|RamsWeek 16 - Alive and Kicking |
Mon 16th Apr 2012 00:53 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County continued their Easter programme in the Championship and went straight into action on Monday at DirtyLeeds.
It is 40 years since a 2-0 home win over Leeds put the Rams on the verge of their first League title under Brian Clough - however, victories over Don Revie’s side were few and far between despite Clough Snr’s other achievements during Derby’s 1970s glory years.
Brian’s son Nigel has had no such difficulty and he had recorded 6 straight wins over the Elland Road side as the Rams’ manager. Leeds, widely tipped to be promotion front-runners, have failed to cement their place in the top six at the crucial time and stood level on points with Derby, with both clubs outside the top 10 in the table.
New Dirties’ manager Neil Warnock is expected to show his speciality as a promotion specialist again, this time at Elland Road - but has yet to turn around the disappointments that led to predecessor Simon Grayson’s dismissal. Their home record was dismal, with 9 defeats and conceding on average two goals every home game; Leeds had lost 1-0 at Derby on Boxing Day.
Leeds’ home wobbles looked evident as the Rams started in positive style, attacking crisply and setting the home side’s defence plenty of problems. Derby failed to take advantage of some good situations but it was an excellent start as they sought their 7th win in a row over the Dirties.
DirtyLeeds, who attracted some criticism on Good Friday with a robust display in their defeat at Reading, showed their true colours again as Michael Brown was sent off after 25 minutes for a groin-high lunge at Theo Robinson.
I was surprised at some who thought that it was a harsh red card - and Brown’s reputation goes before him. There was another Leeds player right up against Theo from behind, as Brown sailed towards Robinson with his foot almost waist-high.
DirtyLeeds’ reputation for tough tackling was ‘alive and kicking’ as Warnock’s motley crew had a man dismissed for the third game in a row - and Derby ensured that Leeds’ diminishing play-off hopes evaporated as they took the game to the Dirties and dictated play.
Derby retained the upper hand; Leeds looked shaky as they readjusted with 10 men; even Nathan Tyson put in a shift though he wasted good chances. Craig Bryson soon showed him the way, adding to Leeds’ woes when he thumped in a ‘Goal of the Season’ contender, blasting Derby into the lead from 22 yards after 33 minutes.
It was a scorching goal - and no less than the Rams deserved. Jake Buxton provided the assist, slotting the ball to Bryson from midfield; that’s not the first time that an astute pass from Bucko has opened up an opposing defence in recent weeks.
There was controversy as Derby wanted a penalty or two as they pressed for more goals but Frank Fielding made a splendid save from McCormack when Leeds threatened. It would have been no injustice had Derby added to their lead, in a tremendous first-half performance.
It remained an exciting and fiercely-contested game after the interval with both sides creating good attacking situations. Leeds won free-kicks in dangerous positions but Fielding and his defenders were equal to them.
Steve Davies replaced Tyson after an hour; DirtyLeeds picked up three yellow cards to go alongside Brown’s dismissal, including one for ex-Ram Paul Connolly, just back from suspension.
Derby increased their advantage when Steve Davies made it 2-0 to pull level with Theo Robinson as Derby’s top scorer on 11 goals. Davies drilled in his right-foot shot in 66 minutes after Hendrick’s drive had been blocked. The strike sent the travelling hordes into ecstasy.
The Rams now needed to retain control of the situation and cool the game down. As Derby kept Leeds at bay, Jamie Ward came on to replace the hard-working Theo Robinson on 80 minutes and then Tom Carroll replaced Craig Bryson, drawing standing ovations from the away fans.
Webber might have pulled a goal back for Leeds and Jamie Ward almost notched another Derby goal as the game became stretched. Four minutes of stoppage time elapsed without incident as Derby recorded yet another double over DirtyLeeds, and the lusty Rams’ “barmy army” bayed their appreciation at the players loudly at the final whistle.
It was one of the best performances of the season from Nigel Clough’s men and they controlled the game from the start. Robinson and Tyson had troubled Leeds with their persistence and pace and it was a comprehensive team display in which ever member played their part.
Derby moved up to 11th place on 60 points, with the upper section of the Championship getting compressed after the Easter results. The Rams were only 5 points off the top six - and for good measure, the result ensured that Derby would finish above the Trees.
The history books were consulted and this is the first-ever season in which Derby County have ‘done the double’ over both DirtyLeeds and The Trees! 2011-12 is not petering out with a whimper, after all - the Rams are alive and kicking, in a far different sense to Leeds United’s displays.
Dirties’ boss Neil Warnock stated that he would have a clear-out and wanted more ‘Leeds United-type’ players; let’s hope some of them will kick the ball more than they kick their opponents.
Leeds United continues to unravel off-field too; that won’t worry Derby fans. The unlovable and combative chairman Ken Bates dodges the finance and club ownership issues and bans his own fans when challenged, and judging by reports from fans, the Elland Road stewards don’t exactly present the smiling face of the entertainment industry. DirtyLeeds is still a deserved nickname!
Nigel Clough’s seemingly unambitious end-of-season target of 60 points has been reached with four games remaining at Elland Road and the manager challenged his team to remain unbeaten until the end of the season.
Clough tethered some foundations to next season when he signed Jake Buxton on a new two-year deal and veteran full-back Gareth Roberts penned a one-year extension. Jamie Ward is set to sign a revised deal and midfielder Paul Green is in negotiation over a new Derby contract.
There’s no doubting the honest contributions of those four this season and fans will hope the manager can add a little more depth and quality during the summer to build on this season’s progress. Buxton and Roberts would be unlikely to progress further in their careers but will be of value to the squad if the manager can reinforce midfield and attack, and add more cover.
Chief Executive Tom Glick commented on season ticket sales on the run-up to Sunday’s ‘early-bird’ renewal deadline, citing expectations of 15,000 sales. Last season’s deadline was deferred to May 15th by the club after fans demanded the concession.
The original April 2011 deadline was due to expire before fans even knew in which division the Rams would play; there were 17,500 S/Ts by the revised May 2011 deadline.
The Rams’ season might still be alive and kicking but only gently, in comparison to pace-makers Reading and Southampton. They are 20-odd points ahead of Derby in 1st and 2nd place respectively. The Saints seemingly impervious charge to the Premier League was however dented on Friday night as Reading stormed onwards in a very strong finish to the season.
The Royals won 3-1 at St Mary’s to go clear at the top. They are looking forward, with sound foundations and a benign ownership handover to moneyed successors from the progressive benefactor John Madejski; the Saints have spent on strikers to sustain their surprising charge toward back-to-back promotions and Derby fans can only look on enviously.
Play-off hopefuls Middlesbrough were Derby’s opponents on Saturday; they’d been in a poor run of form but were significantly closer to the play-off action than Derby County.
Nigel Clough re-instated Steve Davies for the profligate Nathan Tyson in the only change to the team that completed the latest ‘double’ over DirtyLeeds on Easter Monday. Nigel Clough had an attack-minded bench (mainly through having little option!) with Tyson, Ward and Carroll picked.
Boro started well and stifled Derby’s intent for any early momentum, with the Teesiders visibly keen to keep alive their play-off hopes. The visitors had the clearer openings and worked Frank Fielding with their crisp play, even though Steve Davies went close for Derby early in the game.
It was an entertaining and fairly even game; though Boro had the better situations, Derby had plugged away and hoped to turn up the pressure in the second half.
The second period became open and end-to-end, without Derby ever making the best of tidy approach play - as with the story of the Rams’ season, there was the tell-tale a shortage of quality in the final third, better decision-making and finishing could have forced a breakthrough.
It was Middlesbrough that scored the crucial goal, however, with 10 minutes to go. Barry Robson brushed off Hendrick in the centre of the park (manager Clough later saying that he wanted players to put opponents ‘on their arse’ in such a situation), and a pass was swept down the wing.
Substitute Curtis Main fastened onto the defence-splitting ball and cracked it across Fielding and into the Derby net. The Rams tried to recover the situation as Tyson, Buxton, Davies and Green all went close but Mowbray’s men hung on to keep their own top-six chances very much alive.
The Rams had deserved something from the game and there were good performances from Buxton, Shackell, Naylor especially but Middlesbrough had the flair and finishing power.
The 24,700 crowd went home with ‘what might have beens’ in their minds, Derby’s play-off hopes mathematically alive but realistically all but ended. Ohh well; Derbyshire Cricket Club have made a cracking start to their season and Derby Rugby Club won the divisional title! We’re used to watching other teams take the spoils, so Rams fans will hope we can be in contention next year...
Ironically, should Derby succeed next Tuesday in wresting anything but defeat from 6th-placed Cardiff City’s stadium, it would only serve to strengthen Boro’s quest for a play-off place as they lurk purposefully in 7th spot. Derby were pushed down into 13th place but will hope to finish in the top 10.
Two ex-Rams that know their team’s fate this season are Dean Saunders and Chris Powell. Deano’s Doncaster were relegated and their cosmopolitan experiment has failed as manager Saunders failed to revive their on-filed fortunes, whilst an emotional Chris Powell has brought Charlton Athletic back to life and they will face Derby in the Championship next season after securing promotion.
The London vs. Liverpool FA Cup semi-finals were settled this weekend, with Liverpool defeating neighbours Everton 2-1 and Chelsea thumping Spurs 5-1.
Chelsea reached the final with a little early help from a myopic referee who awarded a goal to Di Matteo’s Blues even though the ball was blocked before it reached the goal line. Roll on new technology - if football ever manages to catch up with other sports that have successfully embraced electronic decision aids for several years! So, it’s Liverpool vs. Chelsea in the final; who do you fancy?
RamsWeek 16 last year saw Derby deliver a splendid ‘double whammy’ on Leeds United (this column is getting repetitive!) as they beat the Dirties 2-1 at Pride Park Stadium having won by the same score at Elland Road on the opening day of the season.
Derby hit Leeds with a double whammy of two goals in as many minutes, soon after the visitors had taken the lead. First, Jamie Ward converted one of Stephen Pearson’s rare killer crosses and then Ben Davies volleyed in a screamer. Get in!
Manchester City dumped red rivals United out of the FA Cup and Stoke stuffed Bolton, to set up a Potters versus Blues Wembley final. Ex-Ram Kris Commons scored for Celtic as the Bhouys progressed to the Scottish Cup final at the expense of Aberdeen.
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