|RamsWeek 42 - Positives and Negatives|
Sun 21st Oct 2007 21:17 by Paul Mortimer
A quiet week unrolled into progress of sorts on the field but turmoil off the pitch surfaced once again, with fresh boardroom strife erupting.
Another round of international matches kept the Rams' globetrotting player contingent busy whilst manager Billy Davies contemplated the away game at Fulham on 20th October. A little cheer came Derby's way as striker Robert Earnshaw scored for Wales against San Marino and gave a good display, though Kenny Miller and Stephen Pearson suffered a setback with Scotland as they were in the team that was defeated 2-0 by Georgia.
The Scots never seemed to get into gear and it was a fruitless mission for the two Rams (and subs Teale and McEveley) though Scotland are still well placed in their qualifying group. What a night it would be for them though at Hampden Park next month if Scotland can beat Italy to get through to Euro 2008!
Again there seemed very little happening on the news front at Pride Park. Turbulence was visible at the Reebok Stadium though, where Sammy Lee departed as manager of fellow-strugglers Bolton Wanderers.
There was immediate media linkage of Bolton with Birmingham City's unsettled boss, Steve Bruce, could also have some influence on the bottom six scenario of the Premier League throughout the winter as the recent epidemic of managerial musical chairs continued unabated with casualties occurring elsewhere as well.
Sheffield Wednesday reportedly want to extend the loan of Rams' defender Michael Johnson, who has played 4 times for the Owls in their recent revival at the foot of the Championship. It could be that Jonno, now 34 and well down in the Rams' pecking order, will move permanently to Wednesday in the January transfer window.
Mrs Barbara Clough, wife of the late Rams' legend Brian, voiced her distaste (albeit somewhat belatedly) about the fictional portrayal of Cloughie in David Peace's recent novel, “The Damned United” which is set during Clough's short tenure as manager of Leeds United in 1974. Though it was a turbulent time for Brian in a job where he lasted only 44 days, Barbara condemned the portrayal of her husband, which was deemed unpleasant.
Other media comments this week had Rams' fullback Tyrone Mears eyeing and England place rather in the manner that Stephen Bywater also fancies his chances as England's No 1 goalie. Rams fans would probably anticipate clean sheets, points and wins on the board in Derby County shirts first of all to back up this ambition!
The Home Office released new crowd control statistics revealing that more arrests (70) were made at Pride Park Stadium last season than the year before (51) though the trend generally was for less hooliganism at matches; the increase was said to involve more ‘strategic' arrests to proactively stifle trouble and to prevent drunken behaviour or public order offences from breaking the peace. Nationally, arrests rose from 3,500 to 3,800 in the period reported.
All nine of the Derby County players on international duty returned fit and so Davies has no injury casualties to contend with; he added that he would take account of travel and tiredness, however, in picking his 16 to play at Craven Cottage on Saturday. The following fixture, the rescheduled game at home to Everton on Sunday 28 th October is nearing a sell-out, the club reported in midweek. One of the Rams' few injury cases, centre-back Darren Moore is progressing well from his knee injury and is close to a return to action.
Billy remarked that young American midfielder Benny Feilhaber, now figuring in the squad, needed time to adjust to life in the Premier League. It could have been another plea for patience from fans hoping that Billy persists with giving Benny more first team action - or it's a comment that Feilhaber wouldn't necessarily be a fixture in the side at the moment! Benny played the full 90 minutes in the USA's 1-0 friendly win in Switzerland and team-mate Eddie Lewis, playing at full back, also figured well.
Friday brought the bombshell that new Chief Executive Trevor Birch, one of Peter Gadsby's handpicked financial/operational honchos, had left the club after just 4 months in office. He arrived at Pride Park Stadium during RamsWeek 24. A mere handful of words announcing the departure without elaboration on the official website propelled the rumour mills into fifth gear with suggestions of a huge bust-up with Billy Davies and/or a boardroom split regarding some of Birch's proposals for the future of the club.
There was also chatter about internal conflict over other commercial policies such as the Adidas deal or Plaza funding and stronger rumours of fresh winds of change in the ownership of the club, with major American investment via Stateside entrepreneur Robin Faulkner mooted to be in the frame in a further twist to the possible impending takeover scenarios. Most things seem to be moving fast at Derby, except the points total and the communication, so nowt would really surprise me!
Since promotion in May, we've had months of speculation about Billy Davies' relationships and loyalty (even before our residency at the foot of the table instead made him a media candidate for a rapid dismissal).
There was the (expected) departure of Mike Horton from operational control, the departure of the Marples from the new regime without explanation, then the rapid, silent vanishing trick that new Commercial Director Steve Coakley performed (he had arrived at PPS in the same week as Birch) in RamsWeek 31, when he was promptly replaced by ex-Wolves and Birmingham City man Perry Deakin.
The well-trodden route of self-destruction is regularly traversed by Derby County; stability and harmony forever eludes the club and conflict may again impede progress as it has before at critical times in our history. Events at Pride Park are disappointingly shrouded in mystery again and the expectation (and promise) of transparency is quickly being replaced by mistrust and cynicism among the fanbase.
Such unexpectedly negative developments with the ‘new order' further dent the fresh optimism that greeted Sleightholme's demise - it compounds the disappointment at the Rams' poor impact on the Premier League and suggests that the task - for board, management and squad - is just proving too tough this season.
The main football event was the return to Premiership action at Fulham and Benny Feilhaber was missing from the Rams' squad, so his promise remains merely potential. Goalless Steve Howard lost his place in the team and Craig Fagan returned. In another bout of tinkering, Darren Moore partnered Claude Davis in central defence with Dean Leacock playing an anchoring role. It's debatable as to whether this was a success as Davies continues to experiment to find the right balance.
The Rams had some injuries to contend with as Leacock, Davis and McEveley were all withdrawn with knocks as the Rams couldn't quite overcome Fulham, reduced to 10 men at the end of the first half when Paul Konchevsky was dismissed for elbowing Craig Fagan. Fulham, on a poor run, should have been beaten in the entertaining 0-0 draw with the Rams having numerous very good chances and close things – but the Fulham goalkeeper, Antti Niemi had an inspired day and denied Derby with several fine saves.
So, the positives of a first away point and clean sheet – and a move off the foot of the Premier League table on Saturday night - were tempered by the lost opportunity for a win against a poor side seemingly there for the taking. The lost opportunity was underlined by other results, with Reading, Bolton, Birmingham, and Wigan all losing.
The Rams' points haul of just two out of nine against fellow strugglers Bolton, Reading and Fulham was inadequate no matter how you dress up small signs of improvement. Post-match, Davies repeated his mantra of progress being made and declarations that he has enough ability in his squad to defy presumptions of immediate relegation.
Derby have a tougher test at home to Everton next week (whom we hope will be a little depleted from their Thursday excursion in Europe!) in a game where Derby must increase the rate of return and get points on the board.
RamsWeek 42 last season reported Derby's home form worry. A 2-1 win for the Rams at QPR was followed by that fortuitous but important win at Pride Park for Steve Bruce's Birmingham City.
It effectively kept Bruce in his job at a time when the newly relegated Bluenoses were wobbling and of course the three points surrendered were critical in the race for automatic promotion. As the months unfolded, the Blues succeeded and the Rams took the longer but glorious route to the Premier League via the play-offs and Wembley!
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