|RamsWeek 40: Key To The Highway|
Mon 04th Oct 2010 00:28 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County supporters had to pinch themselves after the 5-0 demolition of Crystal Palace and hoped that the improvement could be carried forward.
Derby faced two games in the week, home to struggling Middlesbrough and away to the improving Swansea City. Manager Clough was still looking for squad reinforcements as defender Dean Leacock faced another month on the sidelines because of a hamstring pull.
John Brayford was asked to deputise and partner Sean Barker in the centre of defence despite not having played the position for 5 years at a much lower level.
Clough was successful in pulling off another deal, taking the young Sunderland England Under-19 striker Ryan Noble for a month. He has pace and promise and will add to the manager’s options. The manager is interested in bringing in a (loan) centre half and Aston Villa full back Shane Lowry may still be on his shopping list.
It was a happier crowd that assembled for the home game with Middlesbrough on Tuesday evening, though they expected Boro to prove far tougher opposition than hapless Crystal Palace, who had suffered their heaviest defeat for almost 7 years at Pride Park Stadium.
Brayford moving to centre-half (and having a stormer) and Green to right back (ditto) didn’t reverse Derby’s progress at all, and they put on an exhilarating attacking display to see off Boro 3-1; by no means a score that flattered the Rams.
Despite a confident start, Derby went behind on 20 minutes, first allowing a deep cross to be delivered and then not defending the far post, where Boyd nodded it home comfortably. The Rams didn’t fold - quite the opposite, as they played Boro off the park with a display of fizzing, intense football.
Commons had a poorly-struck penalty saved by Jason Steele - but Derby could not be denied, Barker ramming in a towering header from a Commons corner on the stroke of half time.
In goal, Stephen Bywater did not have the same spare time as he’d had against Palace, so couldn’t contemplate fashioning any more ‘garden art’, and had to save smartly on several occasions to deny Boro the sniff of a comeback.
Derby’s defence stayed tight after their early lapse, Brayford even surging up field on a few occasions to impersonate a Stimac or McFarland with stylish and determined forays deep into Boro territory. He blasted a great 35-yard drive that Steele could only parry for a corner.
Kris Commons took charge and won the game for Derby. He ripped Boro apart twice from the right wing, cutting in to slash in two sublime goals in the space of a few minutes to win the match. They were great left-foot strikes which had the fans on their feet and the Boro defenders on their knees. The only thing Rams fans had to argue about on Tuesday evening was which one was the most beautiful goal!
Against Crystal Palace and Boro, the Rams found ‘the key to the highway’ - a path to progress up the Championship table. It’s not a secret recipe, just better application, more determination and urgency; getting the basics done. With some fresh blood in the squad (albeit temporary) there’s a new-found belief and energy, a determination to make things happen and take the opponents and it has brought the rewards.
Now, players aren’t just getting through games, with some just ‘phoning in’ unsatisfactory performances. Pressing the ball, chasing lost causes and making life hard for opposing defenders and goalkeepers - instead of your own - are essential components of the game. They were applied conscientiously against Palace and Boro; that was no less than manager and fans expected.
15th in the table after Tuesday night’s result is hardly the giddy heights, but Derby got out of second gear and turned the corner to make further progress after finding their direction at Barnsley.
Earlier promising but ineffectual displays were put behind the team. When they ‘play well’ (as staff maintained) but do not achieve their primary tasks in either penalty area - defenders to stop goals and attackers to score them - then I maintain that we have not played well!
Something had to change - because points must be gathered. Without success on the pitch, the club is stagnating, the fans are frustrated, and the management and board, who then come under increasing pressure. That all changed in the past week and the sense of relief is palpable.
With the introduction of Shefki Kuqi as a physical presence up front, the ball does not return to the defence as often or as quickly. The attacking chemistry between Commons and Bueno (with Green, Brayford and Cwyka joining in) has set the opposition problems that they couldn’t cope with. Bailey and Savage are enjoying a good partnership keeping things tidy in the centre of the park.
The defence wasn’t watertight against Barnsley or Middlesbrough but it looked meaner. Palace and Boro weren’t the greatest opposition so establishing consistency has to be met against all opposition.
However, winning two games on the trot is an achievement along that recovery route. It’s a hard road - but we are on the way! Why, we have even had the possibility, with Bueno against Palace and Commons versus Boro, of a Rams player notching the club’s first League hat-trick for 14 years! How long will Paul Simpson hold on to that statistic?
It didn’t even matter that Clough was forced to play Paul Green and John Brayford out of position against Boro due to the unavailability of centre half Dean Leacock, because the blend, work-rate and desire of the whole team was excellent.
It was rather ironic that when Derby lost feebly at the Riverside Stadium a year ago, Boro’s victory was deemed irrelevant by Boro chairman Steve Gibson, as he sent manager Gareth Southgate packing on that night, even though they were 2nd in the Championship table.
On Wednesday evening, Derby stuffed Boro comprehensively and Boro slumped to 19th in the table. Current boss Gordon Strachan hasn’t found his road maps yet let alone his highway to progress! We didn’t hear any murmurs of his imminent sacking, though....funny game, football!
Derby’s success was reflected in calls from supporters for the club to ensure that they secure the services of Kris Commons and Paul Green beyond their current contracts. The concern was misplaced with Green; his contract had already been extended for a further year - and manager Clough called on Commons to sustain his form and earn a new deal.
The manager declared that nothing would be given away easily on the back of a few performances. Kris’s form hasn’t yet earned him a Scotland recall, but that won’t bother Derby because his fitness and sharpness make him a vital asset to the Rams.
Clough must have been waiting to get some of his key players back in the side and performing well to issue that warning, which was aimed at keeping everyone on their toes, reminding them how much they owed the fans and the club in the light of so many instances of under-performance in recent seasons.
New Wales’ coach Bryan Flynn had notice of Rams’ captain Robbie Savage’s willingness to resuscitate his international career. Wales’ disappointing showing in the Euro qualifications spelled the end for John Toshack.
Savage revealed that Flynn avoided the Derby skipper’s overtures but is coming round to think that the national team could benefit from the mad-haired Savage’s experience and presence. Sav no doubt thinks he is the Welsh ‘Beckham’ in a mentoring and ambassadorial role.....but without the talent!
As reported earlier this week, there was further good news for Rams fans because the vandalised Steve Bloomer memorial at his West Midlands’ birthplace of Cradley was restored at its site in Bridge Street B63. See the RamsTrust report here:
It was ‘Bloomer week’, it seems, because the trust were back in the Black Country on Saturday with a Steve Bloomer display to celebrate his legend as part of the town’s very successful heritage festival, Cradley Day, which is staged every two years. Read more here:
Ahead of the match at the Liberty Stadium on Saturday, Derby manager Nigel Clough still had injury concerns with 6 central defenders unfit, so John Brayford and Paul Green continued in their revised roles at Swansea City.
Loanee centre forward Shefki Kuqi was ineligible to play against his parent club so our other temporary leader of the pack, Luke Moore, made his full debut. It was a relatively uneventful game, ending 0-0 and a useful point nevertheless and Derby extended their unbeaten run to four games.
Young Mackems’ loanee Ryan Noble had a debut run out as one of the second-half substitutes - but although Derby held the Swans at bay, they had little punch up front in the final analysis.
The Rams go into the international break in 14th spot in the table, the zenith of coach Johnny Metgod expectations for 2010 and about 8 places below those of Mr Glick.
Players were showing signs of tiredness, Commons couldn’t spark like he had done in the two previous games; Derby missed Kuqi up front and Robbie Savage was out on his feet. It’s not feasible for him to play three games in 8 days and players like Bailey and Pringle are showing their worth when Sav is absent or fatigued.
Chances were sparse at either end of the pitch and it seems that both managers are happy to take the international break. Injuries will clear up and the squads can take a breather.
September had been a busy month for Nigel Clough, his team starting poorly and ending strongly. He is still seeking loan reinforcements so that he has sufficient cover for that perpetual Moor Farm casualty count.
Leicester City boss Paulo Souza lost his job on Friday, with the furry Foxes rooted to the bottom of the Championship table; they now think the solution is to appoint lady’s man and contract-hopper, Sven Goran Eriksson...remarkable!
Greedy League aspirants Manchester City reported a loss of £121m; they spent more on player wages than their entire annual turnover, being far removed from reality in their current indulgences. Regulation of finances can’t come quickly enough to make the English game fairer, more realistic and competitive at the top of the pyramid.
The ‘Chelsea of the north’ obviously intends to buy success at any price before a more level financial playing field is imposed. The squad-capping will ultimately be followed by rules restricting a club’s expenditure-to-turnover, as evidenced by their annual accounts.
Rams’ loanee Luke Varney meanwhile helped Blackpool to win at Anfield in the weekend’s biggest Premier League upset. Blackpool resides in the top ten and the Scousers are in the bottom three. Well, I never!
Hey there, ‘Olly’ - you can buy Varney for £2m and then Nigel can buy a permanent striker for Derby. Is that a deal? I wonder how long it will be before a Derby County team go to Liverpool and return home with three points?
RamsWeek 40 in 2009 reported a case of ‘use what you got’, as Nigel Clough coped with his injury crisis.
He was able to introduce loanee full back Fredrik Stoor and midfielder Lee Hendrie into his team, but they got thumped 6-1 at Cardiff City. It was as feeble a performance as fans had witnessed in recent times, and that was saying something.
Rob Hulse grabbed a goal to pull it back to 2-1 after the interval but the Rams’ recovery never materialised as they collapsed. They were a poor second best in spirit, energy, endeavour and ability.
A season of struggle was beckoning as Derby slumped to 20th in the table, with the squad reduced by injury seemingly on a daily basis.
The Rams recovered to beat Sheffield Wednesday 3-0 the following weekend, with goals from Croft, McEveley and Hulse.
The Owls had an even worse season than Derby and were to fall through the relegation trapdoor in May 2010.
Former Rams’ full Back Geoff Barrowcliffe, a classy player with over 500 games to his credit, passed away at age 77. Geoff was unsung in relation to other Derby greats, perhaps understandably given the glory that the next generation of players brought to the club under Clough & Taylor, but he was without doubt one of the club’s finest servants.
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