|RamsWeek 42 - Common Thread|
Mon 20th Oct 2008 00:13 by Paul Mortimer
The second week of international games gave manager Paul Jewell plenty of time to prepare for the weekend’s home game with Plymouth Argyle.
He would, though, have to wait until late in the week to confirm fitness and availability of some of his players who were away and in action with their countries.
Paul Jewell resisted the option of delving into the transfer market and dismissed media stories linking Hull defender Wayne Brown of Hull with a loan move to Derby. He had made enquiries to other clubs but drew a blank, as fellow managers are reluctant to loan players at the moment.
The Rams have forged links with American club Michigan Wolves-Hawks, who have a deep and successful youth & ladies football set-up. The intention is for the liaison to contribute to developing a youth ‘pipeline’, with young players from both clubs participating in training exchanges.
America is a vast country of course, though a nation yet to fully embrace football or produce real superstars, despite the razzamatazz of hosting a recent World Cup tournament and with 17 million ‘soccer’ players in the U.S.
Derby County will be providing financial & technical support to the Americans for player development who in return will re-name their Academy side as the Derby County Wolves. To me, there is only ever one Derby County - the one in England - even if it does advertise the club’s name in the States.
Another long-term injury blow has depleted the Rams’ squad, with Scottish international midfielder Stephen Pearson ruled out for four months after undergoing a knee operation. Pearson missed a large chunk of last season through injury and was also rejected by Birmingham City on medical grounds during the summer, when a move to St Andrews seemed on the cards.
Manager Paul Jewell can take some comfort from seeing Kris Commons and Giles Barnes making some progress toward fitness after their injuries. Commons has re-joined training but Giles’ latest niggly setback is a thigh strain.
Lewin Nyatanga, after being a non-playing member of Welsh U-21 squad for the England game last week, was drafted into the full Wales squad, which fought bravely against Germany in their World Cup qualifier in Monchengladbach. Wales lost 0-1 to a late goal, so Nyatanga played his part. Lewin had starred in the 0-0 draw against Germany in Frankfurt in a European Championship qualifier last November.
The young Welshman was set to be drafted into the Rams' backline because Dean Leacock, who has earned himself a new 3.5 year contract at Derby, had to sit out the next game due to suspension.
Defender Claude Davis had a successful return to international action as Jamaica pulled off a shock 1-0 win over Mexico, though Claude was withdrawn with a head injury after 75 minutes. They then defeated Honduras with Davis again involved. The Rams’ Latvian playmaker took part in his nation’s 1-2 defeat by Switzerland and their home game against Israel, which finished 1-1.
Paul Jewell joined in criticisms of how international breaks are currently arranged, saying that games should take place in the first week of player absences to allow return to their clubs and recovery, rather than them returning late in the week. In the case of Derby defenders Nyatanga and Davis, they travelled back from Germany and Jamaica after midweek games - only a day before an important league game.
On Thursday, it emerged that the FA was investigating the Rams’ recent game at Norwich. Two Norfolk MPs had propelled the enquiry and a Commons question was tabled relating to allegations of match fixing at the recent Canaries vs. Rams game, which Derby won 2-1. “Extraordinary betting patterns in the Asian market during a recent Championship game” were reported to the MPs via a Sunday newspaper.
The Rams had no prior contact from the FA or anyone else regarding the allegations before they became public - unacceptable but typical of media and authorities. I must admit my first reaction was to wonder who the betting had favoured, Norwich or Derby? Of course the incidents that came to mind to fans and commentators were centred on the goalkeepers - the sending off of Roy Carroll and the spectacularly inept goalkeeping from the home goalie which gifted Nathan Ellington his winning goal for Derby.
These were pure human error to all observers and the so-called betting irregularities - soon refuted by the gaming governing bodies seemed to have no real basis in any event during the match and both clubs asserted that match-fixing was totally alien in the UK game. It seems that the busybody Norfolk MPs have raised their profiles over a storm in a teacup (or a mirage in a glass of water) - and it’s their credibility that suffered. Norwich lost again, so they might want to look closer to home for the causes.
Two Rams’ loanees will stay with respective temporary clubs for a third and final month (with a 24-hour recall clause); Mo Camara remains with Blackpool and Liam Dickinson continues his spell at Huddersfield Town.
The resumption of the Championship schedule gave the Rams a chance to extend their six-match unbeaten run. Paul Connolly had to wait several matches to make his mark in the team at the start of this season, after his move from Plymouth Argyle.
Unlike others who hardly need to be named, he didn’t spit out his dummy or desert the cause and was soon rewarded with the captaincy. He has contributed some very solid performances as Derby regrouped and got the measure of the Championship.
Connolly led the Rams out against the Pilgrims, whom he served well for seven years and has visibly grown as a player in his short time with Derby County. He has been an important factor in a more resilient and organised side with a tighter defence since the start of September.
Stephen Bywater pulled on the goalie’s jersey in place of the suspended Roy Carroll, in a completely new team from when he last appeared in the Rams’ first team away at Newcastle United last December. Claude Davis, virtually straight off a plane after two World Cup games for Jamaica, replaced Albrechtsen in defence and Welsh international Nyatanga, who had a busy fortnight as well, partnered him.
Argyle were on excellent form, with four wins from their previous last five games, which had shot them into the top five in the Championship table. They looked strong and organised, if not spectacular and Derby laboured in the first half.
Things looked bad when, with just 8 minutes gone and right after the referee had apparently ignored a foul on Ellington outside the Pilgrims’ penalty area, Derby failed to clear their lines confidently and Gallagher sent a long and powerful lob sailing beyond Bywater into an empty net to give Plymouth the lead.
Derby lost Stephen Davies early on, who was clobbered in the face and taken to hospital, the almost-fit Kris Commons replacing him on 17 minutes. Davies has a fracture near his eye socket and that is a setback for him and the team as he had shown good progress during his recent run in the team.
A most encouraging thing about the Plymouth game - and recent Derby’s performances this season - is a commitment and determination to get a result, to claw themselves back into a match. That was so absent throughout last season in the mistake-ridden, disjointed and feeble turnouts in the Premier League.
Now, when things aren’t going our way, or the opposition are looking comfortable and awkward to master, Derby dig in. There is a run, a tackle, or the pace of the game is increased, some defiant signal or sign from the players that the team will not give in, especially when behind in a game. There is tenacity and real belief within the new crop of players that demonstrates the grit, determination and discipline to work together to overcome opponents.
I rather felt that Plymouth were becoming just a little relaxed - even complacent - as they wound down towards half time, cradling their advantage. They were taking a long time over throw-ins, playing it all nice and slow, expecting to keep the Rams at arms length to protect their lead upon the restart. Derby County 2008-09 had other ideas!
The defiant signal on Saturday came from Kris Commons. Just before the break, he took off and dismantled the Plymouth right flank on a dashing, mazy run, threading the ball through to Rob Hulse’s feet in the area; the centre forward promptly rammed Derby level.
It’s clear that Jewell exhorted his players just to continue in the same vein in the second half and get at Plymouth more; they did that straight away after the break to turn the game on its head. After some more pressure, a Commons corner came out to Paul Green, who propelled one of his calm and accurate Exocets goalwards. Though the goalkeeper attempted to keep it out and the ball’s course wasn’t direct after deflections, it ended up in the net and Plymouth suddenly wondered what day it was.
Argyle did press onwards and enjoyed good possession in the last half-hour; there were some tense moments. Derby had some tired players out there after their international exertions (Argyle had no such problems), but real chances were few and far between at either end.
The Pilgrims were not allowed to redeem their situation, so another gritty performance from Derby secured three points out of a forgettable game against a ‘form’ team. The Rams’ reward was 9th spot in the table, just a point outside the top six.
Manager Paul Jewell was satisfied with his team’s resilience and commitment in securing their victory and knows that there will be many similar battles along the way in a Championship season. His prediction that Derby could set off on a good run once a League victory had finally been secured has been proved true.
With a heavy fixture schedule ahead, it’s vital that all the players in the squad are focussed and ready. The Ram’s steady improvement has put better times within reach of the club and will encourage heightened expectations from a hopeful fanbase that Derby can join the 2008-09 front runners after all. They can carry on the good work at Blackpool on Tuesday and then at the Ricoh Stadium, Coventry next Saturday.
There were ‘positives and negatives’ in the news during RamsWeek 42 in 2007. Billy Davies had no injury worries from various squad members returning from international duty (remember, half his team seemed to play for Scotland!) as he prepared for the game at Craven Cottage.
A couple of asides from players from a year ago will now have fans at Pride Park choking on their burgers, as Tyrone Mears added his daft “I could play for England” musings to those of goalie Stephen Bywater. At least Bywater has a career of sorts to speak of at Derby, as opposed to turncoat Mears.
Chief Executive Trevor Birch unexpectedly departed from Pride Park after just 4 months in office. Rumours of bust-ups with Billy Davies were denied. There was also speculation about possible American investment in the Rams.
The self-dismantling Gadsby regime had shed the Marples duo from the Pride Park boardroom and rapidly aborted appointment of Commercial Director Steve Coakley, so instability and uncertainty surrounding the club was as predictable to fans as the team’s inability to win games.
The match at Fulham finished 0-0, despite the Cottagers being reduced to 10 men after Konchevsky had been dismissed for elbowing Craig Fagan, who had displaced Steve Howard in the Rams’ attack.
With the Rams’ clinging on to hopes of improving their season’s showing, the fact that all their fellow Premier League strugglers lost meant that the Fulham draw was a missed opportunity, even they did record two positives with their first away point and ‘clean sheet’ of the season.
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