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RamsWeek 2 - No More Mr Nice Guy!
RamsWeek 2 - No More Mr Nice Guy!
Sunday, 13th Jan 2008 21:19 by Paul Mortimer

PJ observed that “some of the things that go on” on the pitch were “mind-boggling” and he's set about overhauling his squad.

It was another poor performance in the Cup against Sheffield Wednesday, full of unforced errors, orthodox mistakes and poor concentration; it was another glaring demonstration of Derby’s failed confidence and lack of quality. Fans were well aware that the manager surely had a total squad rebuild to fashion over the next two transfer windows.

Soon enough, things were getting lively in the transfer window and Blackburn’s midfield irritant Robbie Savage was being lined up for a £1.5m move to Derby. This totally divided the fans, as Jewell’s controversial move for the combative and universally disliked ex-Fox soon turned out to be reality!

Opposing teams have good reason to dislike Savage. Fans from Brum, Leicester and Blackburn came to enjoy and respect his contribution. He certainly gives the opposition something to think about and can’t really be labelled as a hatchet man – more a tiresome provocateur, a ceaseless nag and niggle to referees and opponents everywhere. Some Derby fans mourned the demise of our standards in signing him.

He would certainly strongly signal Jewell’s declaration that there will be no meek surrender from his Derby County team but it’s clear that Rams fans will remain disgruntled that Robbie wears the Black & White until he proves himself as a footballer too.

Wigan and Sunderland also sought Savage’s services but Robbie’s absorbent ego was massaged successfully by Jewell, who promised him full involvement in games - and ultimately gave him the captaincy as part of the bargain – horrified Rams fans now having another reason (or treason!) for Savage to win them round from being a traditional and perpetual adversary!

The meekness, poor communication and lack of spirit in the Rams camp had to be addressed and the likes of Savage and Danny Mills are Jewell’s first moves in revamping the mentality at Moor Farm. It’s ‘No More Mr Nice Guy’, it seems, which is certainly not to the taste of all Rams fans.

However it will be good to see a bit more fire and spark from the mute Derby team and no-one wants to see them lie down and die quietly as a football force - which is precisely what was happening until Billy Davies left the club.

If it is to be an instant relegation season (and it was difficult to countenance anything else, even before the Wigan clash) then the team needs to go down with fight and pride so as to breed fresh confidence within the club and sustain the remarkable loyalty and unswerving appetite from the Derby fans into next season.

Hossam Ghaly also duly arrived on loan from Spurs with something to prove. It could be the last chance saloon for him as a top-flight player in England after his Tottenham and Brum truculence. It was encouraging to see him cancel his African Nations Cup jaunt with his native Egypt trip to demonstrate his keenness to come to Derby and contribute, though there’s no doubt he will be ‘contract fishing’ for his future whilst playing out this season with the struggling Rams.

French midfielder Laurent Robert joined the revolution and will be another interesting loanee, he was a free agent. He can provide some much-needed quality from the delivery into the box and at set pieces.

Goalkeeping reinforcements were also on the agenda, with Glasgow Rangers’ Rob Carroll from Rangers. “We need some experience in there”, says Jewell, who also had Bywater and Price injured - though his move was stalled by Rangers’ own need for the goalie as cover over their forthcoming games.

Aussie international midfielder Mile Sterjovski, currently playing in Turkey, was also disclosed as a Rams target. He’s a busy 28-year old attacking midfielder and will further add to Jewell’s options - though his move, on an 18-month contract for an undisclosed fee - is currently hung up on a work permit appeal, with Jewell condemning the football bureaucracy in play that now obstructs the move.

On Friday, Matt Oakley was allowed to rapidly join Steve Howard Leicester City for £500k. As with the Rams’ centre forward and Player of the Year moving on, this was another surprise move but represented excellent business for both club and player.

Oakley too can be remembered as an excellent servant to Derby County and all can be proud of the way he skippered Billy Davies’ boys to promotion after arriving on a free transfer from Southampton. All good wishes from RZ to the likeable Matty for his future - the furry F*xes have two good ‘uns in Howard and Oakley who will improve their squad.

Young winger Lee Holmes was allowed to move to Walsall on loan on Friday too – and Stoke City, doing well in the Championship, snatched back the hapless defender Andy Griffin for £300k, who had only a brief and inglorious stint of 13 games and two subs’ appearances at Derby.

Stoke can’t get enough of him, it’s his third spell with the Potters. Good luck to them should they succeed in winning promotion…. they’ll need it! As with almost the full quotient of the Rams’ back four squad members, Griffin represented a trier out of his depth - hopefully to be replaced forthwith by better defenders if we are to salvage any respect at all from this vapid season.

Jewell declared that he still has ‘plenty of irons in the fire’ in the transfer window and was excited by the prospect of seeing the added quality of Robert & Ghaly alongside the combative output of Robbie Savage and Mills. The new thrust of Emanuel ‘Tito’ Villa was also something for fans to look forward to.

Jewell is injecting quality, hunger, desire and freshness into a stale, moribund squad and though miracles can’t be expected, matchday prospects should soon take a turn for the better. Some skill and battle-hardened persistence and consistency are sorely needed and the team will (thankfully) look totally different by February 1st.

The build-up to the home game against Wigan on Saturday declared it another relegation ‘crunch’ match, though Rams fans long ago stopped looking at the table and any permutations and possibilities regarding their rivals in the bottom six, such is the distance between Derby and the others.

Lewis Price was fit - just as well with Rob Carroll still a Glasgow Rangers player - but Kenny Miller was not. Mills made his Premier League debut, as did Villa, Ghaly, and Robert alongside new skipper Robbie Savage. The central defensive partnership of Todd and Davis had to suffice as Jewell’s options were still limited by injuries.

Truth will out, however, and even Wigan had too much resilience, persistence and teamwork to allow Derby to take anything from yet another game, the 0-1 defeat (to yet another unnecessary, late goal) being a hammer blow to Derby’s flimsy and fanciful chances of escaping the drop.  Fans did expect more fight and enterprise and this was in partly evidence in the first half. Ghaly showed some class, Savage - though rather behind the pace - was always up for the battle.

Robert flitted about without showing too much and Villa desperately needs a partner like Miller to benefit from better service. Giles Barnes partnered the willing Argentinian and showed a few thrusts and tricks but cannot be considered as a central striker. The Rams ultimately fashioned hardly anything worthy of troubling Kirkland in the Wigan goal and they petered out after the break, when tiredness overcame the unfit newcomers.

That was compounded by Clumsy Claude, as the lumbering Davis got physical once too often and was sent off after an hour. He’s not exactly a candidate for Player of the Year at the moment.

The writing was on the wall from then onwards and late sub Sibiersky quickly stung the Rams by rapping in a brisk drive within a minute of coming onto the pitch. Edworthy had to shore up the central defence, which says it all. As with Stelios in the recent Bolton game, some fresh legs and added quality from a substitute inevitably proved enough to put the Rams out of their misery. 

Over 31,600 watched the inevitable defeat and there was little to cheer - though there was more to look forward to than when we trudged home after the mediocre Cup display against Sheffield Wednesday the previous weekend.

With more time together for newcomers we can expect an upgrade in performance and end product as Jewel refashions his Derby squad and washes out the incompetence and negativity that he has been saddled with. The display was understandably disjointed are there are many fitness issues to overcome. The defence is still awful and hopefully Jewell is addressing this area.

Derby’s major characteristic this season remains utterly inept and inadequate central defending, which pressurises the whole team. There is promise on the flanks as Tye Mears can develop and Mills is an experienced battler who will get steadier.

The incoming midfield and attacking players should soon lend qualities elsewhere that the inherited squad cannot supply. It will be interesting to see how (if!) it all comes together and tangible improvements occur, once Jewell, Stan and Co have wrought all their changes and blooded the recruits.

Adam Pearson declared (in his Wigan programme notes) that the club will “fight every inch of the way this season” and that more progress on the investment talks in imminent. Bring it on.

Paul Jewell was despondent but not defeatist after the latest reversal. He would have felt it more keenly than most, hoping for success against his old club and still refusing to believe that a transformation leading to a Great Escape could not be achieved.

That seemed a pipe-dream beforehand and (sadly) downright nonsense afterwards, with the safety gap to bridge now at 13 points. Derby winning five more games than three relegation rivals seems a far more foolish proposition than merely awaiting the inevitability of the mathematical certainty of relegation, whenever that might arrive!

“We threw in four new players but the gamble didn’t pay off, no doubt about it”. Rivals down in the basement places can perhaps already take extra confidence from the near-certainty that they are only battling it out to avoid the remaining two relegation slots and Derby’s task is to haul themselves off the bottom of the Premier League somehow.

We must strive to avoid supplanting Sunderland (who logged the two worst-ever Premier League seasons in their roll of honours) as the worst-ever top-flight team!

It’s that grim, that desperate, I’m afraid - though there’s no reason not to expect things to improve with the influx of more skill, fight and experience that Jewell is currently adding to the Derby squad.

So, there is the (unwanted) FA Cup replay with Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough on Tuesday evening (15th January) before a League trip to Pompey next Saturday. Hope doesn’t spring eternal!

Mr. Pearson said that the Cup is “an important competition for the club as we try to restore our reputation, belief and momentum” - so let’s just hope that the players share that commitment this time, eh?

In RamsWeek’s second week of 2007, Derby’s promotion push continued unabated. Ironically, they faced Sheffield Wednesday early last year too, whose new manager Brian Laws had set about injecting some fresh impetus in the sleepy Owls.

Thy had progressed up the table but provided somewhat stereotypical opposition for the Rams, employing robust tactics and time-wasting in hoping to steal something from an expectant Pride Park boasting a near-30,000 crowd.

As the attritional clash came to its close, new recruit Craig Fagan was checked out wide on the edge of Wednesday’s penalty area and the Beckham-trained left boot of David Jones did the deed from the resultant free kick, with a beautiful screamer high into the net past a flailing Mark Crossley in their goal!

Derby were top; Wednesday were sent packing with no more time to waste on their way to a gritty defeat

Photo: Action Images

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