|RamsWeek 12 - One Man's Ceiling! |
Sun 23rd Mar 2008 17:34 by Paul Mortimer
Club, manager and fans felt some relief and satisfaction at a refreshingly persistent display against Manchester United.
Everyone also hoped for some continuity of that performance level in remaining fixtures.
Although Derby played well against the Red Devils, the reality of last week was that Derby had been beaten twice, as expected, with the net result from that defeat and the preceding pounding at Stamford Bridge being a predictable 1-7 aggregate added onto the Rams’ depressing statistics for 2007-08.
United are aiming for their 17th League title whilst Derby aspire to attain 17 points in total this season. The Rams in reality still stood 17 points adrift of safety, a minus-50 goal difference and comfortably the worst winless run in the club’s history.
A win from anywhere would be treated like a Cup Final victory! One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor, as Paul Simon once mused, and the only players wanted are those that consistently aim far higher than the present squad seem capable of.
Derby confirmed that the operation on Giles Barnes’ knee had gone well and the player remained under assessment in the USA under his American specialist. Depending upon recovery and a second operation to be scheduled, it is hopeful that the midfielder’s nagging injury worries will soon be cleared up.
The Rams’ Reserves lost once again, Chelsea proving too strong with a late surge to secure the points to run out 2-0 winners. With the poor squad depth and necessity of putting Academy boys through the mandatory Premier Reserve League season, Paul Jewell hinted that the club might dispense with the reserves next season and undertake regular friendlies with other Midlands’ clubs.
The manager feels that this reversion to a strong first team squad and ‘fringe’ players more involved, allied to loaning out some players needing fitness recovery or more regular games to other clubs, may well serve Derby’s purposes better in the short term.
Attention soon turned to the less glamourous forthcoming fixtures against Middlesbrough and Fulham.
Whilst the other promoted clubs, Birmingham City and Sunderland, have been able to spend more money and are still certainly flirting dangerously with relegation, their spirited performances against the Top 4 sides have rendered precious points for them during the course of the season. Both teams have extracted maximum points from Derby County and have beaten some other bottom half teams along the way.
Rams fans expected Derby players to belatedly step it up against these more ‘mortal’ teams - not just shine sporadically in one-offs in the ‘glamour games’. They now have return games against bottom-half sides and must gain more points to win back some pride and enhance morale, thereby dispensing with the imminent danger of being statistically confirmed as the worst-ever Premier League side.
It’s at the cold, rainy, snowy uninspiring venues like The Riverside or St Andrews, or Burnley and Blackpool where the bread and butter of League success is earned and the right to stake a claim to top-flight football is fought for and won or lost. The appetite for every game, anywhere, must be fervent.
Half a dozen points to reach a paltry 16 for 2007-08 is not a huge target to aim for with 8 games to go; more hunger, desire, consistency and commitment in terms of what some players achieved against United should not be too much to ask.
It must haunt manager Paul Jewell and assistant Stan Ternent to have to repeatedly aspire to such modest targets in public in their interviews and there will have to be a total revamp of the mentality next season to create and sustain any type of momentum in an arduous Championship campaign.
As Jewell later commented, he wants players that have ability plus the mentality to win games and to carry the expectation of victory into every game we play.
Ternent’s musings took a weird turn this week, saying the Rams could have an advantage when early relegation arrives. He explains that this is because Derby will be able to recruit players for the Championship as soon as possible.
Umm…Stan - we don’t want to recruit Championship players, do we? Hopefully we are aiming for higher quality if possible - otherwise, we will be in the same situation as we were in 2007 - attaining promotion with a squad of inadequate players who again cannot bridge the gap.
Derby still had their pride to play for, as we keep getting told, and no doubt Paul Jewell told his players that Middlesbrough had a great deal more to play for. A win would move the Teesiders up to 34 points, only half a dozen points from safety.
So, Boro required very little motivation to set about Derby and take hold of the game. Jewell was able to select the same team for the Boro game that fought valiantly against Manchester United, save for Andy Todd replacing the injured Marc Edworthy in defence.
And so it goes…. at the Riverside Stadium, Derby County duly reverted to type in succumbing to their 23rd defeat of the season. The Rams were dominated for the first 35 minutes without mustering an effort on target, until after the home side took the lead through Tuncay. This was after the usual perfunctory defending by Derby; players wandering astray, again looking like silly puppies chasing their own tails.
Derby’s first goal attempt was a shot from Kenny Miller on the stroke of half time when Derby had managed to put more than two passes together for the first time in the afternoon. Andy Todd was given a torrid time in the first half by Stuart Downing; Aussie Ram Mile Sterjovski was taken off with a groin injury on 40 minutes, Tito Villa then entering the fray.
Radio Derby analyst Dean Sturridge encapsulated the latest disappointment that Rams fans had to contend with in this latest performance - “to be honest, you wonder how this Derby team has ten points!” He called the first 45 minutes from Derby County “appalling, a disgrace”, and sadly much of this season’s analysis has been akin to a stuck record.
Some fans complained, but Sturridge was being totally honest.
The latter stages of the second half saw the Rams step up their intent by retaining some possession, as Hossam Ghaly came on as a substitute and began to influence the play from midfield. However, playing with spirit and intent for the final 15 minutes will seldom win points and it’s simply not sufficient to step up and be competitive only in patches - the Rams could have no complaints in defeat.
A rare Derby chance - a close-range header on 85 minutes - was missed horribly by Rob Earnshaw from a great Andy Todd cross and another mediocre performance ended in inevitable defeat as Middlesbrough ran out time in comfort at 1-0 in front of an unremarkable sub-26, 000 holiday attendance.
Earnshaw had declared in a midweek interview that he was ‘three times the player’ since joining Derby; after that grotesque miss, I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a chorus of “Three Times A Lady” as well as the Rams faithful chanting: “That’s why we’re going down….”
Middlesbrough took the points gratefully and climbed to 12th place, still only 8 points away from the bottom 3 of the Premier League but winning was a huge boost to their survival prospects.
Ostensibly, Boro are only as far away from guaranteed Premier League survival as the Rams are from their 16 points. Again, it was obvious throughout that the game meant far more to the Boro players and they won through.
Rams’ manager Paul Jewell repeated his exasperation that it was another game where Derby could and should have got something. It’s easier to play freely when the die is cast and defeat is looming but he wants his team to start games on the front foot and ask more questions of the opposition earlier in the contest.
The Rams face Fulham at Pride Park Stadium on Saturday, a team in poor form, second to bottom so there is another realistic chance for Derby to take points against a struggling side. Will they take it?
RamsWeek 12 last season saw the Rams without a game whilst residing at the top of the Championship after the 3-1 win over Cardiff City the previous week guaranteed them at least a play-off place.
Utility man Paul Boertien went on loan to Chesterfield and Arsenal loanee Ryan Smith switched from Derby to Millwall.
The Rams expected over 6,000 fans to travel to the upcoming Barnsley away game and more than 1,000 supporters had already renewed their season tickets after prices were announced.
You need to login in order to post your comments