|RamsWeek 10 - My Brave Face|
Mon 07th Mar 2011 02:01 by Paul Mortimer
After an encouraging win at Bramall Lane, Derby County had two home matches in which to improve their Championship standing.
Nigel Clough was able to include loan forwards Theo Robinson and Jamie Ward in his team for Tuesday’s game against Doncaster Rovers, with Paul Green and John Brayford occupying their alternative full-back berths in the absence of Gareth Roberts.
Fans anticipated the game with some hope that the Rams could put more distance between themselves and the Championship’s bottom three. However, they started and finished the game still just eight points clear, contriving to lose badly to Rovers, The 3-1 scoreline hardly flattered the visitors, who dismantled Derby in the second half.
There was no warning for the fans that Derby would collapse so comprehensively; whilst not unduly threatening the Rovers’ goal for the first 40 minutes, the Rams were on top. Then Billy Sharp - the £1m striker that Doncaster could afford whilst Derby could (or would) not - latched smoothly onto a through pass and finished clinically to give Donny the lead near the break.
Sharp scored again soon after the half-time and Derby visibly crumbled. They were inept, bereft, drained of confidence and belief and Doncaster’s dominance was alarming. A proven striker had made the difference - even though Doncaster had hardly threatened before Sharp’s opening goal. After 71 minutes, Mills added a third goal to put the game further beyond Derby’s reach.
Quite why there was such a second-half collapse is difficult to summarise; all the players seemed to lose their touch and confidence. There was a succession of unforced errors and misplaced passes almost every time a Derby player touched the ball; there was a total lack of cohesion or teamwork. Captain Robbie Savage described the performance as “absolutely disgraceful”.
In a season containing some pretty shocking performances or halves, Derby’s second-half performance against Doncaster rates as bad as any. It was truly dire. In the final analysis, Derby had one shot on target during their first-half ascendancy and a couple more after the break, so five defeats in a row at home and a desperately low points’ tally over three months tells its own story.
As Derby struggled to penetrate Donny’s defences, Clough elected to take off Theo Robinson, with some fans registering their disapproval with a chorus of “you don’t know what you’re doing” aimed at the manager, which doesn’t bode too well for supporter confidence in Nigel’s regime.
What had been an unfocussed attacking performance became even more disjointed, as Steve Davies, Alberto Bueno and Tomasz Cywka (for Addison) joined the fray. Cywka tried hard, Bueno looked lost, and Steve Davies tanked around as best he can. Davies eventually either nudged in Paul Green’s last-minute cross or distracted the Doncaster keeper enough for the ball to rumble along into the back of the net for Derby’s consolation goal.
Rams’ boss Nigel Clough later pointedly commented: “that’s what you get from a £1m striker - he puts the ball into the net”. That was both a comment upon the inability of his players to take chances and on Derby’s cut-price transfer policy. At Pride Park Stadium, goalscorers are sold but not recruited, leaving the club without a recognised prolific striker on the books.
Fans were surprised to hear on Friday that goalkeeper Stephen Bywater was going out on loan to Cardiff City for the remainder of the season. The promotion-chasing Bluebirds have a goalkeeping crisis with two injured at the moment, one being out for the rest of the season. Cardiff also took a Blackburn reserve keeper on loan.
Rams fans thought their own club was in a similarly problematic position to Cardiff only days ago. Things have changed; perhaps tweetmeister Bywater has now fallen from favour, with Frank Fielding an able No. 1 for Derby (albeit a loanee). Not to mention Stephen’s rapid recovery from injury, as he was reported as being still in recovery on the very day the car came to take him to Cardiff.
Bywater seemed ‘keen to go’ according to Clough; he still has over a year to run on his Derby contract. I won’t be taking out any wager that he will now see his term out but Fielding, having played for the Rams already for two months on loan before Christmas, can only play for another month at Derby. What happens then, if Bywater is out of favour and out on loan?
I cannot help but think that the competent Frank Fielding will be hardly short of offers at the end of the season - Derby County might be somewhat presumptive if they over-estimate their ability to make him Derby’s permanent No. 1 during the summer.
A month ago, goalkeeping seemed to be the least of Derby’s problems, with Bywater, Deeney, Atkins and Severn on the books. With Deeney out for the season and Bywater injured again, Severn deputised but handed Hull City their winner as a substitute - and Atkins is unproven at League level.
Bywater will be on a 24-hour recall but Derby acted to bring in a keeper to support Fielding and Hull’s former Burton Albion stopper Matt Duke (33) joined Derby on loan. Overall, it seems that Derby has a competent No. 1 keeper in Fielding and more experienced back-up in Duke - though neither player is permanently signed to Derby County.
Bywater made his debut for Cardiff on Saturday in their 0-2 home defeat by Ipswich Town. Bywater saw 2 shots from Jimmy Bullard sail past him for the Tractor Boys’ goals, and was out of position for the first strike. Tweet that one up, Bywater!
These goalkeeping musical chairs did rather bemuse Derby fans; they’d expected Clough to reinforce other areas of his squad. He was still short of defensive cover with no full backs in reserve, and we haven’t recruited a permanent centre forward since Rob Hulse was sold.
Clough declared in January that he wanted two defenders, a midfielder and two centre forwards when he sold Commons and Moxey. Derby bought Ben Davies (midfield), took in defender Daniel Ayala and the loanee forwards Jamie Ward and Theo Robinson - but no other defenders and no centre forward have been added to Clough’s squad.
Nigel also elected to lose a midfielder from his complement by allowing Ben Pringle to go on loan to League Two side Torquay United. So, he has lost a foot-soldier in Pringle and top scorer in Commons from his midfield complement. Ben Davies arrived, but looks ordinary, and if he is a dead ball specialist on the current evidence, then so am I from the front row of the East Stand Upper. You get what you pay for…it’s a lesson that Derby seem to be learning the hard way.
This week, Clough made the statement that Derby needed 6 players of proven Championship quality if the club was to move forward. You won’t hear any Derby fans disagreeing with that observation. He is looking at a total overhaul of the squad rather than additions to complement the players he already has.
That’s a bad reflection on the few players he inherited that have figured in the manager’s plans, and also on the utility or longevity of several players he has brought in himself. However, there is a large consideration that Clough brought in many of these players whilst operating under severe financial restrictions. Some players were (perhaps) not those he would have wanted to bring in, but simply had to recruit due to their availability in the bottom end of the market.
That is all down to the purse-strings as controlled by our extravagantly wealthy investment group. There is little more that Clough can do now in terms of reinforcements for this season; he has his chosen loan complement and the fate of the club is dependent on this squad and the management team. The next two months will reveal if Derby’s resources are superior to those of at least three other Championship clubs.
The sun still shines however in the Pride Park Stadium boardroom; it never goes down. President and CEO Tom Glick put on his brave face and resurfaced, after a busy month belatedly helping Mr Clough to trawl the emergency loan market. Tom toughed it out with Colin Gibson on-air.
He spoke to Radio Derby before the Barnsley game, to reiterate the club’s position on the management and strategy. Again, he confirmed total support for Nigel Clough and dismissed any notion that such a playing record with virtually any other club would have rendered Nigel jobless. Mr Glick also refused to countenance relegation and said there was no plan for such a scenario.
Is he brave, naive or foolhardy - or all three? We will know in a couple of months. Mr Glick exhorted everyone to support the club, despite the lack of entertainment or quality on show and stated that the club would be challenging for a top six place in 2011-12.
When it was suggested that Mr Clough’s 6 experienced players would cost money, Tom said that fees are not paid for every player that moves, and suggested that Messrs Robinson and Ward were possible permanent signings come the summertime. Mr Glick - that is not going to set the season ticket till on fire, is it?
Look at the top six clubs, check out their squad policy. A brave face fronting a failed, frugal policy won’t turn this squad (or similar Derby recruits) into winners, full stop.
Replacing Hulse and Commons (whose transfers brought in £1m plus wage savings) is not likely to come free. Further, gambling with fans’ loyalty again for another season might well see bigger crowds outside the stadium than in front of the pitch, if results don’t change by next autumn.
Mr Glick said that the investment partners had supported the club to the tune of £25m. It is unclear as to what component of this represents “Jewell’s Folly” in supporting his post-relegation squad and to what extent input from GSE partners constitutes pure philanthropy or fresh (non-bank) loans with strings. Are there conditions attached? Have some partners tired of fronting the club?
Asked about Peter Gadsby’s approach to chairman Andy Appleby, Mr Glick appeared to draw battle lines over costs, profits and income, going in with all guns blazing. It is difficult to imagine that Mr Gadsby will stay silent for long.
Mr Glick again asserted that no bid was present but instead challenged Gadsby to explain what profit he took out of the club when selling up, and why he only stayed in charge at Pride Park Stadium for 18 months. Set your hearing aids to “low” in anticipation of further vindictive paint-stripping comments from the respective adversaries.
It seems that on reflection, the only person speaking sense about the club was coach Johnny Metgod in a post-match interview some months back. He was ridiculed for saying that ‘this team can’t finish in the top half of the table’. Derby County was flying high then, but Metgod damped down the over-enthusiasm.
In the meantime, the club dithers onwards or downwards and the fans are mightily cheesed off with the squad, the manager, the GSE management representative in charge, and the hopeless results. Derby County has had another humiliating season. Supporters now wonder whether it is actually all worth it. Many hundreds of pounds per season we pay…for what?
Saturday's game with Barnsley gave the Rams another opportunity to claw in some safety points and not least, to redress the horrors of Tuesday's defeat by Doncaster Rovers.
Derby’s temporary No.1 Frank Fielding was in goal, with the other custodian loanee, Matt Duke, on the bench. The defence was restored to its normal configuration - the full backs were in their own position and Green restored to midfield; run-around-aimlessly-Pearson was there to give us ‘thrust’ on the left, with Robinson and Ward as strikers. Setting up the team not to lose at home to Barnsley was Mr Clough’s recipe, so fans gritted their teeth and hoped for the best.
Barnsley’s O’Connor forced Fielding into an immediate low save but otherwise, my memory of a feeble huff-and-puff first-half has already been wiped from memory; then Jamie Ward contrived to miss from 3 yards out within seconds of the restart and that was about that. Ward is yet to score a Championship goal this season and the Blades’ misfit is at best a poor man’s Paul Dickov.
The defence was resolute with Barker strong and Ayala maintaining his good form. At least we didn’t fold as we did on Tuesday evening. For a team badly needing points and a home win even more badly, Derby’s negative and disjointed forward play came as another disappointment to their long-suffering fans. Barnsley had more than twice as many on-target efforts than and went closest to scoring - Derby’s attack still lacks the focus, strength and holding ability that a Hulse or Kuqi once provided.
Bueno and Steve Davies remained on the bench as caution ruled, so Clough jettisoned any chance of pushing for victory as only Ben Davies and Addison entered the fray late on. The lack of penetration and excitement was as palpable as the genuine bemusement from the crowd as the PA system announced that Robbie Savage had been voted man of the match. Barker, Ayala, Brayford or Green were well ahead of the daft-haired out-of-steam Welshman.
There was a lack of courage, intelligence and movement in the final third that suggests Derby will continue to find goals hard to come by. It’s all very worrying, as the Rams must win another four games during 2010-11 merely to achieve their own diminished ambitions. A clean sheet, an end to the run of home defeats, and a precious single Championship point are all that can be taken from the Barnsley encounter.
The gap between Derby and the bottom three shrank to six points on Saturday and Derby resides in 19th position in the Championship table. Three points from the last three games suggests Derby could manage to exceed the 50-point barrier for the season; barely survival base once again. By that time, the challenging clubs will have amassed another thirty or forty points to contest the business end of the season.
Derby visit hapless Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening, rarely a happy hunting ground in recent times. Boro are terrible at the moment but still have a stronger squad than Derby, so a backs-to-the-wall, ugly and defiant battle seems on the cards, as per the Bramall Lane spectacle. Let’s just hope for the same result!
RamsWeek 10 last year saw Chris Porter become ‘Mr Lucky’ when he harassed a Watford defender in the home game against the Hornets, forcing an error and enabling the Rams’ striker to double Derby’s slender lead on 76 minutes. Michael Tonge had fired Derby into a first-half lead.
Derby ran out 2-0 winners to ease their worries in the bottom section of the Championship table, the crowd of 29,500. Derby were five points clear of the bottom three in March 2010 – one point less than this week in 2011, but Mr Glick would not want to hear Derby fans’ unprintable comments, should he venture to suggest that we’re making ‘progress’ season-on-season!
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