|RamsWeek 8 - Walking On Sunshine!|
Sun 22nd Feb 2009 20:04 by Paul Mortimer
A brave FA Cup defeat at the hands of world club champions Manchester United ended the Rams’ FA Cup exploits and the quest for League points was top priority.
Derby County faced Blackpool at home on Wednesday and Nothingham Forest away on Saturday, wanting to put distance between themselves and the relegation zone of the Championship.
Manager Nigel Clough said that at least five wins were needed so that the club could reach the 50-point ‘survival’ threshold, to then kick on from there to see what could be achieved from the run-in to the season.
Derby had an unhappy time at Bloomfield Road, Blackpool in late October with a typically sloppy display leading to a 3-2 defeat. The home League game with Forest was ruined by refereeing incompetence with the Rams denied two late goals through wrongful decisions of rookie ref Stuart Attewell, the Trees escaping with a 1-1 draw.
The glorious 3-2 FA Cup victory for Derby at the City Ground earlier this month had set the scene for another tight, tense city Ground clash between the East Midlands’ top clubs.
The Blackpool match was a back to reality, bread-and-butter game that the Rams had to win to ensure the recent improvement was sustained. Manager Clough stuck with Jay McEveley at left back (…or was stuck with Jay McEveley!) in preference to Jordan Stewart (do we actually have a good left-back on the books?) and otherwise kept the team shape and selection as per the Manchester United FA Cup clash.
Derby started briskly though not quite with the irrepressible pace and power that had swept away Coventry City in the first half of the last League home game. There wasn’t the crispness and pace, especially from the passes out of defence, to overwhelm Blackpool but Derby still took an early lead, after some bumbling defending and a goalkeeper walkabout allowed the tenacious Rob Hulse to win and square the ball back into the penalty area for Kris Commons to sweep it into the net after 8 minutes.
The Rams were disrupted by the early withdrawal of flying winger Gary Teale through a hamstring strain (Steve Davies deputising) and then a foot injury to Miles Addison saw the young star give way to Lewin Nyatanga for the rest of the game. Derby didn’t extend their lead and Blackpool snuck an equaliser from virtually their first meaningful attack, with a soft header from Rob Edwards after 31 minutes.
The rest of the first half was patchy and forgettable, with dithering, erroneous refereeing that became a feature of the game and the officials were booed off and back onto the pitch at the break.
Things weren’t much better in the second half; Derby couldn’t get the breakthrough that their superior skills and enterprise had deserved and the referee ignored an obvious penalty appeal when Hulse was pulled back. Blackpool beavered away and had a couple of moments where they could have snatched another surprise goal. They didn’t manage it - and the Rams gritted their teeth and cruised out of sight.
It took beyond 70 minutes for Derby to make the game safe. Commons provided another moment of magic as he drove into the penalty area, beating two defenders before letting fly with his left foot and blasting it into the top corner. Pure class! Then, Derby’s superior attacking submerged Blackpool’s endeavour.
A few minutes later, Hulse and Commons combined to tickle the ball through to Paul Green, running through to slot it in for 3-1. Blackpool were spent and Barazite put the cream on the cake with five minutes to go; after a surging run from his own half, he drove in a splendid first League goal for Derby.
Attitude, application and ability had seen the Rams through and there have been many such games in recent times where Derby have dithered and capitulated instead. Under Clough, they have found the spirit and togetherness to bring out their skills and now look a good team going forward.
It set up the visit to the City Ground perfectly; three straight Championship wins pushing the Rams onwards as Forest succumbed at Ipswich - the Trees had lost four of their last five games.
Meanwhile, goalkeeper Lewis Price starred for Luton Town; his loan spell at the Hatters might bring a Wembley appearance for the young Welshman, after his penalty shoot-out saves for the Hatters saw them book a place in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Loanee Claude Davis has had his loan spell at Crystal Palace extended until May 3rd. and mystery striker Liam Dickinson is due to start his latest (and presumably final) loan banishment, this time at 3rd division Leeds United.
There was more fixture tinkering, with the Cardiff City away game now scheduled for Wednesday, April 8th (7.45 pm) and the Bristol City home game on Saturday, March 7th has a 1.00 pm kick off.
Red Dogs’ boss Billy Davies failed to operate in the January transfer window and so in the build-up to Saturday’s game after Forest’s midweek defeat at Ipswich, he consoled himself with some typical kidology.
He whined on about how he needed players fit to wear the red shirt and that some of his junior players weren’t ready for the level of football they now had to play at. He also ‘surprisingly’ included Rams flop Rob Earnshaw in his team, having ruled him out through injury only days beforehand. As expected, the Rams had to use Lewin Nyatanga and Steve Davies to replace the injured Addison and Teale.
The Rams weren’t catching a cold on Saturday like they did early on in going behind 2-0 in the FA Cup replay. They set off on the front foot and Lewin Nyatanga scored from close range after three minutes, getting on the end of a Kris Commons free kick. Derby lost Barazite soon after with a dislocated shoulder, Sterjovski taking over. Forest had plenty of the first half play without seriously threatening Bywater, and the Rams took their lead into the break.
The Rams started the 2nd half as they had the first - they scored straight away! Forest conceded a free kick immediately and Hulse glanced Savage’s cross into the net. 2-0! Derby had put themselves in charge of the game but suffered another enforced change when Nyatanga received a bang in the face, resulting in blurred vision; he was replaced by Andy Todd.
Hulse won a penalty and Steve Davies made it 3-0 from the spot kick before the 70 minute-mark. Some Forest fans elected to leave the ground, some decided to throw objects - a bottle and other items - at Stephen Bywater and into the Rams’ penalty area. Shocking, disgraceful and presumably actionable by the authorities. Derby had mastered Forest but the Trees’ fans disgraced their club in frustration.
Forest rallied without reward but Steve Davies rattled the Forest bar with a header. Yet more injury worries arrived when Jay McEveley had to go off with a shoulder injury, leaving the Rams a man short with 8 minutes remaining. The Trees pulled a goal back through an Earnshaw header with 4 minutes to go when Albrechtsen went missing; Perch also went close but the Rams saw the game out safely.
The milder sunny weather had made it almost a spring day for the visiting supporters. This latest victory in Nottingham also laid the bogie of 37 years without a League win at the City Ground. Rams fans were certainly ‘walking on sunshine’ by the time the final whistle went - the Red Dogs had been completely vanquished.
Robbie Savage indulged in his scarf-twirling celebrations at the final whistle as 4,000+ delirious Derby fans waved their black & white spoils in response. Two months into the New Year and two wins at the City Ground!
Importantly, the victory moved Derby on to 41 points and after 4 League wins on the bounce, the rest of the season is looking promising. Nigel Clough could win Manager of the Month with a good result at Doncaster but I hope I’m not jinxing the team with my optimism. Things just get better for the Rams at the moment - and the Brian Clough Trophy stays securely ‘at home’ in Pride Park Stadium.
Davies prattled on again afterwards about having to field players that can’t take 2 games a week, ignoring the Rams’ 3 games in a week (including Manchester United last Sunday) and a growing injury list at Pride Park.
Billy also thought his team were ‘out-muscled’ but they certainly leaned heavily on Derby players when they could and in my opinion, with two dislocated shoulders and other hefty knocks received by Rams' players, Forest were lucky not to receive more punishment from the referee.
The officials seemed somewhat tolerant of Perch and the lumbering Morgan, who have between them received 15 yellow cards and have dished out almost 100 fouls on the opposition so far this season. Brawn alone is not enough however, and the Rams defeated Forest comprehensively.
Rams’ manager Clough was satisfied that Derby had silenced the home crowd with excellent starts to both halves of the game and they controlled the match. The Rams now stand 15th, with a game or two in hand over several clubs below and above them.
The manager has yet more injuries to contend with after a hard week but the squad do have a few days’ respite until their visit to Doncaster Rovers next Friday. Clough is looking to the loan market for reinforcements as he focuses on extracting as many points as possible from the remaining Championship matches.
Last year, RamsWeek 8 saw manager Paul Jewell accuse some of his players of ‘fakin’ it’, after another routine defeat for the Rams - this time at his old stamping ground at the JJB Stadium in Wigan.
Jewell declared that he had some ‘fraudsters’ in his team after the feeble display in a 2-0 defeat, promising big changes in the months ahead. He called their efforts “the worst performance I have ever seen from a so-called Premier League team”.
Wigan were fighting for Premier League survival, showing eagerness and hunger to control the match, whilst the Rams made no impression whatsoever. Derby fans just wanted the team to avoid the biggest wooden spoon in history.
With the JJB defeat, Derby recorded the worst sequence of results in their 124-year history at 21 games without a win. New Derby County President and Chief Executive Tom Glick was looking for instant promotion next season and promised the manager ‘a ton of support’ to ‘build a great side’. Jewell certainly got that.
History does show that recovery is usually more gradual for relegated teams and a year later, we are only just daring to hope that the club will soon be in a position to mount a serious promotion challenge.
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