RamsWeek 38 - Against All Odds
Monday, 19th Sep 2011 00:55 by Paul Mortimer
After their disappointing defeat at Coventry City last week, Derby County prepared for their biggest Championship away game of the season - a local ‘derby’ at the City Ground, Nothingham.
Rams fans were evidently ‘up for it’, with the initial tranche of 4,500 away tickets sold out and another allocation of 80 seats was put on offer to sell out the same day. Trees fans hadn’t sold out their sections, however. Missing Billy already?
In the run-up to the Trees-Rams clash on Saturday, news naturally centred on the fitness and availability of Nathan Tyson. He had a successful run out in a training game against Leicester City at the Foxes’ training ground. Thoughts focussed on whether the ex-Tree was ready to travel with Derby on Saturday to the City Ground stadium where he spent over 5 successful years.
Ty came through an hour’s action in the game, which the Foxes won 3-2 and he also notched a goal - so manager Clough has another string to his bow. Clough still had a midfield resource problem however, and with James Bailey also ruled out for a month with an ankle injury the boss was seeking an experienced player to bring in on loan.
Rams fans have mulled over the possible return of former skipper Matt Oakley (and his colleague, Rams former Player of the Year Steve Howard) and there were reports on Thursday that the club wanted to bring him back to Derby on loan. Paul Jewell shipped out promotion captain Oakley and centre-forward Howard in order to bring in his rag-bag of failures.
At that time, all of Derby’s players were struggling to cope with the step up to Premier League level, in itself a legacy of Billy Davies’ recruitment policy and the inability of Mr Gadsby’s regime to fund or attract enough Premier quality to the Pride Park Stadium squad.
The return of Oakley would have been a quick fix, not a wholly satisfactory solution; Rams fans want to see an experienced permanent midfield leader - and had expected that during the whirlwind summer recruitment of largely lesser talent. Matt is not goin’ back to Derby, however.
Oakley’s past meant most would have welcomed him back as a conscientious, canny and effective player that was right at the hub of Derby’s last successful period. Not for the first time Foxes boss Sven Gormless Eriksson soon kicked the idea of loaning a player to the Rams into touch.
Sven procrastinated over Martyn Waghorn’s proposed loan to Derby early this year, finally refusing the move. Perhaps this is in part to obstruct local rivals and my own view is that Messrs Glick and Clough should not approach the Foxes for any loan help (nor should they help the Foxes out either!) It’s proved a waste of time again - and the squad shortages remain.
The Rams have let ‘wilderness winger’ David Martin go out on loan to League One club Walsall for a month - though of course the club really wants to release wage-heavy passengers like Dean Leacock and Stephen Bywater as well.
There’s still no evidence of a queue of other clubs wanting for those guys, nor a ‘technical director’ installed yet at PPS as anticipated, to assist Messrs Glick and Clough on such player movement and recruitment, scouting and development.
One move that fans will welcome is the award of a revised and extended deal to young defender Mark O’Brien. He’s now on an improved contract at Derby until 2015 and has made rapid progress since being thrust into first team action this season because of injuries to other defenders.
If he can maintain his form and keep such as Sean Barker and Chris Riggott out of the team it will be remarkable. That’s perhaps unlikely as we approach another long hard Championship winter but O’Brien’s achievements have already exceeded expectations.
Another young player the Rams are certainly keen to hold onto is full-back John Brayford. Media speculation about a possible £3m bid for John from Premier League WBA was batted back by Nigel Clough with the comment: “£3m? Is that all?” and Brayford is central to Clough’s plans.
West Bromwich is one of a number of clubs enjoying Premier League status and income and they can therefore target expensive young talent from League clubs. They are also a club that Derby County can and should be outperforming, as they have done in the past.
One way to insure against our best players being nabbed by so-called ‘bigger’ clubs is to attain promotion and compete at a higher level for players, results and revenue so that we do not become a ‘player farm’ for more successful clubs.
The build up to the Rams’ biggest Championship away game was quite low-key and after recent disappointment at the hands of local rivals, fans were not keen on predicting the outcome. The Trees have started poorly; the Rams have gone straight into the top six of the table.
The Derby-Forest links are still strong - Apart from ex-Tree Nigel Clough at the helm for Derby, Rob Earn-sure, Marcus Tudgay and Lee Camp are in the Forest ranks, with Nathan Tyson now replacing Kris Commons as City Ground pin-up-turned-outcast.
Alongside all that, there was the replacement of ex-Rams boss Wee Billy Davies at Nothingham with Steve McLaren, a coach who had great success under Jim Smith at Derby County.
Steve Mac became coach in the last days of the Baseball Ground and Derby shot to promotion in The Bald Eagle’s first season. Then they mentored an exciting cosmopolitan team which included Van der Laan, Asanovic, Wanchope, Stimac, Sturridge, Eranio, Baiano, and Poom that reached the top 8 of the Premier League.
Mac gained a reputation as an innovative and productive coach; he was poached by Sir Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford, though United fans muttered: “Steve who?” Mac immediately assisted Fergie to his greatest heights as the Red Devils powered on to a glorious treble which included a spectacular Champions League Final victory.
McLaren’s England episode ended dismally but he rebounded to gain further management honours with European clubs. Now he’s gone full circle with a return to the East Midlands.
Only one player who took part in the 2-5 City Ground debacle last season was picked to start Saturday’s game at Nothingham Forest. John Brayford, Derby’s Player of the Year and the kind of talented, consistent player still at a premium at the club, kept his place.
Manager Nigel Clough said that the Rams’ unacceptable performance at Forest last season probably led to that situation and Derby’s summertime overhaul of an underperforming squad.
The manager made three changes to the team that lost at the Ricoh Arena last week. Injuries to Bailey and Kilbane meant Clough had to shuffle his pack.
Gareth Roberts was at left-back and Tomasz Cywka made his first start this season. Theo Robinson replaced Steve Davies up front. Ex-Tree Nathan Tyson featured on the bench, the first time he’d been able to feature in the Rams’ Championship squad since joining the club.
Ex-Rams Tudgay and Earn-sure didn’t feature for the Trees but goalkeeper Lee Camp was on duty to pick the ball out of the Forest net.
An all-too familiar whirlwind start for the Red Dogs beset immediate problems for the Rams, and as with the two previous visits Derby went behind very early on at the City Ground.
Frank Fielding blocked off Ishmael Miller in the first minute as the Trees’ forward tried to strike on goal; the Rams’ keeper was dismissed to be replaced by debutant Adam Legzdins - with poor Tomasz Cywka sacrificed to allow the substitute goalie to enter the fray.
Andy Reid put his ample weight behind the penalty to give Forest the lead and the Rams were set the task of playing the entire game with 10 men.
They regrouped and prevented Forest from overwhelming them and clawed their way back into the match - and equalised in spectacular fashion after half an hour as Jamie Ward clinched his first goal of the season.
With Forest distracted, expecting a free kick when Cohen went down in the Derby half, Derby rightly carried on. The referee had indicated ‘play on’ and Derby played to the whistle. They passed around the Forest manikins before releasing Ward, who tormented three defenders along the goal-line. Jamie then mugged Camp at his near post to claim a brilliant individual goal.
Derby’s character shone through as they battled against all odds, refusing to let the setbacks and 10-man disadvantage count against them. The Trees grew frustrated and were a disjointed shower, their attacks foundering time and again against the Rams’ determined resistance.
Forest proved wasteful in front of goal too - when the competent Legzdins wasn’t denying them in his fine debut - but Jeff Hendrick made up for the biggest miss of the day after he astonishingly nudged a close-range header wide after 63 minutes. Ten minutes later, as Forest failed to clear a Rams attack effectively they paid the penalty - and Hendrick claimed a place in Derby folklore.
Ben Davies fastened onto the loose ball to control it and then he intelligently stood off to allow Hendrick to clinically drive it into the Forest net from 25 yards for the young Irishman’s first goal in senior football. With the Trees wilting, the game slipped away from McLaren’s men and they finished the day still waiting for their first home win of the season.
Clough also had the luxury of letting ex-Tree Tyson share the victory as a substitute and the manager hugged the unlucky Tomasz Cywka in consolation and celebration as the final whistle blew.
The 4,600 Rams fans in the 27,400 crowd enjoyed a memorable day as Clough Junior claimed his third win at the City Ground as the Derby boss, putting dad Brian in the shade.
It was a magnificent team performance and the Brian Clough Trophy will now be proudly restored at Pride Park Stadium. Derby had completed a remarkable comeback as they stuck at their task to secure a memorable 2-1 victory. Every Derby player gave their all; Ward and Hendrick were prodigious, Shackell and O’Brien stood firm, Robinson ran himself into the ground alone up front.
McLaren’s drained face looked like a sagging, deflating balloon whilst a Forest fan paraded a banner which read: “Arthur Out”. I thought that was an audacious advert for a DVD re-release of an old Dudley Moore comedy film - until it became apparent that the Forest fan wanted changes in the City Ground boardroom! All’s not well there, but who in Derby really cares very much?
Nothingham will have to get on with its crisis. Derby lies 4th in the Championship table, as undefeated Middlesbrough went top. Brighton lost to Bristol City in their first defeat of the season, whilst Forest slumped into the relegation places. On Sunday, the resurgent Southampton thumped Brum to take over top spot from Boro but Derby remains in the leading pack.
The Rams have two home games as Millwall and then Barnsley visit Pride Park Stadium in the next 10 days. Despite the shallow squad, after Saturday’s display we can’t rule out an extended stay in the top six as the character and togetherness of Clough’s new-look team battles on.
In RamsWeek 38 last year, the Derby players had a reality check as Nigel Clough blasted them for an unacceptable performance in last week’s home defeat to Sheffield United.
The manager was seeking squad reinforcements and managed to recruit Finnish forward Shefki Kuqi on a 3-month loan.
Robbie Savage made his 100th appearance for Derby and goalkeeper Stephen Bywater recorded his 150th game at the club but another disappointing, punchless performance saw the Rams lose 2-0 in a midweek game at Hull City.
New loanees Bueno and Kuqi were unable to give Derby the lift they needed, as defender Daniel Ayala - later to play on loan for Derby - and Koren sealed the game for the Tigers.
It was after this match that coach Johnny Metgod caused controversy by saying that fans should have realistic expectations and that Derby were not a top-half team. He wasn’t wrong in the end.
The Rams recovered somewhat against their next opponents, Barnsley. Robbie Savage was demoted to the substitute’s bench with Shaun Barker captaining the side and the strangest of strange things happened when Dean Leacock put the Rams ahead with his first-ever goal.
Barnsley equalised however, so the Rams had to make do with a 1-1 home draw. At least it signalled an improvement and Kuqi and Bueno were expected to add muscle and skill to the Derby attack, with Kris Commons also returning to the side after injury.
GSE director and DCFC consortium member Tim Hinchey announced he’d be leaving Derby at the end of the year to return to the USA.
He declared it had been ‘a wonderful adventure’; he should have been here in decades gone by when we had an entertaining and successful team!
Photo: Action Images
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