|RamsWeek 4 - Halfway To Paradise |
Sun 25th Jan 2009 19:43 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County entered a critical week in their season with two high-profile cup-ties within three days of each other.
Tuesday’s Carling Cup semi-final second leg at Old Trafford was followed by the FA Cup 4th Round contest with Nothingham F*rest.
Nigel Clough said he was shocked by the level of performance his players had served up in the home defeat against QPR. He said there “seemed to be an air of acceptance around the place” for such displays and assured fans that it would not be acceptable to him and his staff. Wakey wakey, players!
He observed that he was used to players that, although performing at several levels below Derby County, got their basic tasks done better than Derby’s professionals. Fans await the day when players raise their standards and of course are hopeful that new boss Clough can soon effect positive changes.
Young defender Mitch Hanson joined his Academy colleague Miles Addison in penning a new deal with the Rams as Derby signalled that they want to build the team around youth graduates.
More movement out of Pride Park Stadium was expected than incoming players during the January transfer window.
Midfielder Robbie Savage hoped for a career renaissance under Nigel Clough, declaring that he ‘felt worthless’ after Paul Jewell cast him out, alleging he was told that he’d never play for Derby again.
To fans, words have become very cheap from player’s mouths - neither Savage nor Jewell created an environment where the Welshman’s experience, enthusiasm and bite could be of use to Derby’s cause.
Giles Barnes voiced similar sentiments about the former manager and of course Tyrone Mears and Roy Carroll fell foul of him at different times this season. Whatever Clough makes of all this I doubt he will tolerate many further public utterances about the past and will want players to make their football do the talking.
Tuesday saw Nigel Clough’s first away game as manager - with the formidable task of protecting a 1-0 lead at Old Trafford in the Carling Cup semi-final 2nd leg. Getting ‘back to basics’ against the domestic, European and World Club Champions to produce a performance like the first leg would be a tall order indeed! Nevertheless, it was potentially Derby’s first domestic cup final appearance for 63 years.
9,000 Rams fans made the trip to Manchester, an incredible turnout even if there were thoughts that a record 12,000 away following might be achieved. The attendance was almost 73,400.
Fullbacks Paul Connolly and Jordan Stewart returned from suspension and Albrechtsen partnered Andy Todd in defence. Commons reverted to supporting Rob Hulse in attack with Steve Davies and Gary Teale taking the wide roles.
With a 7-man substitute’s bench, Clough had attacking options on hand in Barnes, Villa and Barazite. The loan defender Seb Hines and Robbie Savage (along with the unlucky Lewin Nyatanga) also manned the bench.
Of course United fielded a below-strength side relative to their Premier League push but the side was still littered with experienced and expensive players (with Ronaldo, Scholes and £8m signing Tosic on the bench) and it must be remembered that Derby were missing the competition’s top scorer in Nathan Ellington and other regulars like Dean Leacock.
The Rams battled well from the start; they kept United at bay and created danger when possible with Commons going close. United took the lead after 15 minutes, securing the equalising goal in the semi-final after 15 minutes when Nani slashed in a drive from the right-hand edge of the penalty area, as Teale admired him.
It looked ominous for Derby as the Red Devils built up a head of steam. John O’Shea was left onside after 21 minutes - and took the invitation to make it 2-0, giving United an aggregate lead. Steve Davies raided promisingly but failed to pull the ball back to the waiting Hulse and Commons. Straight after, Tevez headed in a Giggs cross to make it 3-0 on the night after more poor covering by the Rams.
That’s how it remained until the break, when Nigel Clough put Robbie Savage on for Steve Davies. United resumed their dominance without increasing their lead. Barazite and Barnes replaced Todd and Commons and United suffered knocks that led to enforced substitutions by Sir Alex.
Derby managed to raise their game and when Evans tripped Paul Green in the box, substitute Giles Barnes slammed in the penalty. 3-2 on aggregate!
There was a ray of hope for Derby but then goalkeeper Carroll, exposed by absent defenders, rashly upended Nani, for Ronaldo to net the penalty right near the end.
United looked to have wrapped it up but then Barnes smashed in a tremendous 30-yard free kick to make it 4-2 on the night, 4-3 on aggregate. United were weary and ragged, longing for the final whistle, but the Rams couldn’t snatch another goal.
United had outclassed the Rams for long periods once they scored but were pushed to the narrowest margin after a spirited Derby finale. If only the Rams could have taken a 2-goal lead to Old Trafford, or defended better on Tuesday, it may well have been different. It’s often ‘if only’ with Derby, though.
The Wembley dream was over and Clough had to regroup ready for the Forest clash, annoyingly moved to Friday night.
The clubs, F. A., television companies and police elected to move the tie despite the inconvenient Friday night timing in the weekend’s post-rush hour in adjacent cities, even though a virtual sell-out had guaranteed a healthy income. Still, as we know, it’s the ‘Year of the Fans’ and all that…
The new Forest manager Billy Davies was away with his family in Glasgow and missed the match. His teenage son was in hospital, to whom all good wishes for a good recovery are extended.
Nigel Clough had injuries to contend with ahead of the tie. One player who took no part was Darren Powell, the lumbering defender and Claude Davis impersonator. His loan spell ended and Clough did not offer him a new deal.
Kris Commons had a badly gashed shin so was saved for the bench but Steve Davies and Andy Todd were ruled out. Addison and Albrechtsen were paired in defence and Clough persevered with Gary Teale. Bywater was preferred to Carroll and Barnes and Barazite started.
It was a crackling cup-tie in front of over 32,000 and the Rams put the Trees on the back foot in the first half. The Rams gained the upper hand and took the lead when Hulse swept home a cross from Connolly that Paul Green had cleverly stepped over. Forest were second best but Derby just couldn’t get the insurance of a second goal.
The Trees started the second half with more purpose and took the game to Derby. It wasn’t a surprise when Earnshaw tucked home the equaliser after a move echoing the one with which Derby took the lead. Forest had the better of things for a long spell but Derby rallied and Forest keeper Paul Smith was called on to make a series of fine, crucial saves.
Just as with Lee Camp in the Championship clash in November, the Rams were denied at the death by goalkeeping heroics.
Refreshed by substitutes Commons and Varney, the Rams carved out chances and should have won the tie. Commons immediately slashed in a close range shot from the right and then Smith pushed out headers from Hulse and Varney. Victory eluded the Rams to set up a City Ground replay later this month.
Last week was exciting; there was some entertainment from good performances by the Rams. There was some disappointment and some promise as Nigel Clough began to fashion the shape and ethos of the team according to his own requirements.
In the words of Billy Fury’s Sixties’ hit, Derby fans were "Halfway to Paradise…so near, yet so far away". They had seen their side run the world’s best team pretty close in the Carling Cup semi-final, then come within a whisker of putting the Trees out of the FA Cup.
Clough was heartened by much of the performance. He has rehabilitated Robbie Savage who must continue to give Derby more muscle and know-how in midfield; there is more passion and purpose coming from the players though he wants forwards to be ‘a bit braver’ in the six yard box.
To make any further progress in the FA Cup, however, Derby must overcome Forest at the City Ground - and then take on Manchester United again at Pride Park Stadium, as the 5th round draw paired the Red Devils with the winners of the Forest-Derby replay!
The Rams’ manager and fans now look for progress in the Championship against Birmingham City at St Andrews on Tuesday and at home to Coventry City next Saturday.
The transfer window activity might escalate with a few departures and perhaps an arrival or two - but you do get the feeling that Mr Clough has a different view of how to get the best from incumbent Derby players than either Davies or Jewell.
RamsWeek 4 in 2008 saw manager Paul Jewell shoring up his Derby squad with the signing of Aussie midfielder Mile Sterjovski after a tribunal; the arrival of an American-led consortium to take over ownership of Derby County was just days away.
Jewell criticised £3.5m flop Rob Earnshaw, publicly telling the striker ‘to look at himself’ and do more for the team. And some fell on stony ground…
There was another creaky performance in the FA Cup replay at Sheffield Wednesday, inept defending allowing the Owls to take the lead after just 8 minutes as fans again rued the Rams’ ability to ‘do it to yourself’. Derby seemed to be spluttering to another embarrassing defeat.
They recovered after Paul Jewell’s half-time hair-dryer treatment; Miller equalised and the game stayed 1-1. After a scoreless extra-time period, the Rams won through in the penalty shoot-out by scoring all their kicks as young Welsh keeper Lewis Price saved Wednesday’s first two efforts.
The Rams’ reward was a 4th round away tie at Preston North End a few days later, which the Rams lost horribly 1-4 with a typically pathetic showing. Nyatanga got sent off and the Rams were totally bereft, 0-3 down at half time and unable to cope with Preston’s attacks. You do it to yourself, indeed…
The club decided that Premier League survival was a lost cause, proclaiming that 6 months of preparation was under way for a long but successful Championship slog in 2008-09 that would see Derby come out of the traps and hit the ground running.
Rams fans, accustomed to defeat and humiliation, were being told to accept inferiority and months of mediocrity for their money on the hope of a strong recovery next season.
What a contrast to the fortunes of last year’s play-off winners, Hull City! From the same unfancied, disadvantaged situation as Derby faced upon promotion via the play-offs, the Tigers have fought to respectability on the back of tenacious performances and successful tactics.
Even after a slump for the past 2 months, they now stand 9th in the Premier League on 27 points - two-and a half times the miserable points haul of 11 that Derby mustered all last season. Survival for them looks odds-on, and the £5m signing of Jimmy Bullard has signalled their ambition.
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