|RamsWeek 10 - The Hard Way|
Sun 08th Mar 2009 21:34 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County had to shake off the disappointment of defeat at Doncaster and take on two of the Championship’s form teams in a pair of very important home games this week.
Meanwhile, the off-field team picked up a ‘trophy’ with Derby County’s Community team being presented with the Business Commitment to the Community Award for 2009 in the Derbyshire Business Awards. Well done to Simon Carnall and all!
With Kris Commons needing another fortnight to recover from injury and Miles Addison ultimately ruled out for the season, manager Nigel Clough was still looking for possible loan signings and the week brought more bad news with Paul Green suffering a broken bone in his foot during training and also being effectively ruled out for the season.
It was a blow to the Rams as midfield dynamo Green has been one of the successes of the season. With the rejuvenation of Robbie Savage, the partnership was central to the Rams improving performances since Clough arrived. Miles Addison will recover ready for pre-season and the great strides he’s made this season will no doubt stand him in good stead for the next campaign.
Clough therefore had to shuffle his options this week and stoically reminded his remaining squad players that it was their turn to come in and ‘do their job’. He paired Chris Porter with Rob Hulse in attack on Tuesday, with the attractive and enterprising Swansea City side visiting Pride Park Stadium. They have made great progress under Spaniard Roberto Martinez and already covet serious play-off aspirations.
It was bitterly cold with thrashing rain on Tuesday evening in Derby; I’d say the 27,000 fans attended the game in their most shivery and bedraggled state since that tumultuous, rain-sodden play-off semi-final again Southampton in 2007! Nevertheless, Derby set about Swansea with power and purpose in attack, Hulse and Porter causing them all sorts of problems in what looks an explosive partnership.
Derby led when Savage thrashed a 14th-minute free kick in which Swans’ keeper De Vries could only Parry - and man-on-the-spot Chris Porter snapped up the close range chance for his first Derby goal. Certainly, Swansea proceeded to give Derby the run-around for spells with their composed and classy football, though they didn’t have a cutting edge.
Porter scored again soon after the restart, bombing in a crisp goal to delight the cold, wet Derby fans. He fastened onto the ball after Swansea fluffed a clearance and advanced to bomb in a crisp shot. A 2-0 lead should have been sufficient, despite Swansea’s neat footballing patterns.
Despite City’s dominance of the possession, it was Derby that still threatened more goals. The Rams had banged the woodwork twice, Hulse saw a goal disallowed for offside and he had a good penalty claim refused. Changes galore went begging or missed narrowly, or De Vries denied goals. Derby could feel hard done by that they hadn’t put Swansea down well before the game turned on its head.
However, Derby let two precious points slip away from their grasp when Rangell pulled a goal back and then Pintado snatched an equaliser with only 4 minutes to go. For both goals, the defending wasn’t convincing and the ball travelled a long way in and around the box before the Swansea players took advantage to strike twice and salvage a point.
It had been an entertaining game, which manager Clough felt was the best performance since he took over. The Rams’ attacking potency bodes well for the future, even though we’d been a tad worried about the absence of playmaker Kris Commons for several further games.
Porter had an excellent full debut. He was a constant threat, full of running and battling commitment - and he knows where the net is, too. His impact left me wondering when Nathan Ellington or Luke Varney might get a look-in again but given Derby’s bad luck with injuries, we need everyone available and ready.
Fans still felt uneasy before the weekend, with the sides around Derby in the League all winning their midweek games. The draw with Swansea made the Bristol City game on Saturday even more important, as Derby strove towards their ‘magic’ 50+ points’ survival target to ensure this season ends comfortably.
Outcast Liam Dickinson had a rare outing in a Moor Farm friendly with Peterborough, which the Rams won 2-1. He’s (over)due to go on loan at Leeds United. Derby fielded Josh O’Keefe - a 20 year-old Blackburn midfielder who will train with the Rams for the rest of the season. Derby also included Lewis Price, Luke Varney, Tito Villa and Jordan Stewart; young Rams Arnaud Mendy and Henrik Ojamaa scored the goals.
Forward Steve Davies was another player ruled out of the Bristol City game with an infected toe. Paul Green’s absence also left an opportunity for either Nacer Barazite or Mile Sterjovski in the midfield but Clough restored Nacer to his wide role and put the Aussie into the centre with Savage. Hulse and Porter continued up front.
Another bumper 30,000+ crowd saw an entertaining match as Bristol City, as had Swansea, played football the right way. Like the Welsh side, they had plenty of possession and looked more powerful in the final third than Swansea. Derby were grateful for an instant lead when Sterjovski burst though in the very first minute to feed Chris Porter, who scored emphatically.
It soon seemed an injustice that Bristol City weren’t at least on equal terms as they fought back tenaciously. Steven Bywater kept them at bay with splendid saves and positive goalkeeping and there was some desperate defending.
Derby’s defensive fragility looked certain to undo them again even though the Rams’ potency in attack worried Bristol on the break. Unlike the midweek game, good chances weren’t often carved out by the home side (apart from a near own-goal mix-up by City) and Derby had to live on their nerves.
Derby lost Porter with a hip injury at half time and Clough reinforced the midfield by replacing him with Andy Todd. City remained in the ascendancy and the inevitable equaliser arrived with only seven minutes remaining as Williams finally beat Bywater, with a fine 25-yard volley.
Derby’s newfound spirit shone through however as Teale picked up the ball on the left wing and drilled in a damaging low cross, which Rob Hulse deftly dispatched into the net before Basso could blink.
Relief at the 2-1 scoreline when full time came was palpable and Derby had certainly earned their points the hard way this week. The Rams had played much good football and so had the opposition - but 4 points from the two games against very good teams was just what was needed. Chris Porter has exploded on the scene with 3 goals in 2 games. Hopefully, his injury is only a minor knock.
Derby’s survival target looks more comfortable now - Saturday’s win was very important with two tough away games, at Southampton and Sheffield United, next on the agenda. Clough has more injury concerns with McEveley and Porter now also on the treatment table.
A large squad it may be at Moor Farm, but it’s been whittled down a fair bit by injuries recently and it looks like we will see more of Sterjovski, Villa, Todd, Prem Kaz and Jordan Stewart during March. There is more of a sense of purpose and cohesion about the team nowadays and the manager has had to use a number of players whom fans had begun to disregard as lost causes.
A year ago, players that Jewell had farmed out and who might even have moved on to new clubs in the intervening period like Stephen Bywater, Gary Teale, Lewin Nyatanga and Robbie Savage are now firmly established in Nigel Clough’s plans. Injuries, allied to Clough’s ability to get the best out of his resources have seen these squad members make significant contributions to our recent improvement.
As Clough would himself no doubt observe, the situation has given opportunities to those entrusted with the shirt - and happily, some of them appear to be taking their with both hands.
Speaking of RamsWeek 10 last season, Robbie Savage’s main contribution to the cause was as a good Samaritan in picking up a young girl and her dad in his new Mercedes AMG at a bus stop, to whisk them down to Pride Park Stadium. How times have changed!
Erstwhile winger Craig Fagan was allowed to go on loan to promotion-chasing Hull City, his former club, where ex-Rams’ boss Phil Brown was slavering at having ‘such an exciting player’ in his ranks. Err yes, Phil…. if you say so - though to be fair, Brown, Hull and Fagan have had a rather better time of it than we did ‘upstairs’ in the Premier League!
Also in 2008, we anticipated ‘the backlash blues’ as the Rams had to face Chelsea and Manchester United in the Premiership, straight after they had both been dumped out of the FA Cup. Rather inevitably, that’s exactly what we got!
You need to login in order to post your comments