|RamsWeek 1 - Close To The Edge|
Mon 05th Jan 2009 01:23 by Paul Mortimer
After the departure of Paul Jewell, caretaker manager Chris Hutchings had to pick up the squad’s motivation and prepare for two high-profile cup matches.
First Team Coach Mark Seagrave, appointed by Jewell a year ago, also left the club. Hopefully, some of the recent Academy and Moor Farm restructuring can remain in place. Derby dispensed with Terry Westley’s regime and recently paid off Billy Davies’ acolytes in recent years.
Some stability is desperately needed if the Rams are to reap the benefits of one of the best Academy set-ups in England.
Fans and media joined the speculation about the possible appointments for the role of manager. Bookies’ lists were crammed with possibles - feasible or otherwise. The idea of Chris Hutchings being handed the role is horrifying, even if I can see results improving in the short term.
That won’t be hard to achieve - and I hope to see the players respond accordingly after their poor performances led to Paul Jewell deciding he could offer the club nothing more.
Nigel Clough is more of a settled family man than the rabid media like for their headlines. Perhaps he would be nuts to move to Derby at this stage (plus, Billy Davies was chosen by F*rest) because Burton Albion are so well placed to succeed after a decade of hard work by Clough; the expectations that Nigel would carry at Pride Park would be immense. But then, most football managers are nuts, or go nuts!
Hutchings had ignominious stints in charge at Bradford and Wigan after Jewell left. Alan Curbishley wouldn’t want the role and Paul Ince, fresh from his over-promotion to Blackburn Rovers, which ended in disaster in a few short months has never managed at Championship level or taken on a club of Derby’s size. He is far less equipped than anyone like Jewell or Davies to operate at Derby’s level.
The next few weeks and months are a test of both Derby’s on-field skills and off field ambitions. They will demonstrate how these players cope with change and the responsibility they hold for propelling the team forward – and will demonstrate GSE’s ability to steer the club forward with appropriate staff through ambitious management decisions.
The board must put a halt to the ‘manager-per-season’ syndrome that the club has been locked into since the turn of the century. As for the players, they’d better find that extra 15-20% expected of them and PDQ, or the fans’ overstretched loyalty will begin to wane.
No Rams fan will disagree with Hutchings when he commented that ‘some of the players have let themselves down…. they need to be more responsible for their performances’. It is tiresome watching so many well-rewarded players fail to deliver on the pitch when it really matters.
As the transfer window approached, the Rams secured the services of Arsenal forward Nacer Barazite on a further loan to the end of the season but West Ham recalled loanee defender James Tomkins.
Mitch Hanson and the mysteriously ignored, high-scoring Liam Dickinson was back from his loan at Blackpool - but unavailable immediately due to suspension from five bookings collected whilst playing elsewhere. Various other footballing nomads and leftovers from Derby’s substantial but under performing squad were arriving back at the club at the turn of the year as Hutchings’ assesses his resources.
Preparing the squad for the sold-out Third Round FA Cup tie at Forest Green Rovers was caretaker Hutchings' first task. He included out-of-favour players in his squad, such as Savage and Camara, whom many Rams fans don’t especially wish to see in a Derby shirt again. Jordan Stewart has a three-match suspension for his wild kick into the chest of an Ipswich player.
The New Lawn is a neat, tidy stadium and all credit goes to the staff for their friendly efficiency in staging their biggest-ever game - and groundsman and volunteers worked wonders in ensuring the game went ahead, despite the sub-zero temperatures that caused postponements elsewhere.
Hutchings used Camara and Beardsley at full back and recalled Roy Carroll in goal - quite why Bywater was dropped is a mystery to fans. Savage was promoted to the subs bench after spending the week telling the media how much he has to offer the Rams. The match had a real football feel, the small stadium being packed to capacity with a record 4,800 inside.
Rams fans were close enough to players and dug-outs to let their opinions be known! It was a nightmare start for Derby - and Rams fans vented their spleens!
The first half-hour was surreal, possibly even worse that the Premier League drubbings we witnessed last season, as Rovers tore into Derby and took a two-goal lead by virtue of their pace and purpose and Derby’s horrendous defending and inept goalkeeping. Jon Smith blasted Rovers ahead early on when volleyed a loose ball home, then Alex Lawless waltzed past Derby’s static defence to crash in the second, past Carroll’s badly neglected near post.
Cue delirium for FGR supporters and disgust from Derby fans, with Hutchings and crew closely in earshot.
How Rams fans have suffered over the last 20 months! I envisaged a mass half-time walkout of Rams fans to a chorus of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt”, and commented to the fella next to me: “This could be another Boston United…” After the nadir of their Premier League performances and the growing disappointment in 2008-09 has culminated in Paul Jewell giving up the ghost,
Derby were close to the edge of anther huge humiliation. At that stage, most of us expected the team to fold completely and be dumped out of the Cup by a team that can’t live with Burton Albion or most other teams in the Blue Square Premier League.
Gradually Derby came to term with the conditions - they even had a shot on target after 35 minutes – and mercifully, clawed their way back to parity finishing to the first half strongly. Commons, twisting and teasing and showing quality in delivery that we know he’s capable of was one of few Derby players (along with Green) who put in a good 90 minutes.
Kris pinpointed two fine dead balls to enable Hulse, then Albrechtsen five minutes later, to rap in headed goals to silence the boisterous home fans.
Derby started the second half well, though they presented FGR with a third goal to renew the chances of a major Cup shock, as Stonehouse shot home. The game was still open however and it was no surprise when Paul Green struck a fine equaliser after 76 minutes.
Derby continued to attack and Commons wriggled free, to be chopped down inside the area with five minutes to go. A red card was shown to Darren Jones and substitute Steve Davies eased Derby’s blushes by thumping home the penalty.
It was a close-run thing and FGR had a most memorable day; Hutchings was just relieved to be in the hat for the 4th Round - and what a draw, with the Trees from Nothingham, Billy Davies and all, visiting Pride Park Stadium! Prior to that, Hutchings must pick a side capable of denying Manchester United a perfunctory ticket to Wembley in the League Cup semi-final on Wednesday. Fat chance?
Just to keep cheesed-off Derby fans in their usual unhealthy diet of intrigue and instability regarding their club, media speculation about a Saudi takeover surfaced again, to be denied by Adam Pearson. It’s impossible to disentangle fiction and fact at Derby County, as ever.
There’s still much deadwood in the squad; the disarray surrounding the on-field set-up might turn the club’s 125th anniversary celebration year into a wake. I remember the Centenary year came around in 1984 with the club stuck in the Third Division after relegation; let’s start to look upwards!
Sound, imaginative decisions need taking off the pitch by the board and players must buckle down to do their jobs for a change, they certainly looked shell-shocked and shambolic on Saturday as Forest Green charged into a two-goal lead. The Rams showed some character to claw back into the match and win through but there are only so many times than fans want to hear that they deserve better. So - deliver!
In the first RamsWeek of 2008, Paul Jewell prepared to invest in some fresh players with fans expecting better to result his fresh, ‘Let’s See Action!’ attitude. The manager accepted a £1.25m bid from Leicester City for Steve Howard and lined up Argentinian striker Emanuel Howard to replace Big Steve for £2m.
Then rumours of loan moves to Derby for Spurs’ Egyptian outcast Hossam Ghaly and the ex-Newcastle’s midfielder Lauren Robert. Lauren Bacall would have been more useful. Even worse, Robbie Savage was mooted to be moving to Derby and most fans buried their heads in their hands.
Andy Griffin was being shipped out to Stoke and Mo Camara (who?) was to be left on loan with Norwich for the rest of the season.
It was business as usual in the Premier League with the Rams suffering another defeat, a somewhat flattering 0-1 reversal against Bolton Wanderers. Derby’s centre halves obligingly allowed Stelios to run through to score the winner and Rams’ goalie Lewis Price had an altercation with Claude Davis at the final whistle.
No Derby County season is complete without a nutty goalkeeper going off on one, I reckon.
The Rams followed up that defeat with a dreadful performance at home to Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup. First, Lewis Price fluffed a save to let Wednesday take the lead, then ex-Ram Marcus Tudgay took advantage of Derby’s defensive generosity (Darren Moore this time gifting a poor headed back pass straight to him to enable Tudgers to make it 2-0.
Derby recovered with Kenny Miller and Giles Barnes salvaging a draw and a replay at Hillsborough.
Chairman Adam Pearson was progressing talks with would-be American investors as the new manager got to grips with Derby’s poor League performances. Hang on; why does history keep repeating itself?
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