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RamsWeek 6 - Whiteout
RamsWeek 6 - Whiteout
Sunday, 5th Feb 2012 21:41 by Paul Mortimer

Derby County returned to Championship action after their FA Cup exit to Stoke City, with an away game at Barnsley before the big East Midlands’ clash with relegation-haunted Nothingham Forest.

The week began with the traditional annual news frenzy that accompanies the last days of the transfer window, as fans far and wide awaited news of arrivals and departures at their clubs.

The overall transfer expenditure by clubs during the English January transfer window 2012 was some £60m, compared to £225m last year. Perhaps this at last shows some level of reality entering the football mentality (especially in the Premier League), in heed of the Financial Fair Play regulations - some of which will be applied from the beginning of next season.

With the ‘window’ closing at 11.00 pm on Tuesday night, Rams fans watched for any action at Pride Park Stadium. Activity in ‘the market’ was hotting up as the month ended and the close of the window approached - and several of Derby’s rivals acquired additional players.

Promotion-chasing Southampton signed Doncaster Rovers’ goal ace Billy Sharp, ending the hopes of Rams fans who have long courted the idea of Sharp joining Derby’s strike force. Another striker target, Bristol Rovers’ Nicky Maynard, went to West Ham United who also grabbed Barnsley’s top scorer Ricardo Vaz Te, and Manchester United midfielder Ravel Morrison.

Ambitious Leicester City recruited Forest’s experienced stopper Wes Morgan for £1m and Stoke winger Ben Marshall. The Trees, desperate for new blood, have loaned defenders Danny Higginbotham (Stoke) and Scott Wooton (Manchester United) until the end of the season. Forest also succumbed to financial pressures - having already received £1m for captain Morgan - and sold young striker prospect Patrick Bamford to Chelsea for £1.5m

Elsewhere, Reading had nabbed Blackburn centre-forward Jason Roberts on loan among several signings, and Brighton & Hove Albion took Wolves forward Sam Vokes on loan; he was also a Derby County target for a spell last season.

Derby County…ohh yes, of course - we’ve loaned in young injury-prone Sunderland striker, Ryan Noble last week…and have also taken a Spurs junior - should we really have expected more?

The Rams took 19-year old Spurs midfielder Tom Carroll on loan for the rest of the season on Monday and he went into the squad to play at Barnsley the following day.

Watford-born Carroll has several Cup games with Spurs and a loan spell with Leyton Orient under his belt. Carroll has yet to make an appearance for Tottenham in the Premier League but has been picked in England Under-19 and Under-21 squads.

He is a slightly-built, left-footed midfielder, said to be a playmaker - and he’ll certainly gather some valuable first-team experience in the Championship with the Rams. Carroll is said to be a good prospect so we will soon see what he has to offer.

He would not be seen as a ready-made replacement for the experienced and energetic Paul Green by Rams fans. As well as being adaptable - having also deputised well at right-back - Green is an established international and has been a key cog in Derby’s midfield machine.

Derby have hence taken on two ‘improvers’ from Premier League clubs rather than adding any experienced permanent squad additions to maintain the genuine team-building that is still required at Pride Park Stadium.

The club has also welcomed back Miles Addison from his loan spell at Barnsley. The manager was though quick to declare that Derby was well covered in midfield and defence, so Miles will soon be on his travels once more.

The Rams travelled to Oakwell on Tuesday looking to cap an unbeaten New Year League run. Carroll joined up with Sunderland’s Ryan Noble as loanee new boys in the Derby squad.

Opponents Barnsley had made two loan signings in the past week; midfielder Michael Tonge from Stoke City, and Korey Smith from Norwich City on loan, and then signed Leyton Orient captain Stephen Dawson on a permanent deal.

Good to see that Barnsley can afford to sign the proven Tonge on 10,000 gates, isn’t it? Perhaps it is because they also lost top scorer Ricardo Vaz Te, sold to West Ham on deadline day. Tonge and Smith were included in Barnsley’s starting line-up.

A 1-1 draw with Barnsley at Pride Park Stadium in September saw Derby spurn a hatful of chances in a blistering 2nd-half performance, that game amply demonstrating Derby’s persistent lack of a natural goalscorer.

A freezing January night in Barnsley was sure to test Derby’s mettle for the return game. Nigel Clough made two changes to the team that lost against Stoke in the FA Cup, bringing his new loanees into the team straight away.

Paul Green did not travel to Barnsley due to the brainlessness of having a busy fixture card on transfer deadline day, or vice-versa - in case a deal was done to sell him. James Bailey reverted to the substitute’s bench, which included Nathan Tyson. Tom Carroll made his debut in midfield as did Ryan Noble in attack, where he partnered Callum Ball in a teenaged strike-force.

It didn’t take long for Barnsley to puncture Derby’s good defensive run, as after 11 minutes of pressure from the home side Matt Done put the Tykes ahead. They dominated the early possession with 83% in the first 40 minutes - while Derby looked for shadows to chase.

Barnsley added a 2nd goal from an Andy Gray penalty after 23 minutes when Brayford was adjudged to have impeded Done. The Barnsley man readily fell over; nine points to Done for thespian interpretation, nil points to the referee - who seemed to be thoroughly “Done”!

It was 3-0 on the half-hour mark when Wiseman slotted home past Frank Fielding. Derby hadn’t threatened Luke Steele in the Barnsley goal at all and were closed down and out-passed all over the park in a very poor first-half display. Tykes’ debutant (and ex-Ram) Michael Tonge showed the midfield power and skill that Derby lacked, as he ran the game for Barnsley.

It was a tepid, ineffectual performance with Nigel Clough no doubt relieved to hear the half-time whistle and get hold of his players to remind them that there was a match to be played. The 10,100 crowd that braved the South Yorkshire cold included 1,400 masochistic Derby fans who are unquestionably loyal - but they booed off their ‘heroes’ at half-time, which says all you need to know.

The Rams showed an improvement on the restart, actually chasing down the ball, battling for possession and defending diligently. Derby took the game to Barnsley at last and Jamie Ward forced Steele into a save. Nathan Tyson replaced the ineffectual Ryan Noble after 55 minutes; Tye immediately forced a save from Steele after a strong run, and injected some pace into the attack.

Derby pulled a goal back with a brilliant 25-yard free-kick strike from Jamie Ward after 65 minutes. To their credit, the Rams had recovered from their appalling first-half display - though waiting until being 3-0 down in a game to start playing never will be acceptable.

The diminutive Tom Carroll reverted to central midfield and had an influence on the game in the second period. A piece of complacent defending from Barnsley keeper Luke Steele presented Carroll with a debut goal via a quick interception and pass from Jeff Hendrick, as the Tykes - incredibly - came close to letting the game slip from their grasp.

There had also been some curious refereeing decisions as Derby pressed the Barnsley defence, as several penalty shouts for the Rams were ignored. It’s scarcely credible to think the Rams may be considered hard done by not to get something from the game after such a dreadful first half - but the game resulted in a narrow Derby defeat that better refereeing might have prevented.

Had Derby also played for 90 minutes instead of only the second 45, they would in all probability have stayed undefeated in January and climbed the table. Instead, they are 12th and must look to Sunday’s game against relegation candidates Nothingham Forest to start another unbeaten run.

Manager Nigel Clough said there were “no excuses” for the poor first-half performance from his team and that travelling fans had been right to boo them off the pitch at the interval.

Under the current financial and management regime, the Derby County team is set up to defend first and win the battles, aiming to keep a clean sheet and claim enough goals to win sufficient games to register on-field progress.

That plan has generally served the team well this season, even if it perhaps underlines the club’s safe, unadventurous ‘comfort’ philosophy, rather than giving credence to any genuine promotion-chasing intent on behalf of the club’s owners.

GSE has allowed Clough to invest in Championship-quality centre-halves in Barker and Shackell toward that safe option; defenders are less costly and more readily available than recognised top-class goalscorers, and solidity in defence will gather sufficient points to tread water.

When the plan unravels and players perform below par, however, games go beyond this limited team and it does not look competitive. The Rams must therefore sustain high standards to register any progress.

It was another topsy-turvy Championship night, with leaders West Ham thrashed 5-1 at Ipswich, and Leeds were drubbed 1-4 at home by Birmingham. The Elland Road club promptly responded by sacking manager Simon Grayson after three years in charge; they were 10th in the Championship table, 3 points off the play-off places.

Ex-QPR boss Neil Warnock was installed as a favourite to take the hot-seat, though I’d personally like Billy Davies installed, only because Billy and Mr Bates deserve each other!

Some things never change though, as Forest lost again, this time 0-2 at home to Burnley. The Trees have the worst goal difference in the Championship and are next to bottom, 5 points adrift of safety.

Derby County youngsters Will Hughes and Mason Bennett played a part for the England Under-17 team last Thursday, when the Young Lions beat hosts Portugal 2-1 in the Algarve Tournament. Bennett started the game and Hughes came on as a substitute for Mason in the 2nd half.

Will went one better in the next U-17 game - Hughes played for 72 minutes, scoring an early goal to put England ahead in the 2-2 draw against Holland; he was later replaced by guess who…? Mason Bennett of Derby County!

There was a shock news item on the eve of the big Rams vs. Forest local ‘derby’ when Forest owner and benefactor Nigel Doughty was found dead at only age 54. The circumstances are as yet unknown but the loss of the man who rescued the Trent-side club a dozen year ago and ploughed in his personal fortune brought sadness and dismay to Nottingham. RIP Mr Doughty.

Well we had all the big media build-up, the TV cameras awaited, Rams fans salivated at the thought of compounding Forest’s misery in their relegation plight, Trees fans probably wanted the fixture out of the way, come what may.

There was even a banner draped over the A52 footbridge declaring “We only had 10 men!” to greet the sad people travelling to the game from the wrong end of Brian Clough Way! Then on Sunday morning, the snowy, freezing conditions claimed the big Rams vs. Forest game, after wiping out many other weekend football fixtures.

It was called off three hours before the 12.15 pm kick-off time. The lead-up bulletins had given the all-clear for the match to go ahead. It was a huge anti-climax for the fans; having been at the stadium after the announcement, there were fans there from Germany, the Scandinavian countries, Australia - as well as those from all over the UK - who were frustrated, even critical, that the game had been postponed.

Whilst the pitch was fine and DCFC officials had given detailed updates the previous day praising the work of the City Council and Pride Park stadium and ground-staff in preparing the club environs, the overall safety decision was taken on Sunday to postpone. At midday, the arena was only a silent ‘whiteout’ instead of a seething black, white and red cauldron of noise.

However did we cope, come all weathers, I wondered, with over 100 years of football at that tight, basic Baseball Ground set within those cramped Normanton streets? No undersoil heating, poorer access and street lighting, three-quarters of the crowd having standing terrace room only...

No matter, 2012 sees such strict safety regimes enforced that there is zero-tolerance for even for a single twisted ankle suffered in the slush within half a mile of the stadium, it seems. After the brief but severe snowfall and coldest snap of the mild 2012 winter, the clubs will therefore have to reschedule the long-awaited clash.

The Rams already have 7 Championship fixtures scheduled for March; perhaps with the Leicester City home game being moved forward for television to the Thursday (23rd February) before the original Saturday date, the Trees' clash could be squeezed in before the end of this month?

The Rams must resume Championship action (weather permitting) next weekend when they visit Millwall, to get the Cup defeat at Stoke and the game at Barnsley out of their system.

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RamsWeek 6 last year saw us declaring that ‘it’s not enough’, as the Rams’ results took an awful dip and the club failed to reinforce the squad, having sold top scorer Kris Commons and left-back Dean Moxey.

Derby President and CEO Tom Glick said ‘blame me’ for the club’s slothfulness in the transfer market, whilst declaring that DCFC had ‘a strong, talented squad that will kick on’. Well, it didn’t kick on at all and was replaced wholesale within the next 12 months!

The Rams, desperate for fresh blood in the team, had Liverpool’s Daniel Ayala lined up to join on loan, once he got fit. Leicester City messed Derby about for the umpteenth time over the possible loan of striker Martyn Waghorn, whilst Derby captain Robbie Savage announced that he would hang up his boots at the end of the season.

Derby, also desperate for a good result after a sequence of 8 defeats in the last 10 games, took on Paul Jewell’s Ipswich Town. The game began well as Bueno gave Derby an early lead - but Town, having invested in the talented Jimmy Bullard, drew level when the new loanee shot past Bywater. The Tractor boys then claimed all the points when Norris poked home a pass from Tamas Priskin.

The Rams were 16th in the Championship table and played to their lowest crowd of the season, 23,200. Patience had worn thin among the Derby fanbase with the prudent, fruitless policy that had seen the club slip towards the relegation struggle.

Spontaneous after-match protests against GSE had erupted. The supporters’ trust urged the owners to invest and warned of a disaffected fanbase that was fast losing faith with GSE’s master plan.

 

Photo: Action Images



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