|RamsWeek 18 - Get It Right Next Time|
Mon 03rd May 2010 03:18 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County rounded off their 2009-10 Championship programme with a home game against play-off contenders Cardiff City, with the Rams aiming to improve on last season’s league placing.
The first news of the week was Nigel Clough’s predictable punishment from the Football Association. Having been sent to the stand during the recent home game against Ipswich Town, the Derby boss was fined £1,000 and given a touchline ban from the Cardiff City game.
As we well know, all Derby County misdemeanours must be punished as an example to others. Whilst similar offences from clubs up and down the leagues regularly go unpunished, the FA’s ‘blazer brigade’ again rolled out their inconsistent, dysfunctional and mystical judgement process because Clough impolitely told an incompetent referee that he was incompetent.
Presumably, the FA committee are busy drawing up a rota system so that each League manager can be banned in turn in future, as it’s obvious to most of us that all managers and staff cuss and chastise matchday officials for decisions that go against their team, or that are simply incorrect.
Derby’s injury-strewn season ended as it had commenced - with a further string of casualties having a variety of short or longer-term injuries. The manager is certainly hoping for a clean bill of health as soon as possible and has made reference to wanting a much fitter, more resilient squad.
Apart from Dean Leacock and Miles Addison undergoing their respective operations, goalkeeper Stephen Bywater is having his back and rib injuries resolved, Rob Hulse’s long-standing groin strain has had surgery. Chris Porter, Paul Green and Stephen Pearson are also having attention to fitness problems, so Clough’s reconstituted physiotherapy section will keep busy all summer.
Shaun Barker and David Martin will undergo minor knee and ankle operations respectively. The Rams have shed a couple of loanees, with goalkeeper David Martin returning to Liverpool and the injured Gilles Sunu has returned to Arsenal. Martin stepped in briefly when needed and Sunu just flattered to deceive.
Derby’s 2010-11 pre-season schedule is taking shape; players will report back on 30th June and warm-up games from mid-July include Burton Albion, Southend United and Bournemouth AFC, plus Bass Charity games against Burton, Solihull Moors and Belper Town. Italians Fiorentina and Premier League Stoke City will conclude the build-up to the new season.
Robbie Savage picked up the Player of the Year Award as voted by the club’s inner circle, with Ben Pringle taking the Young Player of the Year. Ben skippered the Rams reserves to their league title in midweek, as they overcame Shrewsbury Town. Derby County’s 2nd string won their crucial final game 2-1 with goals through Kris Commons, returning to matchday action, and Nicky Hunt.
The Derby team was well-stocked with first-teamers, including Hunt, Pearson, Savage, Teale, Commons and Moxey...surely, with the authorities intent on punishing Derby for everything, they should be investigating this game for Derby’s ‘over-selection’ of first team players?
They can’t let us get away with that, can they? It’s the converse of the likes of the recent challenges to Wolves and Fulham for fielding under-strength teams! Expect an FA inquiry and a fine soon.
Transfer activity is well under way as Clough expects to ship out half a dozen players (I could list a dozen, though!) to bring in the same number of new faces. Clough is expecting to announce two signings early next week, with young Polish striker Tomasz Cywka being one of them.
The Rams’ boss was tight-lipped on who the second signing would be, whilst saying it would not be Crewe’s John Brayford at this stage. Perhaps it will be Danny Buijs, or David Martin’s permanent move from Millwall. Perhaps it is a new loan period for Michael Tonge, unless Derby have successfully prised striker Gary Hooper from Scunthorpe? That one appears to be set to run for some while yet.
There are out-of-contract players, Jay McEveley and Gary Teale, and the expensive Luke Varney, who cannot hope to earn the sort of money that previous Derby regimes awarded them who can make way for new signings if they are deemed surplus to requirements or make contract demands that the club won’t countenance.
Clough commented that his defensive complement of Barker, Buxton and Anderson cost the wages that Martin Albrechtsen alone was paid by Paul Jewell! In that context, Derby’s current player wage strategy is making good sense.
Elsewhere, ex-Ram Paul Simpson has left Shrewsbury Town after their disappointing season; perhaps Clough could recruit him as a specialist coach to teach our players how to cross and shoot accurately?
Ex-Rams manager Phil Brown is on ‘gardening leave’ at relegated Hull, having been shifted aside whilst ‘consultant’ Iain Dowie completed ex-Rams’ director Adam Pearson’s relegation strategy and failed to keep the Tigers in the Premier League. The Tango man might even be reinstated at the KC Stadium because of his long contract and Hull’s inability to pay him off!
They are £40m debt - how does Adam Pearson feel now? The proposed doubling of ‘parachute payments’ for relegated clubs could soon make the Championship tougher to get out of for smaller aspiring clubs like Hull, with the top of the table perennially congested with well-compensated yo-yo clubs. How long will it now take Sheffield Wednesday to overhaul the Tigers - if they ever do?
Derby’s disappointing 2009-10 campaign closed with the home game against Cardiff City, who aim to leave behind their financial problems and gain a place in the English Premier League. The Bluebirds have mauled Derby on recent visits to Cardiff winning 6-1 last September and 4-1 in 2008-09.
Manager Clough had to do without Hulse, Pearson, Anderson, Green, Bywater, Davies, Addison, Leacock, Buxton and anyone else I’ve forgotten on the club’s dog-eared ‘medical card’.
He handed midfielder Ben Pringle a debut, Tomasz Cywka and David Martin also started and goalkeeper Saul Deeney had a home debut. Jay McEveley depped in central defence for the injured Anderson and so Dean Moxey made a return at left back.
Kris Commons made a welcome return up front; who knows if he was in the ‘shop window’ with a view to the Rams cashing in on his mercurial abilities or else on the road to recovery to make a telling long-term contribution to the Derby side? Several Academy lads featured on the bench.
Centre-half Sean Barker collected the fans’ Player of the Year award to collect the Jack Stamps Trophy. He was Derby’s best player once fit, even if Robbie Savage put in more appearances and goalkeeper Stephen Bywater had a very good campaign.
Barker has great defensive and leadership qualities - and is also a bigger threat than most of his colleagues at the other end of the pitch. He can dominate opponents and his presence is the defensive rock in Derby’s team.
Had Barker played more games, he would have won the award by a few more country miles. I hope he is again PoTY as well as a worthy captain this time next year - in a more successful Derby side.
No doubt he will now watch the play-off fortunes of Blackpool, the club he left for Pride Park Stadium, with interest but hopefully no regrets. All the best to the Tangerines against Forest and let’s hope that Sean can help Derby to emulate them in 2010-11!
Up-and-coming midfielder Ben Pringle (apart from making his home debut) had a memorable day too, collecting the fans’ Young Player of the Year and the totesport.com reserves league Central Division title trophy. The ex-Ilkeston youngster has ability, application and attitude - just what’s needed in this moribund and unexciting Derby side.
Rams fans went home in a sunny mood after the 2-0 victory, despite the match being played under unseasonably brisk weather with a chill wind. Another tremendous attendance - over 31,100, including a healthy compliment from Cardiff - watched a game that got better as the afternoon progressed.
The first half was rather uneventful with Derby threatening only fitfully; their familiar traits of a sluggish pace and wasteful play were still in evidence. Cardiff, resting star players and perhaps playing within themselves with the play-offs in mind, were no more threatening.
Saul Deeney dealt competently with any danger that eluded the solid partnership of Barker and McEveley at the back.
It was clear that Clough had demanded more application and momentum from his players during the break - the Rams got off on the front foot after the restart, forcing corners and quickly taking the initiative. Commons added a bit of sparkle to Derby’s attacks and showed what the team has been missing all too often.
The reward for more positive play was a lead within a few minutes, Jay McEveley ramming home a header from a short, curling Kris Commons’ cross from a free kick. It replicated the goal that Commons and Rob Hulse had fashioned in putting down the Tricky Trees in January.
Ben Pringle, neat and busy, slotted into midfield well and looks to have a promising future - and he took the man of the match award. Winger David Martin became more accurate and more influential as the game wore on and started to deliver the telling crosses that Derby’s forwards have been waiting for all season.
Derby had a lack of presence in the penalty area on most occasions that Martin shook off the Bluebirds’ defence to plant the ball into danger zones.
Martin’s crosses became more dangerous - and he proved he has shooting boots too, as he thrashed in Derby’s 2nd goal after 63 minutes when he cut inside from the left wing from Pringle’s pass, to leave the Bluebirds’ goalkeeper Peter Enckleman flailing.
Martin already seems capable of delivering a better final ball than Pearson or Croft and there should be a better supply into the box next season on this showing.
Clough gave youngsters Callum Ball and Ryan Connolly a taste of the action as late substitutes with the game safe, as the season ended on a satisfactory note. Derby had contained City and shown promising signs in the second half and the youthful energy and pace of Pringle and Cywka were refreshing after watching so much stagnant, slow play for most of the season.
The usual aimless crowd invasion greeted the final whistle. Derby had managed to exceed last season’s points’ total of 54 with their total of 56 and edged a few places up the Championship table over the 2008-09 showing. Progress was tangible, although at that rate it will take another 7 seasons to reach the play-offs!
For Clough and club it will be a case of ‘get it right next time’, with 2010-11 a very important season in Nigel’s career and in the life of the GSE regime. Fans want more value for money on the pitch, not just a string of announcements and marginal inducements from local sponsors.
Speaking of which, Alfreton-based company buymobilephones.net will be the main sponsors on Derby’s shirts next season. So, you can soon walk around in a £40 Adidas-branded advert for mobile phones.
The right backing to sign good players who will make a qualitative difference to the team is required. That must be allied to good managerial judgement to select those signings as the only way the Rams will progress, unless an interminable time-scale is thought acceptable to everyone.
Too many of Derby’s players aren’t good enough, or lack the desire and application to enable the club to succeed. “After a while you get to recognise the signs”, as the words of the song in the RamsWeek header title state; “so if you get it wrong, you’ll get it right next time....” well, time will surely tell!
There needs to be a better core of permanent players, too and it is hoped that the philosophy of using more than a dozen loanees - the good ‘uns of which can be counted on the fingers of one hand - was a temporary strategy, invoked by the shocking injury crises suffered by Derby this season.
It’s a season to resign to deep memory for the most part and a tough year for Clough to endure. Here’s to a better crop of players showing more pride, passion and desire for our club in 2010-11.
In RamsWeek 18 last season, ‘say hello, wave goodbye’ was the theme with arrivals and departures from the squad in Clough’s big shake-up at the end of a season in which Derby were always haunted by the prospect of relegation.
Ex-Rams Darren Wassall and Michael Forsyth and Wolves’ youth development specialist John Perkins joined the Academy and coaching staff; Tito Villa was on his way back to South America and Andy Todd’s contract (mercifully) expired.
Derby concluded their Championship campaign with a miserable 3-1 defeat at Watford, Clough bemoaning ‘three daft goals’ conceded before Derby showed a little spark to pull one back through loanee John Eustace late on.
It was another game of ‘too little’ too late’ for Derby to take anything home and the Rams finished 18th in the table - although that was still higher than Billy Davies’ Nothingham Forest.
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