14th February – Ten man Rams run it close but bow out to Royals

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14th February

Derby County 1 Stephen Warnock sent off 39, Darren Bent 61
Reading 2 Hal Robson-Kanu 53, Yakubu Aiyegbeni 82

Derby County are out of the FA Cup at the Fifth Round stage beaten by a late goal from substitute Yakubu after a performance that was both entertaining and admirable playing, as we did, against the odds for 50 minutes.

Steve McClaren made seven changes from the team that drew 2-2 at Bournemouth, two of them enforced, with Kelle Roos, Ryan Shotton, Stephen Warnock, Craig Bryson, Simon Dawkins, Jesse Lingard and Darren Bent coming in for the injured Chris Martin, the cup-tied Tom Ince and the rested Lee Grant, Jake Buxton, Craig Forsyth, Will Hughes and Jamie Ward.

On the bench for the first time this season was George Thorne who received an enthusiastic welcome from the crowd both when he first appeared pre-match and also whenever he warmed up throughout the game. Unfortunately the way the game panned out our returning midfield linchpin never got the chance to play but his presence in the match day squad is a big boost.

The team selection meant Rams debuts for Warnock and Lingard after their arrival in the January transfer window though they were debuts of contrasting fortunes for the two players.

Warnock never made it to his half time orange (or gel sachet, to be more modern) as he collected his second yellow card on 39 minutes and left us down to ten men for the remainder of the game.

There were howls of outrage from around the ground when Craig Pawson dismissed Warnock but, in truth, our full back had left the referee little option as he went barrelling into ex Red Dog Jamie Mackie (as he himself acknowledged in a post match Tweet).

That is not to say that the referee had a good game – he reached for the yellow cards too quickly and this created a tension the game did not warrant.

It was interesting to see both teams substituting players who had been booked which felt like a defensive response to a refereeing performance that verged into “look at me” territory (In marked comparison to the performance of Mark Clattenburg on Tuesday night it should be noted)

The Rams were always up against it in this game from the moment that Warnock was dismissed but it was a brave and sterling effort and hard to see the evidence for which team had ten men as the game went on.

Steve McClaren explained afterwards that a replay was the last thing we wanted in a crowded fixture schedule and rather than try and close the game out after we equalised we continued on the attack which made for an exciting game but also left the door open for Reading to counter attack.

This was a Reading team much changed in performance if not personnel since Steve Clarke was appointed manager and their fielding of a first choice eleven reflected the fact that, drifting in mid table as they are, this game was a much higher priority for them than us.

We started the game well and a lovely move involving Lingard, Dawkins and Bent in the first two minutes played in Craig Bryson who forced a good save from Adam Federici.

The Reading keeper also made a superb instinctive save from Darren Bent in the first half when the striker turned and shot sharply as well as a great save from substitute Jamie Ward in the second half as we made a number of chances.

We were fortunate though that the other former Forest player on the pitch for the Royals, Simon Cox, is such a poor finisher as he missed two golden chances in the first half alone.

Reading took the lead from a neat finish from Hal Robson-Kanu early in the second half but we took only eight minutes to equalise.

Craig Forsyth (brought on for Omar Mascarell after Warnock’s dismissal) ranged forward and his cross was received by Jesse Lingard, who looked sharp, quick and creative on debut, and his shot hit Darren Bent and deflected in. Very much right man in the right place at the right time for our loan striker with his fifth goal for us.

We continued to push on for what would have been a gutsy winner but were caught on the break late in the game as Yakubu, on as a substitute after signing this week for the Royals as a free agent, was played in between Shotton & Forsyth and held off our left back to fire past Roos from the edge of the area.

Yakubu is one of those players (akin to Billy Sharp & David Nugent) who have a bad habit of scoring against us and those Rams with particularly long memories will remember John Gregory trying to sign him as a 19yr old for Derby back in the day but being unable to do so because of work permit issues.

Away from the iPro the most significant result for us was Bournemouth’s 1-1 home draw with Huddersfield which put them back top but must have felt like a disappointment for them.

 Elsewhere Ipswich, Watford and Norwich all won which leaves the top six looking tighter again. We travel to Rotherham on Tuesday night to play a team hitting some form but with a big incentive to come back with the three points. – COYR.

 

    Played GD Pts
1. AFC Bournemouth 31 +33 59
2. Middlesbrough 30 +28 59
3. Derby County 30 +30 58
4. Ipswich Town 31 +19 57
5. Watford 31 +26 56
6. Norwich City 31 +23 53

10th February – Resilient Rams make a point at Bournemouth

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10th February

AFC Bournemouth 2 Matt Ritchie 12, Callum Wilson 44
Derby County 2 Tom Ince 30, Darren Bent 68

There is such a thing as a good point and in the aftermath of a breathless game at the Goldsands Stadium this feels like one.

This was such an intense game. It was high on tension, but also high in quality, as the Rams showed great character and resolve to equalise twice against the free scoring hosts and secure that good point.

Indeed we largely controlled the second half, restricted Bournemouth to one skewed Harry Artur effort and could quite easily have taken the three points from this crucial game.

Two of our January signings were on the score sheet with Tom Ince and Darren Bent both showing great poise to put away their chances and in doing so vindicating again the decision making processes at the club at the moment.

Think for a moment the impact that Ince jr. and Darren Bent have had in their short time at the Rams, seven goals between them and a lift to the squad and the team – and they are only part of the enhancement to the squad in January with Raul Albentosa likely to play a key part in the season to come and the presence of Stephen Warnock on the bench surely a factor in the resurgence of Craig Forsyth’s form in recent weeks.

The Rams made one change for this game, Cyrus Christie replacing Ryan Shotton at right back and it was a quick and powerful start to the game by Derby putting pressure on the hosts who looked nervy for the first five minutes and creaky at the back.

The mood changed quickly though and we seemed to be unsettled by an incident on 10 minutes when Lee Grant handled outside of the area while, arguably, being obstructed by Callum Wilson.

Referee Mark Clattenburg, who had a good game, made a pragmatic decision not punishing the Rams keeper but awarding the Cherries a free kick in a dangerous area. The free kick passed harmlessly but Bournemouth then scored with their first incisive attack Callum Wilson and Yann Kermogant setting up Matt Richie to score.

Bad became worse on 14 minutes when Chris Martin limped off with what looked like an ankle injury and was replaced by Darren Bent.

Of the many things that impressed me about the Rams tonight, how we coped without our talismanic No.9 was right up there.

Talk to Rams fans throughout this season and top of the list of our concerns was how the team would function without Chris Martin. Well, we were going to have to find out pretty sharpish in probably our most difficult game of the season after he limped off.

We struggled to settle in the aftermath of the goal and a weak backheader from Keogh almost gifted a second goal but Wilson could not finish.

After some heroics from Jake Buxton putting his body on the line to repel a Cherries attacks the Rams equalised thanks to the midfield maestro Hughes who tried to play in Darren Bent on the right hand side of the area.

The on loan striker robbed the Bournemouth full back Simon Francis and played a superb pass for Tom Ince and the man of the moment shimmied to dummy a defender and finished superbly for the goal.

From a high to a low within minutes though. After our equaliser we continued to pressure the hosts but then undid so much good work when just before the half time whistle Wilson was allowed to accept the ball by the Rams central defence and fire the Cherries back into the lead.

The second half started at a lesser pace than what had gone before, but no surprise there as it would have taken a superhuman effort by both sides to keep up the intensity.

The Rams slowly cranked up the pressure and control and worked a half chance for Tom Ince who got past a couple of defenders but was prevented from scoring again by a superb tackle from Tommy Elphick.

The second equaliser came from a clinical finish from Darren Bent. Good play by Craig Forsyth and Simon Dawkins (on as substitute only two minutes earlier for Jamie Ward) saw Dawkins play the ball across the area and the former England striker nipped in front of the defence for his fourth goal for the Rams – a quality finish from quality striker.

The Rams put more pressure on Cherries after the second equaliser and Bournemouth increasingly looked towards Callum Wilson for the long ball outlet as the game went on and had little else to offer by way of threat.

Even though we could not force the winner this was a performance to give us great heart for the rest of the season.

There were good performances all over the pitch tonight, Craig Forsyth having a good game, as did Omar Mascarell who is seemingly growing with every game. Tom Ince and Darren Bent provide us with a very welcome cutting edge.

Jeff Hendrick was again very good and Will Hughes has maintained a level of excellence over a number of games now that is a joy to see.

I can’t remember the last time a point felt so satisfying and positive and even seeing Middlesbrough grub their way past Blackpool 2-1 to go top could not detract from that.

 

7th February – Ince & Hendrick to the fore and Hughes shines as Rams win again

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7th February

 

Derby County                 4         Thomas Ince 39, 47  Jeff Hendrick 45, 68    

Bolton Wanderers         1           Filip Twardzik 51                  

Watching this Derby team when it clicks is a joy and our Rams definitely clicked in this 4-1 win over a Bolton team that had just taken Liverpool to the last minutes of a replayed FA Cup tie.

This was indeed a joyous game to watch as the Rams exhibited the slick passing interplay that is our trademark in front of a 30,000 + crowd who were loud and raucous in support of the team.

The South Stand was in fine voice and for the first time in a long time (perhaps Brighton in the play-off, perhaps the Forest 5-0 last season) all of the stands of the iPro chipped in with a song or two which made for a superb atmosphere which was noted by a number of magnanimous Bolton fans on social media afterwards. (The comments included – intimidating atmosphere, great team, top manager)

The headlines after this win inevitably focused on debut maker Tom Ince, who scored twice and so nearly crowned his first game since joining us form Hull on loan on deadline day with a hat-trick, the historic hat-trick being missed by a whisker as his shot cannoned back off the post with keeper Andy Lonergan beaten.

As well as the goals our new wide man showed energy and invention throughout, noticeably giving us different options as his runs were both central and wide and also tracking back with diligence. A positive and eloquent interview afterwards expressing his desire to make a mark at Derby rounded off a great start for the former Blackpool and Liverpool player who undoubtedly has a touch of class about his play.

Ince junior’s name may have headed all of the reports but Will Hughes’ performance deserved just as many plaudits. Yet again our midfield playmaker was at the heart of everything that was good about us despite Bolton’s attempts to starve him of both space and time which, in the first 25 minutes or so, had some success.

As the game went on however our midfield asserted itself and the visitors, managed by football’s angriest man, Neil Lennon, found it increasingly difficult to resist our moves in and around their area.

Three goals in the space of eight minutes over the half time break sealed the three points for the Rams. After a number of moves failed on the last pass or movement just as they looked like they were going to lead to a goal Chris Martin won the Rams a free kick just outside of the penalty area. There were a few nudges and nods in our part of the ground when Tom Ince placed the ball very deliberately for the free kick but they were soon forgotten as he arrowed a tremendous left footed free kick into the top corner to give us the lead.

Six minutes later and just before the break we were two up after a superb move involving Chris Martin and Will Hughes freed Jeff Hendrick in the area who, after a drop of the shoulder to lose Bolton’s Josh Vela, fired home.

Hendrick was another of our players who had a superb game, one of his best for weeks, always buzzing around and a threat as we moved forward and while we are listing positives Omar Mascarell had another good game anchoring the midfield and breaking up Bolton’s moves.

Another sweet passing move just after the break involving Hendrick, Martin and Hughes saw Hughes playing in Ince on the right hand side of the area for the debutant to fire home and make it 3-0.

A bit of Rams sleepiness at a free kick allowed Filip Twardzik to head home and spoil the clean sheet but there was never a real prospect of Bolton dragging us back. Jamie Ward was foiled by a fine Lonergan save before the game was put away by Jeff Hendrick’s second of the game – and his seventh of an increasingly productive season – after Jake Buxton won a towering back post header from an Omar Mascarell free kick.

Another important three points banked and another game ticked off.

Tuesday sees us visit the leaders Bournemouth on the south coast for a top two clash.

The Rams are in good shape for this crucial game having recovered from the set backs of the Forest loss, Johnny Russell’s injury and Jordan Ibe’s recall with remarkable resilience…..COYR

31st January – On song Rams give Cardiff the blues

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31st January

Cardiff City                    0           

Derby County                2         Scott Malone (o.g.) 23, Chris Martin 45 

      

Having seen both Bournemouth and Middlesbrough win before we kicked off this was an important three points for the Rams to bring home from the Welsh capital.

Remembering back to the summer the Bluebirds were seen as being one of our key competitors for promotion this season. Despite the Premier League parachute payment though, the Welsh team have struggled back in the second tier and in this game looked like the mid table team that they are.

Games still need to be won, however, and this was a pleasing performance by Derby to do so, backed by a loud and raucous following of travelling fans. 

No changes were made to the team that beat Blackburn though a hamstring injury suffered by Raul Albentosa in training kept him off the bench being replaced by his countryman Ivan Calero.

The Rams started brightly, keeping the ball well and moving it around quickly which is always an obvious sign of the mood and confidence of the team.

We got the benefit of an early penalty as Martin went down during a corner for the Rams when the ball was pinging around the Cardiff area – as penalties went it was on the soft side, had it gone against us I would not have been happy.

Chris Martin missed the spot kick though putting his attempt too close to the keeper allowing Simon Moore to push it away. 

This team of ours has resilience though, evidenced by the response to that disappointing (to say the least) Forest defeat – two wins and two clean sheets coming in to this game – and also overcoming the missed penalty.

Both Simon Dawkins and Jamie Ward were playing well , both probably benefitting from more match time and it was Ward that received the ball in the 22nd minute following a lovely intricate move involving Hughes ,Hendrick and Martin, and his beautifully judged ball led to Scott Malone diverting past his own keeper for an own goal.

The home team were not offering much by way of a threat at all though Lee Grant and Jake Buxton gave the loud and bouncing Rams contingent a fright on 35 minutes by almost leaving a ball to each other as it was played through.

That was one of the last acts in this game for our rugged centre half as Buxton turned his ankle shortly afterwards and the normally indestructible Buckobauer was forced off after trying to run it off.

A shuffle of the defence ensued with Cyrus Christie coming on and Ryan Shotton moving across and Christie was instrumental in a perfectly timed second goal just before the break.

Another sweet passing move involving Jeff Hendrick, Chris Martin, Craig Forsyth & Will Hughes freed up Christie on the flank and he put in a superb deep cross that Martin connected with, thundering a header in to the top of the net to make it 2-0.

It had been an excellent first half performance, that second goal importantly emphasising our dominance and putting Cardiff in a very difficult position.

The second half started steadily with few opportunities at either end. After a sprightly first half Dawkins limped off on the hour to be replaced by Mason Bennett and it is to be hoped that his comeback to the team is not to be interrupted again, particularly considering our shortage of options in the wide areas of the team.

Cardiff bought on Kenwyn Jones just after the hour and he had barely been on the pitch a couple of minutes before his header brought out a great save from Lee Grant. Our keeper is having an excellent season and in the last couple of weeks alone he has made superb saves in games where he has not had much to do, always a good sign of keeping focus.

The closest we came to a third goal was when a characteristic pass from Hughes released Bennett in the area but a poor bounce held the ball up allowing keeper to make a save.

Three important points then with a comfortable win though it was interesting to hear Steve McClaren’s expressing his disappointment that we did not kick on in the second half – high standards in our coaching staff bodes well for the rest of the season.

The end of January sees us 2nd with 54 points from 28 games played.

This time last year Leicester City were at the top of the table with 66 points from one more game – QPR second with 56pts from 28 games.

With no team as far ahead as Leicester this year it is a fair bet that 90pts will secure automatic promotion – 36 more points then in our last 18 games.

Those games will start count down before we know it so wins like today are crucial and very welcome.

 

27th January – Rams up to 2nd as Bent double downs Blackburn

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27th January

Derby County                         2                 Darren Bent 68, 90+2      

Blackburn Rovers                 0

This day may, in retrospect, turn out to be a pivotal one for the Rams in this important season.

Not only did we gather a crucial three points from this hard fought win over Blackburn to lift ourselves back up to 2nd, but George Thorne made his competitive comeback with 45 minutes for the U-21 side who thrashed Stoke City 7-1.

The continued return to fitness of the midfielder, who is so important to the way we play, is a boost to everyone involved with the club and while there is some way to go before he is orchestrating our play it is a relief to see him playing again after the crushing blow of that pre-season injury.

Compared to the team that started against Forest Ryan Shotton replaced Cyrus Christie, Simon Dawkins replaced the injured Johnny Russell and Jeff Hendrick replaced Craig Bryson.

After the experimentation against Chesterfield in the FA Cup it was back to plan A formation wise with the 4-3-3 facing up to Blackburn’s well organised and drilled two banks of four with Tom Cairney playing behind the nippy Josh King.

It was a surprise, though not a disappointment, to see Rovers lining up without either Jordan Rhodes or Rudy Gestede, both of them on the bench. Was this a bit of asset protection in advance of a sale by the Venky’s – difficult to say and unsuccessful, if so, as Gestede appeared before half time to replace the injured Tom Cairney but he himself had to be replaced when injured in the second half.

This was a gritty win for the Rams featuring some good performances from a number of players. Will Hughes was again excellent, always looking for the ball, always providing a threat with his skill and there were two particularly impressive examples of twinkle toed skill from him in the first half as he manoeuvred the ball away from defenders snapping around his heels.

Omar Mascarell had his best game of the season combining his usual ease on the ball with more bite and disruption of Blackburn’s play and looking the part as the defensive midfield pivot.

Richard Keogh was closer to his best than has been the case for a while, some excellent positioning and interceptions allied to a number of shuddering blocks with a few barnstorming charges forward thrown in for good measure. It has been suggested that he was benefitting from a more disciplined right back performance from Ryan Shotton and I think there is merit in that. Shotts was composed on his return to the team and exhibited more positional awareness than Cyrus Christie has done in recent games. And that long throw of his is quite an option for us.

We held the ball well in the first half without ever really carving out a clear chance. The good work of that first half was nearly lost when a misplaced pass from Jeff Hendrick just before the break almost led to a goal with Josh King, fortunately, blazing over.

While never in the brutal class of the Mark Hughes era Blackeye Rovers this generation of Rovers were physical and, more than any team I have seen for a while, looked to hit the long ball to try and exploit their pace up front.

The second half was proving to be more of the same, Jamie Ward and Simon Dawkins labouring on the flanks, both appearing to lack some sharpness and inevitably generating a few what might have beens were it not for the absence of Johnny Russell and Jordan Ibe.

The signing of Darren Bent, though, has given us another option and he had only been on the pitch for five minutes before bundling the ball into the net after another of Ryan Shotton’s long throws

The win was not seen out with ease. Blackburn threw Jordan Rhodes on and started launching the ball into our box and one superb tackle from Omar Mascarell and one even more superb save from Lee Grant were needed to keep us in front.

 It was good to see Mason Bennett appearing as a substitute late on and he was instrumental in the second goal that took the pressure off – breaking down the left wing and putting in an excellent cross for Chris Martin who saw his shot well saved by Jason Steele but there in the right place, at the right time was our new penalty area predator Darren Bent to put the game away.

 This was such an important three points against a good Championship side.

To be back up to second with 19 games to go means our fate is in our hands and if we can ensure that remains the case as the number of games dwindle away this season may yet have a very happy ending.

24th January – Formation rotation as Rams prevail in Derbyshire Derby

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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….

 

 

 

17th January – Second half slump sees Rams give it away in East Midlands clash

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17th January

Derby County           1                         Nottingham Forest     2

Henri Lansbury (o.g.) 16                      Britt Assombalonga 75

                                                             Ben Osborn 90+2

 

A disjointed and confused second half performance from the Rams saw us lose from a position of dominance to not only give Forest an unexpected boost but also undo all of the benefit gained from the impressive win at Ipswich Town a week earlier.

Disappointment at this performance is compounded by it being against “them” as well as seeing Bournemouth, Ipswich, Middlesbrough, Brentford and Watford all win later in the day to tighten up the top six yet again just when it looked like we might be able to ease away from some of those teams.

Watching the increasingly poor second half performance this was a failure on our part of what is known as “game management”. From a position of 1-0 up against a low in confidence Forest with the clock winding down we did not have the nouse, the know how, the experience to take the heat out of the game even if we were not playing particularly well.

This has happened to us before and speaks to the naivety in our team, a lack of ruthlessness and nasty. It is not too late to put this right, but it may cost us promotion if not solved soon.

I think about two other games in particular – the game against Wigan where we were 1-0 up with 20 minutes to go but ended up losing 1-2 to a poor team…..sounds terribly familiar from yesterday doesn’t it?.

Also leading Norwich City 2-1 as the game reached its end and giving up an equaliser (and nearly a winner to the Canaries also).

Just the losses from yesterday and those two games would put us five points clear of this crazy division now instead of being third. It is not worth dwelling on what has been lost but we do need to show a more ruthless streak in such situations.

Three changes for the Rams for this game, Jamie Ward replacing the now returned to Anfield Jordan Ibe, Omar Mascarell replacing the injured and suspended John Eustace and Craig Bryson switching his place on the bench with Jeff Hendrick.

With Simon Dawkins being away for personal reasons, newly signed players Stephen Warnock missing through fitness concerns and Raul Albentosa awaiting international clearance our bench had a light look to it for the first time in a while.

Forest started energetically looking to prevent us playing out from the back but that only lasted for ten minutes or so and we started to take control from then on in the first half.

One of a host of Rams corners gave us the lead after 16 minutes, Henri Lansbury neatly heading Johnny Russell’s cross into his own net to give us the lead. Forest looked shocked and there for the taking and while it was not a vintage first half performance we carved out a number of half chances, Will Hughes going very close with a curving shot from the edge of the area, Jamie Ward having a deflected shot well saved by Doris de Vries and a number of corners causing panic in the Forest back line. There was a palpable sense of disappointment at the score being only 1-0 at the break.

Forest had little to offer in that first half, only Michail Antonio providing any kind of consistent threat but a hint of problems ahead for us was Will Hughes coming over to the sidelines to have a chat with Neil Sullivan and (from my viewpoint) indicating a problem with his hip / thigh.

In due course our creative midfielder did not reappear for the second half, Jeff Hendrick taking his place as the second half commenced.

As has been the case on a couple of occasions we seemed slow out of the blocks in the second period, but more worryingly our midfield melted away and it was a common site to see Forest players striding into space, outnumbering the white shirts and winning second balls time and time again.

Chris Martin became increasingly isolated and despite his fine efforts to keep control of the game – he provided a number of fine examples of “game management” winning free kicks in dangerous areas when outnumbered and wresting a bit of initiative for us – we resorted to long balls to him which were fruitless because of the lack of midfield support around him.

As the chap sat near me said “what do you expect him to do? – head it to himself?”

Both Jeff Hendrick & Craig Bryson had poor second halves leaving us outnumbered and exposing our defence. I honestly still thought we would see it out but a scrambled goal from Britt Assombalonga with 15 minutes to go changed the game.

As Steve McClaren indicated after the game a point would still have been an ok , if not ideal outcome, but we lost our shape again at the death and Derby born and bred ( and Rams fan ) Ben Osborn beat Lee Grant from the edge of the area after another Forest break found us outnumbered and out of position.

A missed opportunity and plenty of food for thought for us then, but to lose in such a way to them…..is so so annoying.

 

10th January – Resilient Rams topple the Tractor Boys and move up to 2nd

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10th January 2015

Ipswich Town               0                 Derby County    1

                                                            Chris Martin 57

                                                            John Eustace sent off 90

A committed and impressive performance saw the Rams win this crucial Championship match against Ipswich Town, replacing the home team in 2nd place and inflicting upon the Tractor Boys their first defeat in twelve matches.

This felt like a vital and possibly pivotal game in the build up and so it may well prove.

Ipswich were two points ahead of the Rams at kick off. The statement we made in winning at Portman Road sends a message out about our intentions for the rest of the season and was very encouraging following the defeats against Middlesbrough and Leeds United in away games before Christmas.

Being involved in yet another lunch time kick off meant that we could sit back and enjoy the afternoon results which pretty much all fell in our favour as Bournemouth lost for the first time since we beat them in September, Middlesbrough drew and Watford lost making our win even more valuable.

The Rams were unchanged from the last league game, the 2-0 win over Leeds United with Darren Bent taking the place of the now returned to Blackburn Leon Best on the bench.

There were few chances in the whole game but Derby started nervously and presented Ipswich with an opportunity within five minutes as the offside trap broke down but fortunately, for us, Jay Tabb missed.

Our first hint of a chance came on the quarter hour as Jeff Hendrick had a shot blocked and Cyrus Christie fired over. A few minutes later Johnny Russell came close with a free kick he had himself won through his own efforts.

The game settled down after the early nervousness and the Rams showed admirable composure and control for much of the rest of the match with the back four well lead and marshalled by Richard Keogh and Craig Forsyth also having a good game. Cyrus Christie struggled at times though and was put under some pressure defensively.

John Eustace received an early yellow card but continued to discharge his defensive duties well and his presence in the team has a good balancing effect on our midfield with Will Hughes particularly having a good game influencing our play and prompting creatively.

Eustace got away with a sly barge on David McGoldrick just before the break however, which if the referee had seen otherwise might have lead to big trouble for the veteran midfielder and us. McGoldrick was booked for his responding foul and the half soon came to an end with Mick McCarthy doing his usual angry bullying act towards the officials as they left the pitch.

Having seen McCarthy pull off this trick before there were a few murmurs of concern about whether Ipswich would subsequently get every decision in the second half, but due credit to referee Kevin Wright who had a good game, including not awarding a penalty to Ipswich when the ball struck Keogh on the chest early in the second half despite howls of protest from the home players and crowd.

Shortly afterwards came the key moment of the game, Cyrus Christie cleared the ball and Ipswich centre half Tommy Smith misjudged the ball allowing Chris Martin to nip in and clinically put away his 18th goal of the season, and also the 100th goal of his career in his 303rd game. (Interesting to note that in the last season and a half our number 9 has scored 43 goals in 82 games underlining his importance to us yet again)

After our goal we continued on the front foot and carved out a number of half chances. Jordan Ibe worked hard and showed a pleasing appetite for tracking back and Johnny Russell gave his all as ever for the cause.

Despite the high stakes involved Ipswich never really upped the ante and threatened after we scored. Inevitably as the clock wore down there was an element of increased pressure on our goal but few if any clear chances were carved out and Lee Grant was calm and in control of his area.

This reflects well on the professional job that we did in winning this game, Steve McClaren spoke after the game of our “maturity” in seeing the game out and that seemed spot on.

Because of a clash of heads that took Jeff Hendrick out of the game we had 6 minutes of injury time to navigate and navigate with ten men after John Eustace received his marching orders for pulling back McGoldrick as he threatened to break clear. But the 6 minutes passed without further alarm and an important away win was banked.

As well as all the positive points already mentioned it is great to see the return of the clean sheets that so underpinned our best run earlier in the season – today was our fourth in a row and is another reason to be optimistic as we prepare to face the noisy neighbours in a week.

 

 

 

3rd January – Subs sink valiant Southport as Rams leave it late

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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

 

30th December – Bucko’s back as Rams roll over Leeds

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30th December

Derby County              2                  Leeds United                     0

Alex Mowatt (o.g.) 41

Jake Buxton 48

Rarely will the Rams have won a game as easily as this post Christmas affair and the fact that it was against old rivals Leeds United made it all the more satisfying.

Finding ourselves on TV again this match came at the end of the latest round of Championship games that had seen Bournemouth continue their winning streak but Middlesbrough and Brentford drop points making this both an opportunity for us to ease away from them a little but also a requirement to keep pace with the Cherries.

One change for the Rams saw the free from suspension Jake Buxton replace Ryan Shotton and I was not alone in greeting that news with a smile. As well as his comfort on the left side of the central defensive partnership (a position that the very right footed Shots does seem to struggle with) Bucko brings to the team a determination and will to win that we do miss when he is absent.

I am hard pressed to think of a more improved footballer in recent times to have passed through Derby – consider this is a player that did not make it at Mansfield Town but is now a more than competent Championship defender who seems to have stepped up another notch since the arrival of Steve McClaren et.al

A 31,000 plus crowd saw us control this game from start to finish and while we did not carve out chance after chance we created enough to have won a second consecutive game 4-0 had our finishing been sharper.

Leeds looked what they are – a poor team struggling to find an identity in the face of constant change and upheaval and the only negative from me in this game was the frustration at having lost to this mob at the end of November and how those extra three points would have us joint top with Bournemouth today.

Will Hughes had an excellent game, prompting and looking to create. His dangerous cross across the face of the Leeds goal panicked Leeds’s Alex Mowatt into putting the ball into his own net just before half time and then just after the break the returning Bucko freed himself to plant a header home from Jeff Hendrick’s free kick….and it was game over already.

We did carve out a number of half chances after the second goal with Leeds’ keeper Marco Silvestri making a couple of smart saves.

Johnny Russell yet again gave a tireless performance of both attack and supporting the defence and it was a feature of our play that both wide men snuffed out any potential Leeds attacking ploys very effectively.

Jordan Ibe looked dangerous and worried the Yorkshire rearguard regularly and the balance of the team seemed much better than in the recent past. Whether this is completely down to the re-introduction of John Eustace and Bucko is open to question but I think they have made a difference in these last two games.

One of the things I admire about our management set up is their willingness to change things when necessary.

The reintroduction of Eustace after it seemed that Omar Mascarell would be given more time to adapt to the challenge of playing the pivotal DM position and the return of Bucko for this game after it seemed that Ryan Shotton was the favoured player both show a flexibility that will serve us well.

While we were seeing off the old enemy the Tractor Boys were trundling to a 3-0 win over Charlton to keep themselves two points ahead of us in 2nd. Our next league game is against Mick McCarthy’s well drilled troops and while that 10th January game in Suffolk is too early to be season defining it would be a hell of a statement from us if we were to win it.

The January transfer window creaks open this week and there are rumours swirling around about the imminent arrival of Darren Bent at the iPro for the rest of the season, possibly to replace the returning Leon Best.

If true this surprises me for a number of reasons (wages, his fit into the way we play to name but two) – he does seem very much a “play on the last defender’s shoulder” type of striker, very different to what we have.

But…. he is an experienced, still pacey front man who scores goals so could give us those different options that we lack, something different to what we have (and without being unkind he cannot give us less than Leon Best)

So Southport on Saturday and despite my years I have never seen the Rams playing them, so am looking forward to that. The Sandgrounders are bringing nigh on 3,000 fans to Derby so there is a proper cup tie atmosphere to look forward to.

A very Happy New Year to fellow Rams – COYR !