|RamsWeek 13 - Frame By Frame |
Mon 26th Mar 2012 01:12 by Paul Mortimer
After completing Championship ‘doubles’ over local rivals Nothingham Forest and Doncaster Rovers, Derby County had a long midweek trip to play Brighton & Hove Albion before a home game with Crystal Palace.
Former Derby & Middlesbrough defender Chris Riggott announced his retirement from playing. He recently aborted a comeback with Derby County and has also left Burton Albion with persistent back injuries forcing his decision.
Supporters had an interesting insight into his departure from both local clubs when Chris guested on Radio Derby’s Sportscene ‘phone-in’ last Monday.
Chris cited ‘an exchange of words’ with Derby County leading to his abrupt departure and then Albion were reluctant to fund his further back treatment. Disappointing for Chris no doubt, though it is not entirely surprising that DCFC sought to cut their losses with Chris failing to make an appearance after signing a short-term deal with the Rams last summer.
Perhaps Derby were mindful of an embarrassing trail of long-term injuries, which have depleted the squad in recent years.
Dean Leacock, Stephen Pearson, Russell Anderson, Shaun Barker, Mark O’Brien, Chris Porter, Stephen Davies, John Brayford, Nathan Tyson and others have all been missing for long periods - and for the Rams to make real progress they need to demonstrate an improved fitness record and carry fewer passengers.
Nigel Clough has elected to help out ex-Ram Gary Rowett, now in temporary charge at Burton Albion after Paul Peschisolido’s departure from the Pirelli Stadium, by loaning him Derby’s 2nd-choice keeper Adam Legzdins for a month.
Leggy is Burton’s current Player of the Year, having joined the Rams from the Brewers, where he joins another Rams’ on-loan keeper Ross Atkins. Confused? Me too; I’m not sure which one is the ‘feeder’ club, either for players or management!
Derby’s first visit to Brighton’s all-new £93m Amex Stadium came on Tuesday night, courtesy of the ever-loveable fixtures’ computer. The Seagulls had stolen the points earlier in the season in their 1-0 win in November, for which Derby had only themselves to blame on a wasteful night.
The Rams were aiming for their third straight win, having seen off the Trees and the Vikings last week. The upturn in form did not dissuade the inspirational Nigel Clough from declaring that his side was “still very, very much an outsider” for the Championship play-offs.
Albion - only one point off the play-off places before the match - have no such fear of heights after promotion from League One last May and have been in the frame most of the season, although their unbeaten league run since the start 2012 ended at Blackpool last weekend. You get the feeling that they possess more ambition, determination and focus on the prize than Derby County.
Nigel Clough had Craig Bryson injured so Nathan Tyson came into midfield; James Bailey replaced Ben Davies and Steve Davies took over from Callum Ball in attack. James Severn was Frank Fielding’s goalkeeping deputy on the bench in Adam Legzdin’s absence. An 18,500 crowd included almost 800 Derby fans.
Derby started brightly with Tyson trying to make an impact, they forced an early corner and Hendrick put in a drive - but Brighton soon seized control, dominating possession. The Seagulls took the lead with only ten minutes gone, poor defending allowing Inigo Calderon to head home.
Brighton held sway throughout the rest of the first half, but did not add to their single goal lead. The Rams were playing too deep and failing to hold onto the ball up front. Derby’s best effort was a header from Jake Buxton, who - in the absence of a proper centre-forward - again showed up as one Derby player determined to get stuck in when the ball is in either penalty area.
Derby started the second half on the attack but did not break through; Jake Buxton was again a threat in the air as Derby created openings that they could not capitalise upon. Fielding tipped over an effort from the lively LuaLua as Brighton fought back. Albion gathered their momentum and when LuaLua and Vicente combined, Ashley Barnes made it 2-0 on 66 minutes.
Derby bought on Carroll for Bailey and Ben Davies for run-around passenger Tyson, who picked up another hamstring injury to add to his collection. Callum Ball replaced Steve Davies as the Rams tried to muster a revival. With the game won, Brighton took their foot off the pedal.
Derby stemmed Brighton’s enterprise sufficiently to mount a late comeback attempt, with Hendrick, Green and Ball going close but they could not match the Seagulls’ attacking verve.
Manager Clough bemoaned his side’s inability to score as well as the defensive lapses that let Brighton in. After-match, it was Jeff Hendrick’s turn to be publicly criticised by his boss, for ‘losing his man’ (Inigo Calderon) in a defensive position, which contributed to the Rams conceding a goal.
The Rams missed the work-rate and penetration of Ward and Bryson, and of course the experience and attacking ability of John Brayford. Nevertheless, Brighton might be described as “the new Swansea” with their more adventurous, attacking philosophy; they aim to win games in style rather than scrap away for an acceptable result.
Brighton’s phoenix-like rise is impressive; they display ability and ambition and Gus Poyet has quickly emerged as a formidable manager.
A sprinkling of continental class in their squad helps, too - LuaLua, Vicente and Calderon have given the Seasiders a footballing edge that serves them well as they strive to complete back-to-back promotions. They are playing their way into the top six, not scrapping for consolidation.
In comparison, Derby lacked penetration and real finishing power, as often observed. Rams fans might hark back to when the cut-price recruitment of such as Idiakez, Rasiak and Bisgaard made Derby into promotion contenders, despite tight budgets then too. The lack of quality and experience in 2012 has perhaps put the current Rams squad out of the promotion picture.
Brighton keeps rolling on - as their neighbouring Saints go marching in at the top of the table. The 2-0 win put Gus Poyet’s men back into the Championship top six.
Both South Coast clubs have seized the initiative this season and invested in sufficient quality to leave Derby, and the rest, in their wake to produce entertaining sides that are in contention for promotion in double-quick time.
By way of a tonic, the Rams’ reserves won 2-1 away to Nothingham Forest’s reserves, Callum Ball getting on the scoresheet, as Derby went 3 points clear at the top of their league.
More bad news followed, with the not-unexpected announcement that skipper Shaun Barker’s knee injury was serious and would rule him out for a year. He has extensive ligament damage as well as a ruptured patella and will undergo surgery next Wednesday.
Recovery will be slow but the injuries are not said to be career-threatening. Derby fans will wish Shaun well as he again battles back from surgery. An in-depth post-injury Radio Derby interview with Barker prior to the Palace game is available on the iPlayer.
Shaun is clearly devastated but defiant about his situation, well out of the first team picture when Derby gear up again for 2012-13.
The Rams will be missing their captain beyond yet another pre-season; injuries has ruled Barker out of previous preparation schedules since he signed for the club. It seems certain that his rehab will rule him out for most of next season.
Manager Clough is already looking at a defensive recruit to take Barker’s place; let’s hope it does not eat away at the summer budget for much-needed cover at full-back and the elusive creative and goal-scoring quality the team still lacks. That’s probably a forlorn hope!
Many fans are now looking to next season and watch Derby in hope more than expectation about an exciting finish to 2011-12. This season will represent progress - but at a slower pace than many competitors are enjoying. Are we becoming conditioned to a club that wants to safely tread water?
Supporter loyalty is in evidence (of course GSE bank on such traditional faith). Mr Glick stated in The Ram that season ticket renewals were at twice the rate of late March last year. Aside from the loyalty factor, the pace of the 2012 renewal response may be a little skewed for several reasons.
Last year, fans were disgusted with the team yet again grubbing around the bottom 6 or 8 of the Championship table. Signings were promised as fans held off spending on their renewals. Also, the club took RamsTrust’s advice and deferred the renewal deadline. Promises to rebuild the squad were given following after-match demonstrations in February.
Derby signed up Ward, Robinson and Fielding at the end of the season, all before the deferred (May 15th) deadline and so there was then a surge of renewals. Derby County hasn’t extended the ticket renewal deadline this season - and the club moved to stimulate early interest in 2012-13 during February with a £50 ShopDCFC voucher and free replica home shirt.
Fans therefore had to decide earlier this season and commit themselves prior to any squad reinforcement activity by the manager. I’d conclude that the early response was due to the freebie Rams wear incentives alongside habit and duty, rather than great anticipation about 2012-13!
The Rams, back in 13th spot in the table after midweek results, faced 11th-placed Crystal Palace at Pride Park Stadium on Saturday in a game that threatened to be an end-of-season affair. Derby put the Eagles out of the FA Cup in January, having held them to a 1-1 draw in the Championship at Selhurst Park in December.
Nigel Clough rested Tyson and Ben Davies, both included on the substitutes’ bench. Steve Davies and Theo Robinson led the attack and Tom Naylor made his home debut at right-back. Palace had ex-Rams Lewis Price and Dean Moxey among their substitutes.
Derby started in sprightly fashion, evidently told to get about their business and play to their strengths, applying energy and pace to take charge of the match early on. It worked, as Palace struggled to contain Derby’s zest; Steve Davies shot the Rams ahead after only 6 minutes as he latched onto a Theo Robinson cross.
Palace looked pedestrian and the traditional struggle to match or overcome the South London battlers did not seem necessary. Derby played quick one-touch football in passages and without exactly hurling waves of attacking football at their opponents they stayed in control of the first half. Jeff Hendrick rapped in one of his trademark tidy shots to make it 2-0 after half an hour, when Eagles’ keeper Speroni only half-cleared a Tom Naylor cross.
Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendrick were doing well in midfield, newcomer Tom Naylor was steady and Buxton and Shackell dealt successfully with Palace’s attacking intentions. Robinson’s thrusts troubled Palace and Steve Davies, keeping up his scoring rate, was lively until he had to retire feeling unwell after only 32 minutes, with Callum Ball deputising.
The 25,200 attendance clapped their appreciation for a good first-half performance from Derby at half-time, whilst the 1,500 Eagles’ followers booed their team from the pitch.
The second period began in the same vein as Derby sustained their superiority. It began to look like an exercise for improving the goal difference, especially when Theo Robinson bagged his 11th goal of the season after converting a soft penalty for a Palace handball.
Then, late in the game, it seemed Derby were unsure how to cope with being 3-0 ahead; they didn’t know whether to stick or twist, to box the game up and coast or to attack and look for more goals. The Rams became untidy and unconvincing and the Eagles recognised a glimmer of hope with some Derby ditherings, as the home side lost their snap.
Frank Fielding gave Palace a lifeline on 80 minutes with as vacuous a piece of goalkeeping as you will see. Roberts put in a harmless back pass from Roberts; was left (or missed) by Shackell’s head - it came to the keeper who elected to pick up the ball, as Rams fans looked on exasperated.
A direct, close-range free kick was given, with Fielding looking surprised though few others were. It was taken quickly as Martin promptly prodded the ball into Derby’s net. Rams fans shook their collective heads, Eagles fans celebrated and laughed - well, they needed cheering up!
Derby seemed to crumble after stupidly losing their grip on the game in such a daft manner. Luckily the game was ending - but Palace made the finish unnecessarily tense by rapping a second goal at the start of added time when Darren Ambrose struck.
The win put Derby into 12th place in the Championship table, 5 points off the top six. It’s effectively 6 points because of Derby’s inferior goal difference. The play-offs are certainly a long shot to and the Derby County management aren’t asserting any high expectations.
The Rams can however remain in touch with the play-off shake-up given good performances over the next couple of weeks. They can only take things game by game and frame by frame, as the Championship table is so tight. Why shouldn’t the Rams - as do Leeds, Leicester, Cardiff and Hull - still harbour ambitions of being involved in the end-of-season sort-out?
A couple of wins would greatly revive interest in the season’s run-in after a ‘flat’ middle third of the season for Derby. It is unlikely and I don’t think Derby would be strong play-off final contenders should they finish in the top six - but they can end the season on a high instead of tailing off. All too often, Rams fans have had to breathe a late sigh of relief as safety was secured.
A Wembley-won trophy came back to Derbyshire on Sunday, though it was nowt to do with Derby County. Chesterfield FC defeated Swindon Town 2-0 in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy in front of a near-50,000 crowd - well done to John Sheridan’s men! Let’s hope it boosts the Spireites in their battle to retain their League One status.
Derby visit struggling Bristol City next Saturday to round off the month - and then there’s only six games to go in the end-of-season reckoning.
RamsWeek 13 last year was the moment when Rams’ President and CEO Tom Glick delivered ‘the promise’ to Derby fans, this being squad investment and a top six finish to season 2011-2012.
He also announced that the ‘early bird’ season-ticket renewal deadline was to be moved on to May 15th.
Mr Glick said that the owners would acquire better players and would be accountable for their actions. Fans had grown restless for a change of ownership after several poor campaigns. Many fans felt that only a competitive team and progress on the pitch could rebuild the credibility of the ownership consortium.
The Rams had a break due to the international programme but signed Liverpool reserve goalkeeper Brad Jones, the change necessary because Blackburn’s Frank Fielding’s loan could not be further extended.
England beat Wales 2-0 in the European Championships qualifier to strengthen their chances of reaching the 2012 Finals, whilst Paul Green and Daniel Ayala were on duty with the Republic of Ireland squad and the Spanish Under-21 team respectively.
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