|RamsWeek 48 - Ironic|
Mon 28th Nov 2011 01:50 by Paul Mortimer
After the mediocre display against managerless Hull City that resulted in Derby’s third successive defeat, the Rams prepared for a trip to promotion-chasing West Ham United.
Nigel Clough began the week in traditional manner, assessing injury absentees and hoping for good news on some squad members returning to fitness.
The Hull game followed the pattern of other home defeats such as Burnley and Cardiff City; Derby’s frailties in attack and midfield have been exposed by robust, organised teams with more strength and experience in their ranks. It didn’t help that Derby’s stand-off defence caved in too!
Whatever brave face Mr Clough put on following the Hull defeat, if truth be told Derby got the run-around from a Tigers team that showed strength, purpose and concentration who produced a telling end result. The Rams were second best for 70 minutes of the game.
Yes, there was the ‘new manager syndrome’ with Hull players wanting to take advantage of the fresh start and impress ‘caretaker’ manager Barmby after the departure of Nigel Pearson - though it’s a fact that City’s management change came about through a preferred opportunity for Nigel Pearson rather than any desire or need for change by the Tigers’ ownership.
Derby slipped a place down the Championship table to 11th place on Tuesday night, when Birmingham City beat Burnley 2-1 to move up to 8th position.
As Derby look to be running out of steam, clubs with stronger squads that we suspected would gather momentum as the season progressed. Birmingham, Cardiff, West Ham, Leicester and others - have got their acts together and jumped up the table.
Clough received a boost on Monday with Paul Green, Shaun Barker and Chris Riggott all participating in a 5-0 reserves’ win over Rotherham United. Junior strikers Callum Ball and Conor Doyle grabbed a brace apiece but the recovery progress of the long-term injury cases held the most significance for the manager.
There’s no guarantee that Barker and Green can slot straight back into the first team to be immediately effective after 7 months on the sidelines, and Riggott is essentially only cover for central defensive positions. However with loanee Tom Naylor added to the ranks, the situation is improving - just as well, with O’Brien carrying a shoulder injury and Shackell not fully fit either.
Schoolboy striker Mason Bennett grabbed Derby’s winner in their 2-1 Academy win over Huddersfield Town - then got himself sent off. He joined the England U-16 squad for Friday’s Victory Shield clash with Scotland at Inverness, in which Bennett scored a classy goal after an hour in a 4-2 win over the Scots, to help the young Lions lift the trophy. Derby’s young winger Aaron Cole, another Academy graduate, has joined Stockport County on loan.
Theo Robinson’s latest hamstring injury will rule him out for two more weeks. With never-present Nathan Tyson out for another fortnight or so and skull injury victim Steve Davies sidelined for a further month, the call from fans for an imposing central striker became louder as the end of the ‘emergency loan’ window arrived on Thursday.
Investing in cut-priced inexperienced strikers like Cywka and Maguire appears unsuccessful; the potential of Callum Ball and Mason Bennett is unlikely to flower as quickly as needed during Derby’s latest forward-line injury crisis.
Several Premier League players forwards recently moved to Championship clubs; Watford has taken Wolves’ forward Michael Kightly until January 3rd; WBS striker Marc-Antoine Fortune is on loan at Doncaster, who signed three players this week; Brighton signed Newcastle United forward Kazenga LuaLua on a permanent deal; Crystal Palace have landed Norwich striker Chris Martin.
Derby needed to join the hunt for an effective central striker; their the main goalscorers are injured and since the departure of Rob Hulse 14 months ago, only Shefki Kuqi has successfully filled the centre-forward role in a short but effective loan spell at Derby.
The Derby manager and staff attended midweek Premier League games but turned their sights onto Ipswich Town’s out-of favour striker Tamas Priskin, who has signed on loan to Derby until January 2nd 2012. The Hungarian international has fallen out with Town manager Paul Jewell and has been told can leave Portman Road.
Priskin cost the ill-fated Roy Keane £1.7m over two years ago when the Irish hardnut was the Tractor Boys’ boss. They’ve not had much value from that layout. How ironic that Paul Jewell, who wasted a fortune at Derby, has now elected Derby’s help in clearing the decks at Portman Road, after his successor Nigel Clough has had to completely overhaul Jewell’s useless Derby squad at Pride Park Stadium! Funny game, football…
The player allegedly declined a loan move to Leeds United in August (or they changed their minds). Now reality has dawned - the player knows that he needs games to re-start his career. He’s 25 and almost 14 stones but remains a mercurial player who is still hard to pigeon-hole.
The Rams want someone with muscle and presence to receive the ball and bring others into the play, so time will tell whether Priskin can provide that requirement. Priskin has no Championship appearances to his name this season - but then, Rams fans have had to get used to watching cast-offs and re-habs.
Priskin has tended to hop from club to club and like Steve Davies, Nathan Tyson or Theo Robinson he is not necessarily a ‘back to goal’ player able to soak up punishment from defenders and it dish out too. It appears that the player had been offered to every Championship club by Jewell in August. That of course includes the Rams - but no takers were found. So there’s presumably been an about-turn by Derby County, borne out of their desperate injury straits.
He’s scored 32 goals in 163 games for five British clubs and has gained international caps and goals this season. Tomas unsurprisingly went straight into the squad to play at West Ham on Saturday. “I’m looking forward to a new challenge at this great club” along with other familiar platitudes were rolled out for us. It’s now up to Priskin to make something of his season.
Top-quality forwards cost money of course, so GSE have steered away from the need for the Rams to invest in an in-form Championship striker. We now have Priskin to rehabilitate; the Hungarian has something to prove but once again, not only is Clough’s job made difficult by budget restrictions, due to this he must handle a series rejects and misfits from unhappy situations at other clubs and try to turn them into promotion-winning players at Derby!
The kick-off at West Ham on Saturday came at 5.20 pm as a live televised Sky Sports game, so the Rams slipped further down the Championship table beforehand from the earlier kick-offs. They tumbled several places as Barnsley, Brighton, Peterborough, and Reading climbed to push Derby down to 15th spot.
With leaders Southampton losing, the second-placed Hammers had the added incentive to close the gap on the Saints if they could beat Derby.
Despite their lack of action for several months - and through necessity of bringing more experience back into the Derby team - Shaun Barker, James Bailey and Paul Green returned to the starting line-up as Clough made 4 changes to the side that lost to Hull City.
Loanee Tamas Priskin made his debut up front, John Brayford returned at right-back and youngsters Hendrick and O’Brien were left on the substitute’s bench. Maguire and Cywka failed to make the matchday 16 - but American rookie Conor Doyle was included, presumably because he can score goals at reserve team level and there’s no-one else available.
The Hammers have surged into the Championship’s automatic promotion race after a mediocre start to their season, and at this stage look set to be serious challengers. Pragmatic boss Sam Allardyce has quickly inculcated a winning ethic in East Ham, even if purists initially felt he was an unsuitable candidate for the manager’s position at their hallowed club.
As expected, West Ham forced the initiative from the kick-off but the Rams saw out the first 15 minutes and caused some danger themselves from an early free-kick into their box. When the Hammers broke through, it was close on a half-hour gone, with Faubert testing Frank Fielding.
Then, a shock - the Rams grabbed a 1-0 lead in 34 minutes when Bailey fed Ward, who released Priskin. The Hungarian claimed his first League goal of the season on his Derby debut! It was a great goal and again, very ironic in that a player whom ex-Rams boss Paul Jewell had marginalised suddenly grabbed centre-stage as a goalscorer in Derby’s televised game!
Unfortunately, Derby then committed their usual cardinal sin of conceding a goal right on half-time when Carlton Cole was allowed the space and time to head home to make it 1-1. That changed the atmosphere inside the Boleyn Ground as West Ham pushed forward, but the Rams held out until the break in a creditable performance against a talented, in-form side.
Derby started the second half in 12th place in the Championship; the task set was to hold on to their improvement. The Hammers forced corners straight after the restart but they did not break through. It looked like being a long half; West Ham gathered momentum for an onslaught on the Derby goal, as the near-28,000 crowd expected the Hammers to turn the game in their favour.
Piquionne forced Fielding to turn a strong effort for a corner but the Rams held firm. It couldn’t last, such was the pressure on the Derby goal, and Kevin Nolan, poorly marked, took aim and crashed in West Ham’s 2nd goal with 25 minutes remaining.
The Rams tried to recover but were undone when the referee awarded West Ham conceded a penalty with 15 minutes to go. Craig Bryson pushed Piquionne as the Hammers broke from a Derby corner at the other end of the park; the offence looked to be outside the box on replay. No matter - Noble put West Ham 3-1 ahead and they looked home and dry. They were.
West Ham brought on the imposing figure of John Carew whilst Derby subbed youngsters Mark O’Brien for Shaun Barker and Jeff Hendrick for John Brayford. Jamie Ward was then replaced by Conor Doyle; Derby’s substitutions registered the gulf between the squads, with West Ham able to retain Premier League players because of their ‘parachute payments’ windfall.
Manager Nigel Clough was certainly resting the players he had withdrawn, with two games coming for Derby during the next 6 days. The Rams were well beaten; the result was not unexpected but Clough would take some solace from bringing back his long-term injury cases, plus the fine strike from Tamas Priskin.
Last season, West Ham were a very poor Premier League team that couldn’t buy a win; on Saturday they gave Derby a dose of reality about the amount of ground they’ll have to make up just to re-join the challengers at the top of the Championship.
Hammers’ manager Sam Allardyce observed that the demanding Championship programme required a club to have a good squad and to keep the players fit; there are no prizes for guessing just how far off the mark Derby County are from measuring up to those parameters, especially the latter one. Derby might have some good players - but they are useful to no-one if they cannot be kept fit and yet again, the club does not appear equipped to be competitive.
Too many Derby players ran out of steam in the second half through their lack of match-fitness as West Ham dominated proceedings. Rams fans might well expect more of the same in the next few weeks, as the squad is patched up again and Clough gets closer to his preferred selections. Trouble is, we keep saying this same thing month-upon-month, season-upon-season.
The Rams were pushed back down to 15th place in the table after this 4th consecutive defeat. There’s a busy week ahead; a home game against faltering Brighton & Hove Albion comes on Tuesday night before the dubious delight of another trip to the capital on Friday night to play improving Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.
With one win in ten games, the need for points on the board is becoming more urgent. From mid-table in the highly competitive Championship the distance from the top six - or the bottom six - is never very great at this stage of the season, and Derby will want to enter December on an upturn.
Finally, condolences are offered from the RZ team to the family and friends of Welsh national football manager Gary Speed MBE, who died today aged at only 42 years of age. He had graduated rapidly from an illustrious playing career to international management and his recent work has turned around a young Wales side poised for a successful future. Rest in peace, Gary.
RamsWeek 48 in 2010 was a ‘heartbreaker’ for the Rams, who went to Burnley FC and although they took an early lead through a Luke Moore goal, contrived to lose the game 2-1 right at the end when they fell asleep and allowed Jack Cork to nick the winner.
At boardroom level, the club waffled about how the talks regarding Rams’ top scorer Kris Commons’ new contract were ‘ongoing’, whilst in Blackpool, Tangerine boss Ian Holloway waffled triumphantly about how the loan terms would enable him to sign Derby’s misfit striker Luke Varney for a knockdown fee in the transfer window. We know how those sagas ended, don’t we?
The Rams were drawn away to either Swindon Town or Crawley Town in the Third Round of the FA Cup. We know how that one ended too, don’t we?
Nigel Clough signed WBA striker Luke Moore on a loan extension for a month whilst Mr Glick signed another corporate network partnership, with something every Derby fan needs more than anything, a Nottingham-based firm of financial advisers called Kingswood Wealth and Taxation Management.
GSE networker-in-chief and Rams director Tim Hinchey announced he was leaving the Rams, having landed himself a berth back in the States, as the Chief Marketing Officer of MLS Colorado Rapids.
He had overhauled Derby’s corporate outreach but declaring that he was leaving Derby as a club that had ‘never been in better shape, on or off the pitch’ beggared belief. His ‘resume’ includes presiding over the worst top-flight relegation on record and a succession of subsequent relegation battles back in the second tier of English football!
GSE’s smug declaration that ‘they do things that little bit better’ can still safely be disregarded at this stage of their endeavours in restoring Derby County as an established top-flight outfit.
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