|RamsWeek 45: Simply Irresistible!|
Mon 08th Nov 2010 02:22 by Paul Mortimer
After a comprehensive home win over an in-form Watford side, Derby County prepared to take on Portsmouth, now making a dramatic recent recovery from their relegation traumas.
Miles Addison’s rehabilitation from his persistent foot injury has progressed in leaps and bounds well ahead of schedule, and the towering young prospect was rewarded with his inclusion in the Rams’ squad to face Portsmouth.
That’s a great piece of recognition and motivation for Miles from Mr Clough and although Addison has to undergo minor surgery to remove fixing screws in his foot, the expectation of seeing him line up fully fit again soon is a very pleasing prospect.
Hopefully, Chris Porter and Steve Davies will catch up with Miles’ remarkably rapid progress and soon figure in Derby’s renaissance. We still have defenders Jake Buxton, recovering from a back operation and Russell Anderson to return to the squad, so the fitness quotient is (touch wood) is now approaching normality after the ridiculous injury epidemics of the past two seasons.
Little other news emerged from Pride Park Stadium as supporters’ thoughts focussed upon the latest test of Derby’s resurgent form. On paper, Portsmouth represented perhaps Derby’s most difficult recent opponent because of their superb form.
Rams fans gathering for Saturday’s clash anticipated a tough game - and Pompey proved to be no pushover!
They are a capable team with some expensive players and weren’t easy to beat - but also proved to be thuggish when needed, aided on Saturday by a myopic set of matchday officials that set the tone from the outset, by punishing too few of a string of immediate fouls on Derby players.
Nevertheless, there’s only one way to describe Derby County’s home form - simply irresistible! Pompey were disposed of 2-0 and as with the growing trail of beaten teams, their gallop was halted at Pride Park Stadium. Five straight wins now - and some sound beatings have been handed out by Clough’s rampant Rams.
Pompey weren’t ‘thrashed’ in the way that Palace, Watford and Preston were disposed of; they are a tough proposition, as their recent results show.
Luckily, Bueno wasn’t playing, as he’d been kicked by Watford last week; he would doubtless have received even heftier treatment at the hands of Pompey. Heavy early fouls were visited on all of Derby’s forwards on Saturday as Pompey made their mark.
It mattered not because Pompey couldn’t get a foothold in the game and Rams’ keeper Fielding was unemployed for the first quarter of an hour. Derby weathered those dubious Pompey strongarm tactics and Commons had a rasping early shot saved; the visitors remarkably had only one player (Mokoena) booked but Derby still managed to play crisp, positive football and set out their stall from the go.
It was no surprise that Derby went ahead after 23 minutes or that is was a foul that set up the advantage, Robbie Savage cracking home the penalty after Cwyka had been felled. Strangely, the lumbering Mokoena was again the culprit with the foul but he didn’t collect a 2nd yellow card.
Weak refereeing then and throughout the game encouraged Pompey to sustain their over-physical approach.
The Rams should have had more reward for their first-half display but they never allowed Pompey to rule the roost. The visitors do have some useful players as well as some thugs but they wasted the few chances they created.
There was some ‘Ole!’ football from Derby as the ball fizzed around for spells and it delighted the largest home attendance of the season, in excess of 29,000.
That attendance (as usual, the biggest in the Championship and larger than several Premier League attendances) was excellent for an evening televised game. The armchair fans were treated to the ‘new’ Derby County that can grasp a match and win with style.
The ever-improving Cywka combined with man-of-the-match Paul Green to open up Pompey again just before the hour mark and the irrepressible Green slid home Derby’s second goal as Pompey were passed off the park.
Pompey rallied late on but to no avail, and substitute Kanu wasted a chance or two. However, Derby stayed comfortable enough to introduce Miles Addison as a substitute, to a rapturous reception; Clough also gave young American Conor Doyle some first team minutes.
Such is the topsy-turvy nature of the Championship that during the course of Saturday, the Rams went from 7th to 12th and finally up to 4th in the table as the day’s events unfolded. It is very tight in the top ten, even if we have for the moment left the Trees and the Foxes in our wake.
It was an immensely satisfying Rams performance, which manager hailed as ‘magnificent’. He was right to add caution to the excitement currently exhibited by Rams fans in saying that a few short weeks ago, when his side was being condemned as relegation strugglers.
The Rams have learned to out-fight as well as out-skill any kind of opposition at Pride Park Stadium. It’s no longer soft and attractive but ineffectual football, as it was for the first six weeks of the season. A new tenacity and determination have been allied to the shape, discipline and the honest teamwork.
The touch and pace of Cywka, Commons and Bueno and the work-rate of Green, Bailey and Kuqi give any opposition plenty to think about; the defence is holding firm, with Moxey making strides and Brayford regularly a revelation.
As against Watford, Commons didn’t score but played superbly and worked prodigiously; he’s added lots of vigour and endeavour to his game and could have scored late on with a brilliant and audacious 45-yard drive that had Pompey keeper Jamie Ashdown colliding with the post as he scrambled to claw the ball away from the top corner. On this form, Derby had better conclude those contract talks soon!
There does seem to be a growing substance and maturity in the Derby displays as more consistency is attained - the confidence is growing and at last, the culture of the club is looking positive. Nigel Clough has silenced the doubters.
You don’t have to talk to Rams fans for very long to hear them tell you that Clough’s team is currently playing the best football since Jim Smith’s thrilling cosmopolitan Rams collection lit up the Premier League over a decade ago.
Indeed, after a day basking in the warm glow of satisfaction since Derby dispatched the Championship’s form team, the defeat of Portsmouth had my memory recalling the efficient, resilient and irrepressible style of the all-conquering team produced by a certain Brian Clough and Peter Taylor.
Pompey aren’t Benfica, or Spurs, Arsenal or Manchester United so comparisons are trite - but the way Derby handled their physicality and robust organisation on Saturday had echoes of how the best of all Derby sides absorbed whatever the opposition could muster in all aspects of the game (and some beyond it) yet still played their football, scored the goals, and came away at the end with the spoils.
When Clough & Taylor achieved promotion at the end of the 60s, we had a slow start with inconsistent form and unconvincing performances - but then clicked and romped away with the league, as the team spirit and cohesion emerged. A great season!
Allied to the pace, skill and verve of emerging stars like Hector & McFarland was the experience and team spirit that Mackay and Carlin brought in.
We have some way to go before seeing those parallels confirmed, as today’s Derby team is younger with much to prove - but recent performances suggest real progress such that the Rams need fear nobody and won’t be looking over their shoulders at the foot of the table.
More recently, George Burley’s men played some attractive football on the way to the play-offs - and the class of 2010 -11 are already streets ahead of the dour, attritional style that enabled Billy Davies to taste promotion glory in his brief and bitterly-concluded sojourn with Derby County.
Then, we often won matches by a narrow margin with a single moment of skill in dour, if efficient, displays - right through to the Wembley triumph. We suspected that we weren’t good enough for the Premier League and those worries were comprehensively validated.
Now, we are winning in style, our players are bristling with footballing intentions and playing the opposition off the park - even when they are intent of kicking us off it.
We have a tough away game at Ipswich on Tuesday, where we can hopefully extend the current unbeaten run - and then a Midland’s clash with nobody’s neighbours Leicester City, where it would be nice to wipe the bland look of Sven Gormless Eriksson’s well-travelled mush.
RamsWeek 45 in 2009 recorded that ‘a good heart’ was essential for two Rams players in recuperation; Jay McEveley’s ticker apparently stopped during surgery on his broken cheekbone whilst Academy defender Mark O’Brien underwent heart surgery for valve malfunctions and would face months of careful recuperation.
The Rams’ televised home game with Coventry City saw Derby fall behind when goalkeeper Bywater cleared the ball straight to Leon Best, who promptly stuffed it past Derby’s artistic custodian and into the net.
Derby eventually recovered, with Hulse scoring upon the restart. Paul Dickov set up Hulse for his second goal on the hour as Derby turned the game around. City’s Clarke saw red for scything down Robbie Savage as Derby saw out the game nervously.
Miles Addison made a cameo substitute appearance to a warm reception after his injury lay-off. Wait a minute...what year is this?! Deja vu strikes again!
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