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.