|RamsWeek 47- You Turned the Tables on Me|
Sun 20th Nov 2011 23:32 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County looked forward to resuming their Championship campaign with a home game against Hull City.
With a long injury list and recent disappointing results seeing his team displaced from the top six, manager Nigel Clough had to regroup for the next round of League fixtures with his fit players and pull Derby up from the bottom of the ‘current form’ table.
The bright summer opening with the Rams a fixture in the top six of the Championship table has faded into a grey autumn, with the club stressing that fans will see a difference in results and consistency once long-term injured key players are again available for selection.
Manager Clough recognised that he’s had to make do and mend and that the team has been creaking and leaking, with no reinforcements sought whilst important players like John Brayford have been missing:
“Defensively, you can get away with things for only so long. We have just conceded six goals in the last two games and I think we are ready now for John to come back in and help shore things up."
Well, we didn’t get away with it, as the lack of right-back cover has been badly exposed.
The Rams have now confirmed the loan signing of Mansfield Town defender Tom Naylor, the 20-year old aiming for a permanent move to Derby in January 2012. Naylor played in the Rams’ reserves 1-1 draw at Sheffield United on Tuesday, and laid on Callum Ball’s equaliser.
The reserve match was given greater significance by appearances from Derby captain Shaun Barker and midfield dynamo Paul Green. A strong Derby team also featured Buxton, Leacock, Croft, Cywka and Maguire. Barker put in a ‘rusty’ performance for the first half, whilst Green enjoyed an hour back in the fray.
After 7 months apiece on the sidelines, they are progressing towards their return; fans will enjoy seeing the players back in the matchday 16. Forward Nathan Tyson, who has quickly acclimatised to traditional Derby life on the treatment table, is still a few weeks away from re-joining the first-team squad training.
He’s had a succession of niggles and groin strains. At this rate, I expect that we will see another fleeting cameo from him in the Derby-Forest return clash in February! As there are no further international breaks until next April, Derby’s squad availability will be all the more critical to the club being able to sustain a challenge near the top of the Championship table.
Derby have been taking the chance to look at a couple of trialists - Derry City’s Northern Ireland Under-21 full-back Daniel Lafferty has spent time at Derby, as has gangling forward Edwin Gyasi. Both took part in the game against the Blades. Gyasi has a loping, Wanchope-like unpredictability about his play, looking at available YouTube footage, and he looked rather loose according to eye-witnesses at the reserves’ match.
Loughborough University hosted the BBC East Midlands Sports Awards on Thursday evening, with Derby County’s Mark O’Brien receiving nominations for two awards. The young Republic of Ireland international won the Brian Clough Breakthrough Award as a result of graduating from the Rams’ Academy to star in the first team and play a key part in Derby’s good start to the season.
During the second week of the international break, O’Brien’s senior Irish colleagues sealed their qualification to the 2012 European Championships with a 1-1 draw against Estonia. England trundled to a 1-0 friendly win over Sweden courtesy of a first-half own goal.
Bungling FIFA chief Sepp Blatter committed another gaffe with international implications in suggesting that racist remarks between players on the field should be resolved by a handshake at the end of a game. Calls for Blatter’s resignation followed from several quarters, as the FIFA boss effectively undermined decades of anti-racism campaigning and community work.
By seemingly advising abused players to revert to the unacceptable, age-old racist remedy of turning a blind eye to opponents who racially abuse players during a game, he incurred the wrath of players, politicians and media commentators alike.
It was another example of the regularly clumsy, thoughtless and ill-informed utterances from the out-of-step Blatter, who nevertheless manages to cover his tracks and stay bullet-proof. Non-stick Sepp of course fought to retrieve the situation amid calls for him to resign, as he laboured to explain away his remarks.
He apologised and conveyed surprise at the backlash he’d invoked, characteristic of the fudging buffoon who is still (worryingly) the leading administrator in world football. Time and again, though, his choreographed recoveries serve to sustain his position.
If the Rams have been beset by injury problems, then their next opponents Hull City had the unwanted task of reconstructing their entire first-team management regime after the departure this week to Leicester City of manager Nigel Pearson and his coaching staff. Veteran midfielder Nick Barmby has been given the ‘caretaker’ role at the club, with ex-Bristol City coach Steve Wigley being drafted in to help.
The Tigers had an identical Championship points’ tally to Derby and stood just one place below the Rams at start of play, which suggested that Saturday’s encounter could be a close-run affair.
Perhaps Rams fans thought it would be a good time to ‘catch’ Hull off-balance whilst they assessed their future under a yet-to-be-decided replacement management entourage?
There was renewed optimism for Derby, bred by the promise of returning players like Brayford, Barker and Green to the Rams’ 16. There was the alleged freshness after a two-week international break with Derby intending to brush aside disappointing consecutive defeats by Cardiff City and Peterborough United.
There was Nigel Clough’s superior management experience in contrast to the novice Barmby’s ‘in at the deep end’ immersion into the considerable vacuum left by Nigel Pearson and his staff.
Well, for the first fifteen minutes of the game on Saturday, a successful day seemed a reasonable assumption for Rams fans as Derby swept forward and threatened to unhinge an unsure Hull side feeling their way into a new era. The Rams capitalised on hesitant City defending and uncertain play to pin them into their own half and force several early corners.
However, threatening to take control and actually achieving superiority by putting goals between yourselves and the opposition are two different things - and for all of Derby’s initial energy, it dissipated by the time that 20 minutes had elapsed.
Derby didn’t score ‘early doors’; instead, home fans watched exasperated as Theo Robinson collapsed onto the grass after 16 minutes and waved his arm to signal that he couldn’t continue. Yes - yet another hamstring problem; cheerio for another spell then, Theo.
The ‘Derby disease’ had struck again as they added another injury casualty to the ravaged squad’s queue for the Moor Farm treatment table. With Steve Davies, Nathan Tyson and Theo Robinson all sidelined and junior forwards either unavailable or unselected, the Rams had no option but to revert to the ‘hole in the team’ appearance of a side again lacking strength and focus up front.
For good measure, after Theo collapsed in pain, the home defence collapsed again in sympathy, allowing Hull to score two preventable and embarrassing goals and seize control of the game.
“Just like the sting of a bee, you turned the tables on me”, sang Billie Holiday in 1952; City immediately nabbed two devastatingly simple and telling goals to turn the tables on an expectant home crowd.
That sparked the enthralled 1,800 travelling Tigers into song for the remainder of the game. Of course, it’s Brentford FC that is nicknamed “The Bees” - but as the yellow-and-black Tigers buzzed around Pride Park Stadium, Derby County’s challenge was strangled at birth.
Liam Rosenior was invited on and on by a retreating, hesitant Derby defence as home fans shouted for someone to stick a boot on him. Nobody did so, and he slipped the ball in to Matty Fryatt, who promptly slammed the ball home from 15 yards out.
Five minutes later, Cameron Stuart extended Hull’s lead after Derby’s lazy defence allowed him to advance and shoot past a static Frank Fielding. There was a suggestion of offside during Hull’s move, or a deflection to take the ball past Fielding - but another bad goal was conceded.
Defensive uncertainty had undone Derby’s promising start. Nigel Clough said before the game that John Brayford could slot back into place despite a lengthy absence. Although Derby’s Player of the Year is a prized asset and a considerable talent, he had a shaky return and will clearly take time to recover his consistently imperious form.
The availability of an adequate deputy full-back might have helped the situation along for a week or two - but that’s all a re-tread of our previous observations.
At half-time, fans knew that the Rams would somehow have to score an early goal in the second period or the game would be taped up and kept safe by a compact and purposeful Hull side focussed on the unexpected prize of three more away points.
Unlike Derby’s flimsy-first-half defending, Hull became robust when necessary to halt any Derby surge with some crisp tackling and strong challenges. Though the Tigers collected five bookings, it could not be said that they were crude in defence. How a Steve Howard or someone at centre-forward for Derby would have relished dishing out some of his muscle back to those defenders!
Derby didn’t score, nor did they ever look very likely to disturb City’s calm and authoritative approach to a game once Derby had presented the visitors with their useful two-goal cushion. There was a lack of intensity and energy as the Rams failed to pressure Hull consistently enough to disturb their collective control - cheaply-surrendered possession characterised Derby’s play.
Jamie Ward buzzed around in his usual boundless but fruitless manner, causing some trouble on the wing in patches but looking lost, overpowered and forlorn in the centre until Clough took the desperation measure of throwing Shaun Barker into a centre-forward cameo role to lend a little muscle to Derby’s resistance.
Hendrick showed occasional glimpses of his cool quality, Ben Davies flattered to deceive with a poor success rate in his delivery of that elusive ‘killer ball’, which even Derby’s depleted forward compliment might have taken advantage of. Paul Green’s energetic re-appearance as a substitute was a bright spot.
Cywka, recalled with a chance to shine, struck one good shot on target but was otherwise hopeless, Maguire (as a substitute) virtually anonymous. One does wonder at the ultimate quality of the Rams’ squad and more was expected of these players.
As with the Cardiff game, Hull ‘keeper Jack Hobbs must have been glad it was a mild day as he would have otherwise frozen alone. The lack of threat from Derby forwards and general inactivity could well become a winter health hazard for opposing goalkeepers.
For all the expectations, it was Nick Barmby who emphatically turned the tables on Nigel Clough - and at five o’clock, unknowing neutral observers could well have been forgiven for concluding that it must have been Derby County that were struggling to regroup following disruption from the departure of an accomplished management team.
Hull had more goal attempts and more cohesion in all areas of the park; on that performance they looked in better shape to stay in contention than the Rams.
If Barmby, perhaps destined to be the Tigers’ next boss, would have been delighted to his squad’s response to the week’s setbacks, then the stubborn Nigel Clough wasn’t conceding that his Derby team had played badly or that the side’s recent performances were a cause for concern.
When such as City striker Matty Fryatt was mentioned, with Derby having allegedly been in the frame to bid for the player on past occasions, Clough observed: ‘(of the two sides) that was the only difference - £3m-worth of strikers”. That’s the point, Messrs Clough and Glick - one stark difference IS having proven strikers that provided a genuine goal threat.
Players ‘on the fringe’ such as Cywka, Doyle, Maguire had still not taken their chance to grab and retain a first team place, Clough concluded. Can they make that step up? Whether or not Derby ever bites the bullet to spend money and resolve their striker shortcomings, it is goals that win games - and Hull took their chances and scored them. Defending properly also helps a lot.
Barmby eased Hull City into the top six whilst Derby were pushed down to ninth place on Saturday evening - and then into 10th position on Sunday afternoon, as ex-Hull boss Nigel Pearson celebrated his return to the Foxes’ lair with their 3-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace. That win meant that Leicester leap-frogged Derby in the table and the expensively-assembled Foxes squad finally looks equipped for an assault on the top six.
Derby’s marketing team had achieved an attendance of over 30,000 to witness the Hull game - no doubt some part-time punters had received irresistible value-for-money to entice them back to the stadium. Sales and marketing staff achieved their goals; the players couldn’t mirror that success.
I can only observe that this team does not truly deserve the attention of such impressive crowds. Harsh, maybe - but true; many regulars feel increasingly short-changed at the fayre served up and the initial optimism is ebbing away into expectations of another winter’s struggle.
It is up to Derby County - the whole club - owners, custodians, manager and squad - to defy the cynicism and come up trumps before their huge but increasingly disaffected fanbase. A lack of belief characterises our club and the thought of another decline nags away again at the collective consciousness.
Will the never-ending wait for a fit squad to fulfil its alleged promise be satisfied? One win from nine games, three defeats in a row; where to now for Derby? There are reserve games next week for Clough to further his quest for fit, reliable players to restore to his first-team numbers.
His philosophy is to remain loyal to the current squad, be they young or senior players. Well, the latest injury crisis means Clough is fast running out of options to try! He did admit that the picture had changed with Theo Robinson now injured, and that loan striking reinforcements may be possible.
That’s now become harder, as the ‘loan window’ will snap shut next Thursday and the manager also suggested that there aren’t many such players on the market. There will be a ready-made explanation based on previous rationalisations if nothing transpires - and then Clough’s existing squad will have to ‘limp on’ until the January transfer window.
We will see what the week brings but breath-holding is mandatory, not optional. It could therefore be yet more ‘make do and mend’ on the menu for Clough when Derby travel to take on a resurgent West Ham next Saturday teatime before the TV cameras at the Boleyn Ground.
After the last three performances and results, it is essential to avoid a right ‘hammering’. Defensively, Derby do not appear equipped to ‘park the bus’ against strong opposition to fight a rearguard action and grab a point - and it must be said that they hardly look able to pose an attacking threat with their current player compliment and team formation. Prove us wrong, Derby!
RamsWeek 47 last year recorded that ‘the house was rockin’, as Derby beat Scunthorpe United 2-1 to record a sixth successive home win. Kris Commons blasted in a penalty and although The Iron responded when O’Connor equalised for them, Tomasz Cywka and Luke Moore combined for the on-loan WBA striker to ram home the winner and keep the Pride Park Stadium optimism bubbling.
Rams’ striker Chris Porter (remember him…?) was due to have further scans to root out the causes of his injury problems; manager Clough hoped to retain WBA forward Luke Moore on a further loan and Shefki Kuqi’s loan period at Derby (as he earned his 61st cap for Finland) was due to end shortly. Steve Davies was still under treatment for his endless string of fitness setbacks.
RamsWeek dared to suggest that Derby would struggle unless they resolved the injury and loan issues regarding strikers - but the club instead signed a corporate agreement with a ‘nutritional partner’ called US Nutrition Limited. Food for thought; the Rams’ priorities as confused as ever!
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