|RamsWeek 16 - Better Not Look Down|
Mon 20th Apr 2009 00:29 by Paul Mortimer
Having pinched a win at Sheffield Wednesday to ease relegation fears, Derby County faced Championship leaders Wolves at Pride Park Stadium in a vital Easter Monday fixture before a trip to Crystal Palace on Saturday.
Manager Nigel Clough made changes due to injury and a desire to freshen up the team during the hectic fixture schedule. Eustace and Kazmierczak joined Savage in midfield and Sterjovski was given a wide role, with Kris Commons playing behind lone-striker Rob Hulse.
Wolves were missing their top strikers, Ebanks-Blake and Iwelumo.
Unfortunately, Derby handed Wolves the advantage before the sides had settled down; I don’t share fellow Rams’ supporter’s ire in Albrechtsen apparently being fouled as he gifted Keogh Wolves’ first goal after 7 minutes.
Martin should have met the ball with force, not dithered in either expecting a foul or waiting for Bywater to rush into no-man’s land to try and quell any danger. A typical soft touch goal.
Derby recovered and more than matched the leaders for endeavour and enterprise, equalising after 30 minutes when Kaz slammed in a great 25-yard free kick. Wolves were being challenged and Derby mounted dangerous attacks with Commons prominent and Hulse battling on, despite the generosity of a doddering myopic referee towards Wolves’ robustness.
After the break, Derby swarmed over the Wolves and it was incredible that they were not at least 4-1 up before the hour mark. Derby deservedly took the lead when Sterjovski, in one of his few effective moments, crisply steered Commons’ pass from a corner into the net. There could only be one result, we all thought - but some ridiculous decision making when in on goal, poor final balls and fluffed finishing had wasted several gilt-edged chances and we truly let Wolves off the hook.
Wolves capitalised on some loose Derby play in attack and hit back. Savage gave the ball away, Reid found space to deliver a cross that Jarvis fired in for 2-2.
Injustice, we felt, but then disaster piled insult upon injury as full time neared. Nyatanga fancied a gallop into attack and the move broke down; in a flash, Wolves raided his flank. The ball was put back into the soft underbelly of Derby’s unhinged defence to be duly stroked in by Keogh. McCarthy laughed up his sleeve, Clough boiled in anger.
The manner of defeat was especially galling for Rams fans in the biggest crowd of the season. Derby weren’t just edging the game at 2-1; they’d squandered some great positions and telling possession in Wolves’ area and quite how the game wasn’t well won with a half hour to go only Derby’s players know.
It was incredibly frustrating to see Wolves nick the points; you could almost cut the disappointment in the air as the sullen home crowd made their way home through the stadium thoroughfares.
Nigel Clough was clearly angered after his Derby side threw away their safety points from a winning position and he publicly berated his team. The manager admonished unnamed players for ‘poor defending, naivety, and trying to be to clever’.
He was fuming about the defensive lapses, pulling no punches in resolving to change personnel to solve the error-strewn lapses. After seeing player fails to clear the ball in an orthodox manner, or not converting good chances created, Clough raged: ‘we will have to get some in that can do that’.
The Rams had to put their disappointment behind them and regroup for the Crystal Palace away match on Saturday. Clough had the welcome prospect of Chris Porter playing some part in remaining games and the boost of a fit-again Kris Commons to include in his attacking options.
Yet another metatarsal injury - the fourth such foot injury to afflict the club recently - means Jay McEveley was ruled out for the rest of the season. Along with his persistent shoulder problem, McEveley has more rehab to undergo between now and the new season but Clough sees him as part of his plans.
It’s the season for contract fishing and transfer rumours, so Mile Sterjovski and Luke Varney voiced their hopes to be included in the manager’s plans for 2009-10. Sterjovski, along with Andy Todd, is being linked with a move Down Under. I doubt whether Clough would stand in their way. Robbie Savage hopes to be involved too, saying his ‘sitting’ role can extend his career…. but couldn’t we finance two younger fitter and effective midfielders for the considerable cost of Savage’s rewards?
The Rams continue to receive huge backing from fans with expectations of better things in season 2009-10 as season ticket renewals exceeded 17,500 and so are ahead of last year’s sales at the ‘early bird’ deadline. The support is amazing for the fayre on offer on the pitch and 2008-09 has seen Derby County’s average home gates over 4,000 higher than the season in which Billy Davies’ team gained promotion.
Fans’ support for a year-old online petition demanding a stadium Clough & Taylor statue was brought up at the recent fans’ forum and the club has now announced that it will lead a project to realise a tribute to football’s greatest managerial duo.
The project already has the blessing of Peter Taylor’s daughter and the declared aim is to realise the monument “well within two years”. I’d expect a larger-than-life scale statue to cost between £70-£100,000, as the Nothingham Brian Clough statue cost £60,000 and the original Steve Bloomer statue design would have cost at least as much.
Most of the public fundraising money given to DCFC for the Bloomer bust was raised by the project led by the trust and supporters clubs; the instability of the club caused many delays and that tribute was ultimately scaled down to £17,000 cost, so a major fundraising initiative is required for the C & T project.
Derby faced Neil Warnock’s Crystal Palace in south London and manager Nigel Clough left Lewin Nyatanga at left back, who deputised for the injured Jay McEveley for the 2nd half against Wolves and Stephen Pearson played in place of the dead-legged Kazmierczak.
It was a largely forgettable match in front of Palace’s mediocre average 14,000 attendance, with neither side impressing. Hulse and Commons linked up well on occasion early on, though there was little excitement on offer. A point or more seemed well within Derby’s reach but they flattered to deceive.
Palace were depleted after an hour when Victor Moses was sent off for a second bookable offence in hauling down Sterjovski. Derby didn’t capitalise on their advantage - far from it. Just minutes later, the Rams’ flatfooted central defence parted to allow Shefki Kuqi to stride onto a simple through ball and stroke the ball over Stephen Bywater.
I don’t expect Todd & Albrechtsen to form our ‘central defence’ for much longer…It was more woe from absent defending as Derby turned a comfortable draw into a feeble defeat.
The 10-man Palace side held Derby comfortably enough for the last half-hour despite Clough making attacking substitutions. Tito Villa had an effort ruled out for offside; Rob Hulse blazed a good chance high and wide right at the death. An exasperated Nigel Clough watched his side throw it away again.
Clough commented that the side still seems to lack passion and conviction and has referred previously to the Derby disease, a malaise where the spirit and belief of the squad has been absent for a long time and is yet to be rediscovered. Poor form and injuries are adding to an unnecessarily nail-biting end to the season.
After the victory at Hillsborough, the rest of the Easter fixtures dished up another distinct taste of disappointment upon expectant Rams fans. ‘Better not look down’, is the message for fans, manager and players - there is still chance for some of the bottom six sides to catch us up. “Keep the hammer down, and go full speed ahead!” in the wise words of blues master BB King, from whom I pinched the title!
Looking down into the abyss of Division One doesn’t bear thinking about but we’re not safe yet. Fans deserve better after their repeated shows of loyalty via attendances and season ticket sales. Hopefully, Derby can finish the season with rather more of a flourish than the limp defeat at Selhurst Park.
Derby are 18th in the table and five points clear of the bottom three but are limping over the finishing line. The failure to hold onto their advantage over Wolves, who were promoted on Saturday, and then the Rams’ nondescript performance at Selhurst Park means that points are still needed to ensure safety.
Striker Luke Varney will rejoin the Derby squad from his loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday, having banged in 2 goals to send Charlton down last Saturday. Let’s hope he repays a slice of his large transfer fee now with a goal or two for Derby, starting with Reading at home on Tuesday.
Last season’s 0-4 home defeat to Reading was utterly dreadful, a low point in a low season - come out and get about your business, Derby - and give those Royals a right regal sort-out!
RamsWeek 16 last year saw the Rams seeking dry land after shipping six goals against Villa, with the refuge of season 2008-09 promising better things to come. Manager Paul Jewell was ‘very, very confident’ that Derby would win promotion next season.
Derby did recover enough to put in a better shift in their next League game, losing 2-1 away at injury-hit West Ham, with ex-Hammer Tyrone Mears (who?) notching the Rams’ goal.
Aussie utility player Rueben Zadkovich (who?) signed a 2-year contract with Derby and Jewell declared that there were other signings ‘in the bag’ ready for next season.
Derby didn’t look likely, by the manager’s admission, to muster the paltry 16 points to avoid the ‘worst ever’ tag but Jewell said if Derby did record that lowest ever-Prem points total, ‘nobody would remember it’. How dumb; it’s regularly referred to - and such ignominy isn’t so readily shaken off, PJ.
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