|RamsWeek 1 - Happy Trails |
Mon 04th Jan 2010 00:04 by Paul Mortimer
Having surrendered 6 points in back-to-back home defeats over Christmas, Derby County travelled to Championship leaders Newcastle United in the final fixture of 2009 before an FA Cup Third Round away tie with League One side Millwall.
So a new decade commenced as Rams fans reflected on a topsy-turvy period since the turn of the millennium. They were two quite differing challenges in which Derby’s players had the chance to get their faltering season back on track.
Manager Nigel Clough wanted his players to bounce back and show some character at Newcastle in front of the Sky TV cameras.
First news of the week was the welcome and deserved award of an MBE to Gordon Guthrie in the Queen’s New Year Honours List. He’s been a great servant to Derby County for 50 years. Congratulations, Gordy - from all at RamZone!
Team selection for the game at St James Park on Monday saw five changes from the Blackpool game; Clough was able to recall Miles Addison to the centre of defence alongside Jake Buxton; Jay McEveley reverted to left back.
Paul Green came back into midfield; Lee Hendrie started with ineffectual wingers Teale and Croft both dropped to the bench.
Conditions on Tyneside were cold and wet as Derby embarked on the second half of their 2009-10 season with their away fans among the 47,505 attendance being tucked away up in the heavens on the 4th tier.
Derby started promisingly and at least showed signs that they were battling, not just conceding possession and so denied Newcastle the opportunity to create any early impetus.
A free kick from Ryan Taylor struck the bar on 7 minutes; Lovendkrands was allowed to shoot just wide by Connolly with 16 minutes gone and then Bywater had to save from Taylor. At the other end, DJ Campbell forced a low save from Steve Harper.
The game settled into a pattern with Newcastle pressing and McEveley was booked for checking Taylor after half an hour.
Derby started the second period positively with some possession around Toon’s penalty area until Robbie Savage put a mediocre shot well wide. Derby’s lack of quality in the final third prevented them making too much impact on the Newcastle goal but the Rams were nevertheless holding firm against the Toon attacks. Jake Buxton was much improved and Miles Addison’s physical presence proved a formidable obstacle.
Kris Commons came on to replace Hendrie with 20 minutes remaining, and Newcastle brought on top scorer Shola Ameobi. The vast Toon Army (in the day’s biggest attendance) was rather muted as the Rams dug in resolutely. Commons found the space to rap in a rare Derby shot as the clock ticked down though Harper was untroubled.
Some home fans drifted home in disappointment with 5 minutes to play, as Newcastle failed to breach the Derby defences.
Derby won a free kick 20 yards out Green was fouled, but Savage snapped the free kick over the bar. Captain - give it to Commons next time!
Jay McEveley received a second yellow card in injury time and was sent off; Newcastle forced a corner in the 4th minute of stoppage time (three minutes were signalled but more than five were played) and they pressed desperately - but the Rams held out for a heroic, hard-fought 0-0 draw.
The players had found the grit and courage from within themselves that the manager asked for and the fans demanded. Derby had denied the runaway leaders a win and boosted their confidence ready for the FA Cup tie at Millwall.
The commitment and teamwork so lacking against Doncaster and Blackpool was evident in abundance and Miles Addison - colossal at the back despite his lack of match-fitness after long-term injury - signalled that the heartbeat of Derby County is still beating strongly.
Despite their two recent shocking home displays, Derby are becoming hard to knock over on their travels with two draws and a win - and three clean sheets - from their last three games.
The tighter, wingless midfield provided the required work-rate and prevented the opponents from dominating the game. Manager Clough was pleased that his team had given a good reaction after the two home defeats. “We did the basics right. We did not give anything away. It was a positive way to finish the year." The Rams remain 18th in the table but they had restored a little pride.
Clough set about bolstering his squad and readying himself for the January transfer window; he secured Leicester loanee DJ Campbell for a further loan, at least until the end of January - though he was ineligible for the Millwall game. Derby wish to keep his Foxes’ colleague Paul Dickov but the player might have other irons in the fire.
Oh well; it seems that the Rams may even be trumped by competitors for an out-of-favour 37-year old forward, scintillating stuff!
James Vaughan - due back on loan at Derby as soon as possible - might be needed by Everton for a spell as the Toffees have Louis Saha injured. Vaughan made his mark last Monday by coming off the bench to score against Burnley, so has now come into the Premier League picture at Goodison Park - and he also scored in Everton’s 3-1 home FA Cup win over Carlisle United.
Jake Livermore (a disappointment) has gone back to Spurs and Fredrick Stoor to Fulham respectively, so Clough carried on his search for more loanees - though his declaration that “We’ll take anybody” still rings of the club making up the numbers (whilst having used more players than any other Championship club this season), rather than progressive team-building for success based on quality players.
Striker Luke Varney returned from a successful loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday but was suspended for Saturday as he had collected five bookings. Clough managed to bolster his options by taking Bristol City midfielder Lee Johnson (28) on loan for a month on New Year’s Day and he joined the squad to face Millwall on Saturday.
The first January weekend of a New Year is always the romantic occasion of the FA Cup being joined by teams from the top divisions. Somewhat removed from that are Derby’s memories of Millwall - they are tinged with bad recollections of the scandalous behaviour of Millwall fans, with pitch invasions and physical assaults on Derby players during the two-leg Division One semi-final play-off clash in 1993-4. Derby won both legs, with a 5-1 aggregate.
Clough took his squad to Millwall's New Den for the Rams’ Third Round cup tie without the ability to play his (ever-present) captain Robbie Savage or defender Jay McEveley, both suspended. The undersoil heating had done its job and the match was not threatened by the freezing weather. The Lions are going well in League One and have an excellent home record.
Derby fielded an attacking 4-3-3 side, with Hulse, Porter and Commons up front and the midfield of Green, Pearson and Hendrie. Moxey returned at left-back and Addison and Buxton continued their partnership in central defence and goalkeeper Bywater took the captain’s armband.
Prolific 17-year old Academy striker Callum Ball joined the Rams’ first team squad on the substitutes’ bench alongside new loanee Lee Johnson. Ex-Ram Adam Bolder was not in the Millwall squad.
The Rams kicked off, supported by almost 1,400 travelling fans in the 10,500 crowd; the giant ‘Super Rams’ flag had fluttered splendidly among the away contingent during the pre-match build up. It was a scrappy start with neither side carving out a chance in the opening ten minutes. Then Jack Smith shot into the side netting for the Lions and Hulse went close for Derby at the other end.
Millwall gradually gained the upper hand, with the Rams giving the ball away too frequently. The familiar away pattern of sporadic, wasted Derby possession was evident throughout but Miles Addison again proved a formidable barrier in defence. It was an unexceptional game and when the half-time whistle with the score still at 0-0, it was a blessed relief.
The injured Lee Hendrie was replaced by loanee Lee Johnson after the break and the Rams switched to 4-4-2. However Millwall broke away after 50 minutes to take the lead when Lewis Grabban took advantage of the time and space Derby’s defence allowed him to loop his header past Bywater. Almost immediately, Kris Commons stifled the New Den’s celebrations by rifling in a crisp left-footed equaliser from inside the area after Moxey’s throw-in wasn’t cleared properly.
It became more of a football match and the entertainment factor grew; Hulse and Commons went close after brisk moves but Steve Davies replaced Hulse after 74 minutes. Derby’s final ball was poor as ever but the Rams coped with Millwall’s attacking breaks. Davies was felled on the edge of the Millwall box but he drilled the free kick over the bar with Kris Commons only a spectator.
Derby took the 1-1 draw back for a replay at Pride Park Stadium on Tuesday, 12th January, with a winnable home 4th Round match against Brentford or Doncaster (whose tie was frozen off on Saturday), if Derby can dispose of Millwall at the second attempt.
Manager Nigel Clough said it was a satisfactory result against wholehearted opposition and that his side had responded well to going a goal behind. Clough can now carry on with his work in the (loan) transfer market whilst corralling the rest of his returning injured and suspended players. There will also be plenty of speculation, and perhaps some offers, for Derby’s best players.
Elsewhere, I’m not sure which was the funniest memory of the FA Cup Third Round for me - either Earnshaw’s truly hilarious penalty miss for the Trees or Sir Alex Fergy’s red-faced rant, as Utd crashed out to Leeds, about having only five and a half minutes of injury time being ‘an insult to the game!’
So it has been “happy trails” on the road this week for Derby County with two satisfactory results at diferent ends of the country - especially the point taken from Newcastle. The Rams are now four games unbeaten away from home.
Next up is a Championship home game on Saturday against Scunthorpe, which gives Derby the chance to put more much-needed points on the board. They’ve shown an improvement on their travels and have tackled their dire away record; they must now mend their faltering home form.
RamsWeek 1 at New Year 2009 saw the club trying to pick up the pieces after Paul Jewell had given up the ghost on the job, and the Rams had to prepare for their 3rd Round FA Cup tie at non-League Forest Green Rovers.
Derby secured young Arsenal forward Nacer Barazite for a further loan spell whilst director Adam Pearson quelled rumours that a Saudi consortium wanted to take over control of DCFC from GSE.
Jewell’s erstwhile assistant Chris Hutchings took control of the team amid fervent speculation that Nigel Clough was being lined up to take over as Derby manager. Whoever was to arrive would face a huge sort-out and rebuilding job from a costly, unbalanced and under-achieving squad.
That prospect showed on the field against Derby’s Blue Square Premier opponents in the FA Cup, as a shambolic Derby went two goals down in an appalling first 30 minutes at the New Lawn. The Rams got a grip and levelled through Albrechtsen and then Hulse, to go in 2-2 at the interval.
Rovers snatched a 3-2 lead after the restart but Derby finally sparked to win through, as Paul Green equalised and then the lively Steve Davies converted a penalty won by Kris Commons to make the game safe at 4-2 with five minutes to go.
Derby’s reward was a 4th Round home tie with Nothingham Forest - but their next date was a Carling Cup semi-final first-leg against mighty Manchester United!
Meanwhile, the little matter of appointing a new manager was occupying the thoughts of Messrs Glick and Pearson.
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