|RamsWeek 14 - Same Old Blues |
Mon 04th Apr 2011 01:08 by Paul Mortimer
Whilst media interest in Derby County’s re-ignited promotion ambitions for next season grew apace, the Rams had an important Championship match at Cardiff City to play.
Rams’ president and chief executive Tom Glick was in expansive mood when interviewed on BBC TV’s ‘Late Kick-Off’ Football League magazine programme, screened last Monday.
He reiterated the positive noises he’d made to local media and on the official website about renewed GSE investment and the club’s expectations of a top-six Championship placement in season 2011-12.
I’m sure that Mr Glick and his GSE partners heeded the warnings from supporters both in demonstration and in personal representation - and there were only two ways for the regime to go, forwards through a commitment to more investment, or backwards through the flawed expectation that severe cuts and an overly-prudent squad policy would see the club progress in the end.
The downside is that Glick’s declaration advertises the promise that Derby will spend more money this summer, so selling clubs will anticipate a handsome payday when Clough comes shopping for players.
Glick is still mindful of the risks of high investment though curiously pulled out the example of Plymouth Argyle and not Coventry City. They are SISU-owned and struggling for financial support as well as suffering a dwindling fanbase. The Sky Blues were a ready-made comparison as a fellow Championship club and Rams fans would not swap places with them.
Media talk this week included debate about Nigel Clough’s contract, which does not expire until July 2012. That all seems a bit premature and it won’t be until the end of 2011 when we will know if Clough has strengthened or weakened his claim to a further spell in charge at Derby County.
Fans remain split over Nigel’s suitability for the job. A stronger squad is anticipated and then we will hopefully see Clough operating in his father’s footsteps - as a front-runner, not an also-ran.
With the promise of investment in players, Clough will finally have the opportunity to prove himself in a more substantial part of the transfer and loan market. The next six months will demonstrate how important it is to have the right manager investing in the right players. Is Clough the right man? Does Mr Glick have the expertise to secure deals for players on Clough’s shopping list?
Ambition and effectiveness has to be demonstrated at Pride Park Stadium, where expectations dictate that Clough’s remodelled team must hit the ground running in August. At the moment, it’s all premature talk as the Rams still have work to do to secure their Championship status.
That didn’t suppress speculation about Derby’s summertime transfer targets that has followed Derby’s renewed interest in the business end of the Championship table. Birmingham City’s veteran midfield battler Lee Bowyer (34) was named, as was the Blues’ well-travelled goal poacher Kevin Phillips.
Derby manager Nigel Clough has said that he wanted some experienced players to help along some of the younger players in his squad; with Robbie Savage retiring in May to take up his media career and some other senior departures likely, leadership and experience is a commodity that Clough is keen to invest in.
The pair does possess experience - but their combined age is over 70! Fans may feel that the consistent and prolific Phillips is worth a shot for a short contract - some will be less happy with the linkage of ‘hard man’ Bowyer to Derby, ostensibly as a replacement for Savage’s presence in the middle of the park.
Forest striker Nathan Tyson is another name being mentioned. There might a touch of the ‘Savage factor’ for fans in that possibility, as Tyson was the Tree that got Rams fans barking mad when he carted a corner flag ceremoniously around the away end at the City Ground last season, got himself suspended and started a fracas that got both clubs a hefty FA fine for indiscipline.
That little escapade rivals the infamous dive that Robbie Savage performed for Leicester City that won a last-minute penalty for the Foxes at Pride Park Stadium in the late 90s. Tyson would have many fans to win over after that display of stupidity, should he end up at Derby!
A happier memory from Trees-Rams’ clashes can be gained from this week’s reserves fixture, when Derby County stuffed the Trees’ stiffs 7-1 to strike out further at the top of their Central League reserve division.
Torquay United’s young forward Sean Halpin struck a hat-trick and had a ‘Halpin hand’ (sorry!) in other goals, including a dazzling run to lay one on for Tomasz Cywka. The Rams might follow up their interest in Halpin, who was on trial at Derby along with a Torquay colleague, defender Lathaniel Rowe-Turner.
Derby’s young American Conor Doyle scored in the Under-20 USA’s 4-0 victory over Suriname in the CONCACAF U-20 tournament in Guatemala. That should boost the transfer fee for Doyle when Jeff Mallett’s Vancouver Whitecaps come shopping in Derby this summer!
The trip to Cardiff City on Saturday did not hold happy memories for the Rams, well beaten on their last two trips and conceding 10 goals, because City have made buying or loaning proven strikers a priority to keep them in a challenging position. Mr Glick, take note!
Rams manager Nigel Clough started with another loanee goalkeeper, Brad Jones from Liverpool, as Matt Duke - the loanee who never played a game for Derby - was recalled by his ‘parent’ club Hull City. Former Rams’ No. 1 keeper Stephen Bywater remains at Cardiff but could not play against Derby under the terms of the laon deal.
Clough said that Bywater was keen to stay at Cardiff, but it seems strange that the manager would not recall his experienced keeper in a time of emergency. I would have thought that the first priority was Derby’s complement of players and not the wishes of the player, or a rival club. As a subtext, there seems to be no love lost between Clough and Bywater recently so the manager has had to spend his last loan entitlement of 2010-11 on yet another temporary goalkeeper.
Derby had secured away draws at Portsmouth and Palace on their recent travels and those games would have been won by the Rams had they possessed more quality, experience and discipline. They had enjoyed a good home outing in beating Swansea City in their last match.
The Bluebirds had wobbled recently, though - as have other contenders at the top of the Championship. Forest fell out of the top six on Saturday in the early kick-off, losing 4-1 at DirtyLeeds. That result provided the perfect incentive for Cardiff to take Derby to task and climb back into the Championships top three.
The Bluebirds ended their worrying four-match stutter in beating Derby comfortably by a 4-1 margin. The Rams shook off their tag of conceding late, crucial goals by giving away soft goals at the start of each half instead; a late 4th goal for Cardiff from Peter Whittingham was perfunctory with the result locked and loaded by then.
Robbie Savage’s last-minute penalty strike after Jamie Ward had been hauled down was a mere consolation for the Rams.
Jay Bothroyd put Cardiff in charge right away, striking home a 7th-minute penalty from Sean Barker’s clumsy challenge on Craig Bellamy, ever eager to collapse under any challenge.
The Rams held out until half time but conceded straight after the restart when Keinan headed in a corner. Quinn shot home Cardiff’s third before an hour had gone and the game was beyond Derby. There was little that debutant Rams' keeper Brad Jones could have done about the Bluebirds' goals.
The Rams had some earlier chances but possessed no cutting edge. Steve Davies deflected a Shaun Barker effort wide in needlessly attempting to get a finishing touch and he missed another close-range opportunity.
Cardiff had too much invention and variation for Derby and the game passed by Savage and Pearson in midfield. Savage has just been nominated for a Sony Award for his burgeoning BBC media career but his time as an effective footballer is all but over.
The second half became mainly a damage limitation exercise. Derby suffered injuries, too, with Paul Green stretchered off in the first half and Gareth Roberts (Derby’s only left back) carried off later. They could both have sustained serious knee injuries and manager Clough suspects he will lose them for the rest of this season. Sean Barker was also withdrawn with a knock on his knee and Derby finished the game depleted and forlorn.
It was ‘the same old blues’, as the Rams suffered their third heavy defeat in a row away at Cardiff. Same old Bluebirds, too - for as in other chastening recent visits to south Wales, Derby faced dangerous strikers, a deep squad, and a club willing to invest in proven goalscorers to tilt for promotion.
Travelling Derby supporters giving up on their team’s weak display and making their own entertainment with a conga trail speaks volumes about the level of Derby’s performance.
So, the games tick down during the season’s run-in - or in Derby’s case, the ‘run-out’ of the 2010- 11 season. Club, manager, players and fans endure the remaining games in hope as long as the team stays out of reach of the clubs occupying the bottom three places of the Championship table.
Derby fans don’t want those circumstances to persist. They are habituated to watch their team play second fiddle to clubs like Cardiff and routinely measure the Rams’ points total against an assumed survival margin.
After another inadequate performance, the manager declared that ‘everything went against us’; it all wears thin, as competitors at the business end of the league take goals and points from us. Quality, conviction, confidence, leadership…we need those ASAP!
Cardiff played to less than 22,300 on Saturday as they overcame Derby efficiently; the Bluebirds are a club that has traversed the hazardous straits of the taxman’s claims and financial snakes and ladders but have never postponed their ambitions to become a Premier League club.
Derby, relieved that results elsewhere meant that they maintained a nine-point gap above the bottom three clubs, still have work to do to claim safety.
Despite their knockbacks off the field, Cardiff backed manager Dave Jones to produce an exciting team that is challenging at the top of the table every year. They demonstrate tangible ambition to reach the top flight via entertaining football, signing proven players of experience that can make an impact at Championship level.
Rams fans don’t want the same old blues every season; recent promises of true ambition and squad investment must be fulfilled soon.
Derby County’s survival task is far from accomplished. If and when it is, the Rams must build on their avowed stability and prudent housekeeping to produce a football product that is worth watching, instead of admiring or envying their opposition, Derby needs restoring to the top flight as soon as possible - action, not just talk.
For the time being, the home games with Coventry City and DirtyLeeds loom large in the Rams’ countdown calendar.
RamsWeek 14 last season also had a blue theme for a different reason - Derby were in ‘blue heaven’ after winning 1-0 at Coventry City and edge closer towards Championship safety. Shaun Barker scored in the first half from a Michael Tonge corner in a decent Rams display, in front of less than 18,000 at the Ricoh Arena.
Derby County published their 2008-09 accounts and posted a loss of almost £15m and an overall debt of £23m. Director’s salaries were £750k and shareholders took no dividend.
Player wages dropped from £23m (which apparently wasn’t enough for ex-boss Paul Jewell to get performances out of them) and £22m had been received in parachute payments since relegation.
With the cost-cutting and prudent squad policy the club had undertaken, RamsWeek said that the club should be ready to move forward again during the following season and that fans would become impatient if more tangible progress was not in evidence in 2010-11.
That was borne out after recent demonstrations of disaffection - and this time last year, Mr Glick spoke of his hopes for “play-offs, or even promotion” in the next campaign. Echo….echo…echo…
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