|RamsWeek 33 - Giving It All Away |
Sun 16th Aug 2009 21:23 by Paul Mortimer
Having beaten Peterborough United last week to get their Championship campaign off to a winning start, Derby County went on their travels in Cup and League in optimistic mood.
There was positive news straight away from Pride Park Stadium with the capture of Tottenham’s 19-year-old midfielder Jake Livermore on loan, initially for one month. He’ll add depth to the midfield choices and is highly thought of at Spurs, though he can’t play for a week due to having to serve a suspension.
Then we had ‘Lazarus’ Robbie Savage signing a year’s contract extension; that underlined his rehabilitation under Nigel Clough as well as spreading his sizeable existing salary contract (plus a top-up) over a longer period to help the club. Savage is reborn: enthusiastic and infectious and clearly highly valued by Clough; the player himself is delighted and relieved after his banishment under Paul Jewell.
Tom Glick declared that the Rams were interested in pursuing the use of Pride Park Stadium as an Olympic Football venue, subsequent to Villa Park opting out of the process because stadium improvements are scheduled. Birmingham City chief David Sullivan said that ‘he would hope that City would be approached’ - a bit presumptive, I’d say, given St Andrews is an unappealing venue - whilst Derby County just got on with it and made contact with the authorities to get the ball rolling.
Pride Park Stadium has a proven international pedigree with the bonus of Moor Farm as a world-class training base and it would be great for the city to host Olympic and World Cup events in the near future.
The stadium hosted a launch for the disabled player initiative Every Player Counts, on behalf of the Football League Trust. The programme is supported by 36 League clubs – the Rams being one of them - that will utilise a £2.59m donation from The New Football Pools to increase involvement for the disabled within football. The scheme will fund disability officers at each club and the programme will increase community access and participation for disabled football players all over the UK.
There was little other off-field news from Derby County during last week and the Carling Cup and Championship match action were the focus of all the reporting.
Derby had to overcome League Two side Rotherham United at Sheffield’s Don Valley Stadium to make progress in this season’s Carling Cup. With Kris Commons away on Scotland Duty, Ben Pringle made his full debut in midfield and Derby’s squad still looked thin through injury. Despite hardly starting with a fizz, Derby took the lead after 10 minutes through Gary Teale.
The Rams showed far less appetite for the battle than against Posh and it wasn’t a surprise when Rotherham clawed it back to level terms by the interval. A poor header out by Miles Addison (brought back down to earth by a few withering post-match Cloughie comments!) and the ball was swept home with Derby looking fragile. The pattern continued in the second half with United forcing the issue and nicking the lead, before tiring as the game entered the closing stages.
Derby finally upped the pace and took over, but good goalkeeping and poor finishing stifled a comeback.
So much for the free Carling Cup home game this season for season-ticket holders! Rams fans are used to getting a bit of a cheer - and then a good swift kick at the back of the knees!
The cohesion and purpose seen in Derby’s opening display had vanished; Rotherham got to grips with the Rams, controlled the game for the middle hour and then held out to claim their ‘giant-killing’ scalp. With Porter, Green, Hulse, Davies, and Commons all absent - we were threadbare. Derby were lightweight in attack (and Steve Davies was withdrawn early on as a precaution when feeling a pull) and I’d hardly count Varney as a striker, I’m afraid…another busy no-hoper - like Tito Villa, a Jewell folly.
Savage and Pearson weren’t influential as they had been against Peterborough the previous Saturday and the Rams seldom got their game going; the final 15 minutes of urgency did not produce a goal, though a couple of chances were created but not taken close to full time - too little, too late, boys.
Manager Nigel Clough grumbled about the manner in which Derby lost the game and how the goals were given away to Rotherham with ‘old habits’ returning through careless defending. First-choice players returning from injury can yet strengthen all departments of the team but another loan and a signing or two won’t go amiss - if we aren’t to face another feeble struggle. What shape will we be in by the deep winter of February, if we have this casualty rate and such disappointing inconsistency now?
It’s early days though and games come thick and fast at the start of the season; Derby had an early chance to get back on track at Glanford Park, Scunthorpe. Paul Green returned to midfield with his bruised foot healed, and Clough opted for McEveley on the left of midfield. Gary Teale was preferred to Varney as a lone frontman (perhaps that shows that Clough hardly rates Varney, like the rest of us); Hulse and Commons were saved to the substitute’s bench alongside defender Shaun Barker.
It was a scrappy, uneven start but Scunthorpe took the lead on 16 minutes when McEveley and Pearson managed a mix-up to let Gary Hooper in - Derby were exposed on the flank again and Hooper helped himself to the crumbs after Bywater parried a shot. Derby hit back immediately, playing to feet, and Paul Green levelled it up with a crisp shot after arriving for Stephen Pearson’s cool pass.
It was Scunthorpe who monopolised the first-half possession, however; quick and direct in their play in contrast to ponderous Derby. Clough had forewarned his Rams team that promoted sides were often buoyed by the momentum of their recent success; events at Glanford Park proved him right.
Paul Green crucially missed a good chance when the Rams broke as McEveley put him in - and Scunthorpe tore away immediately for Hooper to notch his second goal on the stroke of half time. Derby were down again, and probably lucky not to be further behind.
Commons arrived after the break (for McEveley) and he pepped Derby up; they attacked with more purpose and Paul Green was taken down by goalkeeper Joe Murphy - penalty! Kris Commons stroked home the spot kick and Derby had clawed their way back to 2-2. It became a more even game at last as Derby’s adventure stifled Scunthorpe’s ambitions a little. Rob Hulse arrived for his first action of the season, replacing Green with a quarter hour left. Things looked promising, albeit fleetingly.
Scunthorpe took advantage of Derby’s irritating defensive generosity when Martyn Woolford scored to make it 3-2 with only 8 minutes left. Once again, Derby had been carved open by positive, determined play and succumbed to an unfancied team. Clough was critical of the defensive porosity in his side and wants his players to show ‘more collective desire’. Their task is to go to places like Scunthorpe and get a result in front of fewer than 7,500 people…and then win at home in front of four times as many! Simples!
The positives were the performances of Green and Commons, who tried to drive the Rams forward when possible, there was the rehabilitation of Hulse and Barker who at least got some match minutes under their belt and they will strengthen the team. Clough is sure to ring some changes in forthcoming games and knows he will not witness an overnight sensation to watch his players practise good habits. The Rams are 9th in the table, which at least is an improvement over 2008-09 - and The Trees aren’t winning.
The last two games have exposed Derby’s persistent defensive weaknesses; opposition players still enjoy the generous space given to them to allow them to create or convert danger. The Rams simply do not defend well enough as a team to avoid ‘giving it all away’, they allow supposedly lower opposition to obtain the upper hand. Rotherham were allowed to overturn the Rams lead on Wednesday and Scunthorpe took advantage of Derby’s slackness because the Rams failed to tie the game up for a draw.
All the old hallmarks are still there - players not covering each other defensively, failure to pick up runners from midfield, weak closing or clearing; too many crosses flashing across our goal; defenders retreating hastily facing goalwards as attackers bear down on Derby’s goal - it’s not a pretty sight.
It must be doing Nigel’s head in! Clough isn’t afraid of praising or criticising his team or individuals in a matter-of-fact way when they do well, or fail to do their jobs properly. He was upset that his experienced professionals contrived to lose a game that they’d clawed back into for a point, the looseness and tactical naiveté persists and is something that Derby must shake off. Have patience, we’ll be told again.
Having lost to two unfancied teams to undo their bright start against Peterborough, Derby now face two (with respect) quite ‘ordinary’ Championship teams with Blackpool away then Plymouth Argyle at home. Neither has a deep squad or generous funding and nor are they expected to trouble the top six places of the League in the final shakedown.
Four points - at least - should be the Rams’ expectations over the next week and we want to see the fruits of the newfound togetherness and fitness converted into points!
RamsWeek 33 last year saw Derby ‘crawling from the wreckage’ after a dismal opening day defeat to Doncaster Rovers. Defender Alan Stubbs was ruled out of the Carling Cup game at home to Lincoln City so Clod Davies partnered Albrechtsen in central defence.
Derby laboured against lower league opposition and went behind after the break - but finally woke up to run out 3-1 winners (after extra time) through a Nathan Ellington hat trick.
Kris Commons earned his first Scotland international call-up whilst fellow Scot Gary Teale was put out on loan to Barnsley. Manager Paul Jewell transferred the irrelevant, unused Benny Feilhaber to Danish club AGF Aarhus. Billy Davies’ favourite ex-Preston winger Eddie Lewis had his Derby County contract cancelled and shovelled off home to the United States.
Director of football operations Adam Pearson declared that he still wanted to move on another half a dozen players to trim the wage bill. We’re still trying to shift a few even now, including some of Davies’ deadweights. The club revealed that it had been £31m in debt when GSE took over, asserting that they were now £25m in debt and in good shape to reduce debt further over the next two seasons.
Paul Jewell prepared his team for the upcoming Championship game at Bristol City as his 34th attempt to win a League game as Derby manager. He had a few more weeks to go, however - after a draw at Bristol and disappointment in the following fixtures - before the blessed relief of a September home win against Sheffield United.
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