Derby County 1 Johnny Russell 88
Middlesbrough 1 Kike 16
It was nearly déjà-vu all over again as Middlesbrough rocked up to the iPro and nearly repeated the suffocation job they delivered in March.
The Boro have in recent games shown an annoying ability to stifle our attacking moves without so much as breaking a sweat.
When they took the lead in this game, against the run of play, they looked every bit the team headed for better things this year.
But after having grabbed the initiative they seemed largely content to pull the team behind the ball and, particularly in the second half, look to hit us on the break as we dominated possession.
Unlike that dispiriting game in March though we smuggled a point out of this one with Johnny Russell’s emphatic finish with just over a minute of normal time to go.
In the build up to this game I was thinking about the potential threat posed by Stewart Downing to us but he had a quiet game and I was delighted that perennial pain in the arse David Nugent never made it off the bench.
Two changes for the Rams as Stephen Warnock and Andreas Weimann came in for Craig Forsyth and Johnny Russell. While I had expected Johnny to be stepped down for this one the change at left back was a surprise.
Warnock had one of his best games for the Rams though and was more of a presence in the attacking half of the pitch throughout.
We started with verve and tempo, we looked good. The atmosphere was loud and raucous and the evening had the feel of a contest between two top teams.
Despite the feeling afterwards that we had not created much Boro’s excellent keeper, Dimi Konstantopoulos, pulled off three top class saves in this match, the first of which was to deny Jeff Hendrick’s shot in the opening assault.
And then out of nothing Boro were ahead. George Friend was given too much room with the ball on our right flank, found himself in our area, shanked his shot, the ball fell to Kike who put the ball away.
We lost our energy after that goal and for much of the rest of the first half the visitors looked comfortable, creating a couple of half chances and not allowing us to build any real momentum.
Before the half was out our appalling run of midfield injuries continued apace. Both Jamie Hanson and Jeff Hendrick were forced off before the half time oranges, both from fouls that resulted in Hanson being concussed and Hendrick picking up a dead leg.
Our midfield is going to be a case of rounding up the willing and able for the game against Birmingham and even if Jeff Hendrick recovers we found out today he might have other matters weighing on his mind.
The public outing of our bid for Jacob Butterfield by the Huddersfield chairman during the game showed that the club is trying to resolve matters but it is clear that we are the moneybags club (at least in other clubs’ view) as the price quoted for Butterfield is said to be £5m.
The resulting shuffle saw Ryan Shotton and Johnny Russell on and a change of formation to a 4-2-3-1.
The last few minutes of the half saw the Rams get a bit fiery and it certainly served to get the crowd revving again. Tom Ince arrowed in a free kick that was heading for the bottom corner before Dimi just got to it.
The second half proved to be an extended defence vs. attack session as Boro seemed content to hold what they had. It is not difficult to see the influence of Aitor Karanka’s mentor Mourinho in the way they play, squeezing the life out of the game and looking to overload on the break.
It is clearly successful but I could not help wondering that with such a range of good players in the team they were selling themselves a little short?
Darren Bent came on for Andy Weimann and we moved to the third formation of the night – 4-4-2.
Another superb save from the Boro keeper denied Chris Martin’s glancing header from a corner.
Then with hope and expectation ebbing away Ryan Shotton launched one into the area, Chris Martin got something on it – the ball fell just right for Johnny Russell surging unmarked into the area and with obvious relish he slotted the ball home.
This was an important point and would have been an awful game to lose. The fighting spirit the Rams showed under difficult circumstances was good to see.
Richard Keogh had another good game and Scott Carson is looking well set in goal.
Our attacking game is stuttering but the loss of Hughes (particularly) and Bryson has hurt us.
A trip to Birmingham on Friday night next up.