|RamsWeek 12 - Step By Step|
Sun 21st Mar 2010 17:48 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County needed to pick up their game and win points from games against Middlesbrough and Sheffield Wednesday.
Nigel Clough’s club duties commenced this week with attendance at the funeral of former Ilkeston Town and Macclesfield Town manager Keith Alexander. It was a very respectful and well-attended occasion, as befitted a man held in huge respect within the game.
Defender and ex-captain Paul Connolly went to Sheffield United on a 28-day loan. His Derby days appear numbered but he has always given his all to the cause. With Nicky Hunt’s form and availability unsure alongside the inconsistency of current left backs Moxey and McEveley, I’m sure that manager Clough will be shopping for full backs in a few weeks’ time.
They are crucial roles in both the main defensive duty and (if they are good players, rather than hoofers), on the attacking front to move the team forward. We have a collection of centre halves but the defence is not a tight unit yet without good quality full backs in place.
For the moment, Nigel Clough needed to secure about 10 more points with the players at his disposal. The midweek game at home to Middlesbrough was another chance for the Rams to put distance between themselves and the drop zone.
Derby put on a feeble performance in defeat to Middlesbrough at the Riverside last October, the 0-1 scoreline hiding a toothless, lukewarm performance from Derby. Boro weren’t much better but could and should have won by a bigger scoreline.
Boro chairman Steve Gibson was so bored with his side’s mediocre display that he chose to announce the sacking of Boro boss Gareth Southgate at the final whistle.
Plenty of subsequent poor results on Derby’s travels and Boro’s inconsistency meant that the midweek clash at Pride Park Stadium was vital to both the Rams’ Championship survival hopes and to Boro’s fading chase to reach the play-off places.
Nigel Clough replaced Jake Buxton with Russell Anderson, hoping for more defensive solidity. Sunu replaced Steve Davies in the forward line.
It was Boro that took a grip on the game at Derby with their fuss-free, compact teamwork and Derby couldn’t generate any impetus or string their passes together. An early goal helped the visitors, Nicky Hunt’s partial clearance reaching Barry Robson 15 yards out, and he measured a precise volley past Dave Martin.
It seems fitting that Derby County’s latest approved ‘partner’ is The Co-operative Society Funeral Services, as Derby’s mediocre first half performance rendered Pride Park Stadium with 27,100 in attendance, into a morgue-like atmosphere. Derby toiled forlornly in trying to get back into the game but there was little to stimulate the worried crowd.
Rob Hulse had a shot saved and Pearson romped away to characteristically fluff his cross; McEveley whipped in a centre that his colleagues wasted but chances were few and far between as Derby failed threaten seriously and struggled to get a foothold in midfield. Muted grumbles accompanied the half-time whistle.
The Rams came out with more snap in the second period and both sides had half-chances. The game changed when Porter was drafted in, Robbie Savage being taken off. It gave Derby more thrust, the crowd responded and Porter was up and at the defenders straight away, taking the burden off the luckless Rob Hulse.
Sunu and Pearson became more effective and Derby’s attacks were more threatening.
Rams fans hat to wait until the 67th minute for a glimpse of redemption but relief came when Pearson’s cross eluded Boro keeper Coyne, and Chris Porter headed neatly home.
Then seven minutes later, with Derby sustaining their attacks, they took the lead. Michael Tonge pulled out his party piece, lashing in a great goal when the ball broke to him on the edge of the area. It was another crisp strike from the loanee and gave Derby a precious and unexpected lead.
Derby naively fell into the trap of seeking a third goal and were almost caught out when Boro raided - the Derby players need to show some maturity and care in protecting a lead once earned. They seemed to have seen out the game, though - especially when Boro had Rhys Williams dismissed on 88 minutes after a heavy challenge on Rams’ substitute Dean Leacock.
Derby fatefully undid themselves at the death yet again; McEveley gave away a free kick 30 yards out as the game moved into stoppage time and then the defence fell asleep to let Leroy Lita head home at the far post to make it 2-2.
Losing points cheaply is still costing Derby and they cannot afford such lapses. The Rams had however had also played well for only half an hour - not for the first time this season (or even this month) but it had been enough to recover from a seemingly damaging defeat to probable victory over the resilient and organised Boro team.
Overall, the Rams had only 33% possession in the game but put in more attempts on goal and won 9 corners to Boro’s 3. As manager Clough said, his team failed to close down the game and looked for a third goal instead of ensuring that the points were safe.
Derby did however move another point away from the bottom three, remaining 18th but were 5 points clear of Scunthorpe. With the Rams still only edging towards the 50-point mark, the Saturday fixture against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough became one of the most important matches of the season.
Other news around Pride Park Stadium was at a premium and all was quiet on the Glick vs. Gadsby front. Calm before the storm? Mr Gadsby never moves without being sure of success so we will have to wait and see if GSE’s rebuttal of his initial bid is the end of the matter.
The Rams needed to win the full-blooded fights on the pitch first of all to secure their Championship survival. The Hillsborough clash was the proverbial ‘six-pointer’ with Sheffield Wednesday close behind the Rams. Some 3,000 Rams fans made up the travelling ‘Barmy Army’.
Clough decided to rest his captain Robbie Savage (giving the armband to returning first-choice goalkeeper Stephen Bywater) and kept the in-form Chris Porter in the side alongside top scorer Rob Hulse in attack. Russell Anderson partnered Shaun Barker in defence after his solid display as a substitute against Middlesbrough.
The Owls fielded ex-Rams Lee Grant in goal and Marcus Tudgay in attack but loanee Luke Varney was ineligible under the terms of his loan from Derby County.
It was a scrappy, forgettable game and both sides were grateful enough with a point from the 0-0 draw. Stephen Bywater and Lee Grant took the honours, both making good saves through the game. Whilst it ended goalless, the game was often open and there were chances for both sides to win the game.
Derby shaded the first half but came more under the cosh after the break. Shaun Barker was excellent and his latest partner, Russell Anderson is proving an able ally.
If the Rams can keep it tight in defence they always have a chance of grabbing vital wins. With Sunu gaining confidence, Porter fit again and scoring regularly - and Kris Commons to come back soon - the Rams can aim to build on the last two draws and clamber away from the relegation zone.
Manager Nigel Clough called it ‘a great clean sheet’ and the Derby boss will have been relieved to see his defence get meaner. His attackers now need to strike regularly to ensure that games can be won, so that we can graduate from the basic achievement of defeat being avoided more often. Results meant that Derby are now only 4 points from safety so they cannot afford to falter.
The Rams inch to safety week by week and step by step; they need a couple of wins this month to put them within touching distance of the safety mark.
Edging past the 50 points barrier in mid-late March has (disappointingly) been the Rams’ repose for the past two season and at the moment, the ‘improvement’ by which Nigel Clough said he would measure his first full season in charge at Derby has not materialised.
An away game at QPR and then a home match with the furry Foxes from Leicester are Derby’s challenges over the next week. Let’s keep the points rolling in, boys, preferably at a quicker rate!
In RamsWeek 12 last season, manager Nigel Clough declared that ‘home is where the heart is’ by announcing that Derby’s pre-season would be undertaken at home, with a tour of the West Country and the usual programme of friendlies against local Midlands’ rivals.
Canadian entrepreneur Jeff Mallet, a key figure in the Yahoo! internet search engine business and billionaire owner of the San Francisco Giants club joined the GSE board. A year later, it seems that his dollars remain carefully guarded where investment in the English soccer Rams is concerned.
The Rams fought out a disappointing 0-0 draw at Pride Park Stadium with Barnsley; the Rams didn’t get their game going and were still short of points for Championship survival. A bore draw with South Yorkshire strugglers....sounds familiar!
Striker Luke Varney went on loan to Sheffield Wednesday and Liam Dickinson was at Leeds.
Vagabond full back Tyrone Mears, after allegedly eloping from Moor Farm to bask at Marseille on loan - bored with reporting to Paul Jewell - scored a late winner for the French club against Ajax in the UEFA Cup. Tyrone is currently back in England helping Burnley to record the worst defensive performance in the top flight.
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