|RamsWeek 50: The Egg Or The Hen?|
Mon 13th Dec 2010 02:08 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County’s storming home run came to an end against Norwich City last Saturday and they looked to get back into the winning trail away to Bristol City.
The club was public about its thoughts for squad improvement, with Tom Glick not ruling out permanent signings if there were transfer targets that would prove to be major contributors to the club over the coming years.
Fans are still a little concerned about the brittle nature of the squad, with the absence of a permanent centre-forward on the books. Along with the fitness and availability of playmakers Alfredo Bueno and Kris Commons, who has also struck a rich goal vein this season, a strong and battling centre forward is essential to the way the team plays.
Loanee Shefki Kuqi (who returned to his parent club Swansea City after Derby’s game at Bristol City) is the prime example of this requirement; he has the physique and persistence to hold the ball up to let other players join in the play and without such a presence (since Rob Hulse was sold in August), the team can’t fire on all cylinders. If only Shefki were 6 years younger, and on the Rams’ books permanently!
WBA striker Luke Moore is with the Rams until the end of the year and so will shoulder that responsibility - unless Chris Porter’s fitness enables him to reclaim his place. Tom Glick suggested that a suitable permanent candidate may be secured, otherwise the loan market would be utilised again.
Can a team be built on loanees? No, it can’t; it can be propelled forwards in the short term but there is no substitute for quality players on contract at the club and whose primary career is making Derby County a success again.
Which came first, the egg or the hen? Well, only permanent players that improve the team can be part of the club’s long-term consolidated success to build further on the foundations laid by temporary players who only fill in for a few months here and there.
They then leave Pride Park Stadium, some having contributed more than others and hatching a good spell for Derby for a short time, to return to their clubs far and wide - with gaps left at Derby and permanent ownership of the shirt still an issue. Scrambled eggs, indeed.
Some loan itinerants are farmed out by their clubs to gain fitness and so the period serves them and their parent club more than the club at which they ply their temporary trade. Luke Moore is unloved at WBA and even at his young age, found himself excluded from the 25-man 2010-11 Premier League Hawthorns’ squad. He’s repairing his career at Derby.
A sense of impermanence with a nagging worry of a lack of strength in depth haunts managers and fans when a club is over-reliant on loan signings; team-building must be the watchword. Clubs are nervous of wasting money these days on big investments - and it’s fair to say that Derby has had good cause to follow that mind-set. It’s also fair to say that some regimes have pursued the policy cynically.
Supporters do enjoy the cameo appearances of loanees if they are committed to the cause (like Kuqi), and some loans are essential strengthening measures for short-term problems like injury (as was goalkeeper Frank Fielding).
Some loanees contribute more than others; over-indulgence in previous seasons under different regimes (usually motivated by pressing financial restrictions) have demonstrated the dubious merit of too many loanees. Derby fans live in hope that those days are behind us now!
Thankfully, Derby’s loan signings have been chosen more judiciously this season and they have contributed; Bueno, Fielding, Kuqi and Moore have all helped the season along nicely.
There’s no doubt, however, that fans will watch the club’s January transfer activity closely for signs of genuine strengthening on a permanent basis, to underline the club’s ambition and to capitalise on the promising first 5 months of the season.
There might be some room to manoeuvre on the wages front for Derby, with Luke Varney either attracting fee-paying transfer interest from Blackpool or beyond, and winger Dave Martin possibly going out on loan in the New Year.
To balance that, however, a new package is being struck for Kris Commons, (although the longer that process goes on, the more worried I get!) and media reports suggest that Derby are looking to offer Shaun Barker an enhanced deal (even though his contract doesn’t expire until 2012) in order to fend off clubs attracted to the defender after his fine displays at Derby.
Derby’s young Kansas-born prospect Conor Doyle won his first international call-up this week with his inclusion in the USA’s Under-20 squad, who play Canada twice in mid-December. It will all add to his experience and Rams’ manager Nigel Clough expects Conor to flower more fully next season.
Despite the freezing weather, the FA Cup 2nd Round replay between Swindon Town and Crawley Town went ahead on Tuesday, the winners were to be at home to the Rams in the 3rd Round in January. It was a giant killing, too (as Swindon are, errm...comparative giants!) because Blue Square Premier side Crawley won 3-2 after extra time, and were very good value for their win at the County Ground.
The Rams must therefore again visit a non-league venue and draw or win in order to progress in the 2011 FA Cup; memories are still fresh from Derby’s tussle at Forest Green Rovers two years ago. Derby were abject for half an hour, found themselves 0-2 down and finally recovered to win the tie 4-3.
Ex-Rams’ defender Pablo Mills, now plying his trade at Crawley, will no doubt look forward to lining up against his old side; Crawley are playing well and have a winning mentality, so the Rams would take this match lightly at their peril.
TV coverage via ESPN has condemned the Rams’ travelling fans to Crawley for a Monday night 8.00 pm kick-off on Monday, 12th January 2011. Shocking treatment - though both clubs will point out the benefits of the 6-figure TV income accruing from received television fees.
Derby captain Robbie Savage picked up an award for his BBC media work. The Plain English Campaign recognised Sav, who co-hosts the BBC Radio 5 Live 606 football programme and he was honoured as part of the Best National Radio Programme award that the broadcast has received.
PEC founder Chris Mather said: “He understands what he's talking about and he doesn't make a big deal about it. He goes on air just like when he is out on the field - straight to the point and no messing."
Radio Derby congratulated Savage but put him on the spot. The Welshman had recently lambasted the defensive performances of Newcastle veteran Sol Campbell on MOTD2; RD quite rightly pointed out that Sav could dish it out but can react badly when he’s on the receiving end!
Certainly, Savage’s wild reaction to criticism of poor performances and bad discipline from Derby in the recent past from Colin Gibson and Colin Bloomfield now seems ironic indeed.
The shoe is on other foot when Savage is happily castigating others like Campbell and giving his vivid opinions in his own media platform. Perhaps he will gain in perspective once he has finished playing.
Mr. Savage declared himself “overwhelmed” to receive such an award so early in his broadcasting career. “It's a good job it's for plain English. If it was for plain Welsh, I would have been struggling," he commented, in typically mischievous manner.
Derby’s preparations for the away game at Ashton Gate were far from ideal, with the freeze-up impeding outdoor training. Clough was forced into making team changes as skipper Robbie Savage missed out with an ankle injury and James Bailey had contracted the sickness bug.
Bristol City is one of the division’s improving sides; installed by bookies as promotion contenders, they saw Steve Coppell’s anticipated march to success blow up before it had begun. Keith Millen replaced him and results have improved - he nabbed the November Manager of the Month award.
The game lacked great quality, both sides cancelling each other out in an unremarkable first half. Though City fashioned a good chance early on, it was the Rams who should have led at the interval.
Derby managed spells of superiority and were then crassly denied a clear advantage because referee Mr Sheldrake failed to send off City goalkeeper David ‘Calamity’ James, who skittled down Kris Commons outside the penalty area after half an hour.
Commons had rounded the keeper and left the last two defenders in his wake - he had only to roll the ball into an empty net in a vacated penalty area. If that wasn’t a goalscoring opportunity, I want the refereeing authorities to explain exactly what is!
The decision to show James only a yellow left Nigel Clough apoplectic; as he said, it certainly affected the outcome of the game. James is a quality keeper and the ball stuck to him after that incident, at important moments in the game when Derby looked like making a breakthrough.
Had City been down to 10 men when the Rams were having the best of things, it may well have enabled Derby to capitalise further and build on the 1-0 lead that Kris Commons looked certain to give them. It perhaps did not cost Derby the match - but it did change the game dramatically.
David James’ good fortune was not the whole story, as Derby had the best part of an hour to wrest something from the match. They didn’t manage it, however, because they weren’t tight enough at the back or incisive enough up front to secure the result they felt they deserved.
Bristol grabbed two goals in the second half through Brad Pittman, as City made the most of their chances. James played a part in denying the Rams when they threatened to break through - but they did not make enough of the game when it was still a stalemate, nor did they muster enough threat to render the earlier injustices irrelevant.
Such are the inconsistencies of teams in the Championship, the Rams retained their 7th spot in the table - but such is the compression of clubs that Doncaster Rovers in 16th place are only 4 points worse off than Derby. Better form will be needed to prevent us slipping back down the pack.
In summary, Saturday at Bristol City was another chicken and egg situation; Derby were denied the benefit of a commonsense refereeing decision and took no advantage from the James-Commons clash, yet they did not capitalise on some good approach play throughout the rest of the game to render bad refereeing irrelevant.
Then, with Gareth Roberts again generous to the opposition on the wing (as if the fleet-footed Albert Adomah needed much encouragement) and central defence was caught napping twice, defeat became a formality.
The Rams still have a problem at left back; Roberts doesn’t get tight; Moxey in his stead can be rash and gives away too many free kicks.
Central solidity in defence has gone by the board for the time being. Dean Leacock, having admitted in midweek that a Norwich goal last week was his fault, is neither dominating nor ruthless enough to shut out attackers.
Sean Barker had moments of slackness at crucial moments too, and Bristol found their finishing touch when it mattered. If you’re not tight enough on the flanks to prevent the opposition delivering dangerous balls into your own box, and then your central defenders are sloppy - you get beat.
Luke Moore isn’t a target man, though Mr Clough persists in deploying him as one; Kuqi was wasted on the bench and alas is no longer an option for the manager, as his loan spell has elapsed. Chris Porter appears to be Clough’s Great Hope to lead the line, so the injury-plagued striker now has the last 6 months of his Derby contract to contribute more to the team’s success.
In their interviews afterwards, both Clough and Commons were clearly fuming about the pivotal decision, still bemused at the referee’s judgement. Commons might well attract the ire of the FA in calling the referee a disgrace, registering his disgust live on Radio Derby and saying that Sheldrake should not referee another game.
Nigel sought the attention of the referee for an explanation, who declined to speak to the media afterwards. Yet again, incompetent officials hide behind their authority and are exempt from justifying their wrongful decisions.
We would like some stonewall decisions to be given to Derby correctly, so that we can benefit from the expected advantage. Perhaps that is too much to ask?
Clough said that he had recently received communication from the refereeing authorities that officials had got key decisions wrong in recent matches; clandestine admissions of error however do not reverse results or the negative impact that refereeing mistakes inflict on a match.
Four defeats in five games is a concern and we are shipping needless goals, defensive solidity is once more eluding the team though there’s no doubt that the midfield axis of Bailey and Savage were missed. They are strong defensive components of the side and might have given the back four better support.
Derby played attractively but ineffectually; they again look like a powder-puff team on their travels and have lost more games than any other team in the top 12 of the Championship.
Whilst the Rams have had a decent first half of the season (especially in comparison to recent seasons) more substance is needed for them to consolidate the good spell from September through November to make a real impact in 2010-11.
The mantra from the Rams’ management remains as before: keep playing the football and results will come. Two home games in a row can help Derby to put their recent progress back on track - and fans will certainly want to see a better return than in the two disastrous home defeats last Christmas!
Two home games then the trip to Nottingham Forest; December will be tasty on the field, on top of Christmas dinner! Come the New Year straight after that, supporters will look to a demonstration of the club’s ambition during the transfer window in January so that they can capitalise on a better start to this season, and nurture a period of real success.
RamsWeek 50 last season gave ‘food for thought’ for club and fans, as results improved along with the return of some of Nigel Clough’s ‘walking wounded’ and media talk linked star players with January moves.
Transfer speculation surrounded Rob Hulse and Kris Commons and the re-appearance of injury victims Porter and Davies was thought to allow the club room to manoeuvre.
Every players has his price tag at any club, fans were reminded. The prospect of the departures of top scorer and key playmaker would have made Rams fans uneasy, especially as they were already torn about the development that the brilliant but seldom-fit Giles Barnes had negotiated a contract cancellation.
Derby managed two good results in holding fellow strugglers Preston North End to a 0-0 draw at Deepdale in midweek, before winning 1-0 at Watford the following Saturday.
At Preston, Derby were denied a possible victory when the referee ignored calls for what looked like a clear penalty. Striker DJ Campbell had been hauled down by the Lilywhites’ keeper Andy Lonergan....but the official waved away all appeals. Some things don’t change!
Chris Porter clinched the game for Derby at Watford at the weekend with a late headed goal.
Improvers Jake Buxton and Ben Pringle were handed enhanced contracts by Derby after good starts to their Derby careers and hit-and-miss midfielder Stephen Pearson penned a new deal, to take his term with the club into 2012.
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