phantom of the opera mask soon.

Raul Albentosa is looking increasingly at home and made a crucial tackle to stop Gary Hooper late on – the defensive strength we so crave could well be resting on his shoulders.

This Norwich team has by far the strongest squad at its disposal in this league and have easily been the best team I’ve seen at the iPro this season, so for us to emerge from Carrow Road with a point is a big boost at a time of the season when both the injuries and the worries have been piling up.

Played GD Pts
1. AFC Bournemouth 37 +39 69
2. Watford 37 +31 69
3. Middlesbrough 37 +31 69
4. Derby County 37 +29 67
5. Norwich City 37 +31 66
6. Brentford 37 +11 62


17th February – Loan rangers save the day as Millers make hay with Rams defence


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17th February

Rotherham United    3    Paul Green 35, Richard Smallwood 49, Matt Derbyshire 55

Derby County   3  Tom Ince 36,64    Darren Bent 83

Football eh? – Bloody hell.

Given the chance to go top of the league with a win we escaped with a point from the New York Stadium after being 3-1 down with half an hour to go.

Our defence seems to veer between rock solid and accident prone and the defending tonight was as poor as it has been for a very long time – or as Steve McClaren put it darkly afterwards – “You can’t win games defending like that….”

So a choice confronts us between being disappointed about missing out on going top or acknowledging a barnstorming comeback to win a hard earned point.

There was one change for the Rams from the last league game at Bournemouth as Darren Bent started in place of the injured Chris Martin.

The hosts had two former Rams in their team with Paul Green as captain and Ben Pringle also featuring. Watching on for the Millers was on loan Conor Sammon unable to play against us as part of his loan.

The hosts made a good start keeping us in our half for the first few minutes without really creating anything in the early minutes apart from a dangerous Ben Pringle free kick that Danny Ward headed straight at Lee Grant.

The Rams first attack had seen us break away on a move that saw Tom Ince shoot on goal but the save was easily made by Adam Collin.

Darren Bent drew a more difficult save from the Millers keeper and one of his defenders who just kept the ball off the line after a pass from Jeff Hendrick and, as the Rams stepped up their momentum Jamie Ward had two excellent chances as the game moved to the half hour.

A break for a serious looking injury to Rotherham’s Jack Hunt seemed to stall our momentum and we paid the price for losing focus as, inevitably, Paul Green was left unmarked to stab home from close range to put the Millers ahead.

It was obviously the kick up the backside that we needed as we were level within a minute thanks to a terrific goal from Tom Ince, again putting in a terrific performance, making some room for himself on the left hand side of the area and firing home.

We settled after the equaliser and controlled the rest of the half without ever creating a clear chance, the closest being when Tom Ince swung in a dangerous free kick that Darren Bent just missed.

As happens too often we made a slow start and fell behind again, giving away a sloppy free kick swung in by Richard Smallwood, Lee Grant went for the punch, missed and the ball went in to put the Millers ahead again on 49 minutes.

Bad became much worse as Matt Derbyshire was released by a mix up between Omar Mascarell and Richard Keogh and found himself through on Lee Grant firing home to make it 3-1 on 55 minutes.

The top of the table seemed a long way distant but our Head Coach is nothing if not a man of action and we saw a triple substitution on 59 minutes with Craig Bryson, Simon Dawkins and Jesse Lingard replacing Omar Mascarell, Jamie Ward and Jeff Hendrick.

Just after the changes Matt Derbyshire nearly made it 4-1 forcing a terrific save from Lee Grant but the substitutes then began making an impact and the roller coaster took another turn with man of the moment Tom Ince scoring again firing home a cross from Craig Forsyth to score his fifth goal for the Rams and pull it back to 3-2.

Rotherham started pulling back into their shell then, trying to hold what they had as the Rams showed more energy and invention and approximately 30 seconds after Steve McClaren moved Jesse Lingard over to the left wing, swapping with Simon Dawkins, the Manchester United loanee surged down the left, crossed and Darren Bent stole in front of the goalkeeper to pull the game level on 83 minutes.

From considering a demoralising defeat we were suddenly dreaming of an unlikely win but despite more pressure we could not complete the most unlikely of victories.

If we are to win promotion we must defend better than this and it was interesting to hear Paul Simpson speak before the game about how close Kelle Roos is running Lee Grant for a first team place. That was a surprise to hear and maybe Granty revels in a little pressure but we may well see changes on Saturday when we face Sheffield Wednesday – not least the return of Ryan Shotton.

Consider the impact of Tom Ince and Darren Bent since their arrival at the club – ten goals between them already and so influential to the team with the threat they provide – very little settling in required for both of these players, particularly Ince who is showing the explosive form that made him a hot property not so long ago.

So we are in 2nd place tonight – tomorrow Middlesbrough travel to Birmingham City with a chance to go 3pts clear at the top, quite an incentive when the table is as tight as this.

Played GD Pts
1. AFC Bournemouth 31 +33 59
2. Derby County 31 +30 59
3. Middlesbrough 30 +28 59
4. Ipswich Town 31 +19 57
5. Watford 31 +26 56
6. Norwich City 31 +23 53