RamsWeek 38: Reality
Sunday, 19th Sep 2010 23:55 by Paul Mortimer
Derby County had to tackle two away games after their dismal home performance against Sheffield United last week.
Mounting criticism of squad weaknesses had put manager, players and board under early pressure to produce an improvement and win some points in order for Derby to avoid being dragged back into the Championship basement that has become their regular residency.
Manager Nigel Clough made it known that the performance was unacceptable and called on the players to prove that it was a one-off lapse. He told the players after the dreadful home defeats last Christmas: “that’s it - you either do your jobs or you don’t”.
Seems like the squad we have requires a regular ultimatum, but it will be two years after this Christmas since Clough took the reins at Derby.
Clough and fans also knew that reinforcements were still needed and managed to secure the services of a centre-forward on loan. The well-travelled Swansea City striker, Shefki Kuqi joined Derby for three months on Monday.
He’s a Finland international, has had a dozen clubs including three in Germany, but is very experienced with a good strike rate. He’s certainly proved a thorn in Derby’s side in opposition in recent years.
At over three years older than the now-departed Rob Hulse, it’s hardly the fulfilment of Derby’s philosophy of building “a young, hungry team” that grows together to gain promotion and then Premier League consolidation. When will we get closer?
Something had to be done about the lack of focus in attack and so another short-term measure has been taken. Clough is still interested in West Brom’s young forward Chris Wood but he has to wait for Albion’s injury worries to clear before he can start to solve the shortcomings of his own team.
Adam Pearson departed from the Derby County board last year and returned to Hull City when the Tigers were striving in vain to avoid relegation from the Premier League. Pearson knows all about restructuring and financing from his earlier spell at Hull and certainly from his two years at Derby County.
He has had to sift out the dross and the passengers at the KC Stadium from a squad of over 40 players; he had presided over a similar task at Derby County (after Pearson and the new GSE consortium funded Paul Jewell’s futile squad-buying spree).
Neither side was exactly tearing up the Championship so far in 2010-1; both hoped for a tonic to lift their season. Kuqi went straight into the Derby team for Tuesday’s away game at Hull’s KC Stadium, as did Alberto Bueno in a new-look Derby forward line intended to improve the productivity of the attack.
Robbie Savage notched up his 100th appearance for Derby and Stephen Bywater had his 150th game for the Rams. Left back Gareth Roberts had not recovered from his leg cramp so Dean Moxey took over, and Kris Commons was left on the substitute’s bench.
It was another forlorn matchday for the Rams with a 2-0 defeat leaving manager and fans frustrated at the punchless attack and fatefully slipshod defending that let the Tigers in for a goal late in each half to claim the points in Hull’s 2-0 win.
Tomasz Cywka showed his inexperience in giving away a needless foul close to half-time; the free kick into the box was steered into the net by Ayala. The second goal, on 82 minutes, saw Moxey on walkabouts and then the Derby centre-halves sleeping, as Koren received the ball and belted it in to seal the game for the Tigers.
Generally good play does not secure points without incisive final balls and good finishing and these are still absent from Derby’s performances. Bueno showed his quality with neat skills for over an hour; Kuqi had little to feed on and could not make his mark on his Derby debut. Savage had an ineffectual evening and fans question the justification for his place in the team and his status as skipper.
Substitute Kris Commons provided a late lively cameo and might have done better with a couple of opportunities. The truth was that Hull, like Sheffield United the previous Saturday, did not have to do anything spectacular to prise the points away from the Rams, who tumbled into the bottom three of the Championship table.
Of concern to fans were the post-match utterances of coach Johnny Metgod, sent out by manager Clough to face Radio Derby after the KC defeat. The Dutchman said that fans had to be “realistic” in their expectations - that “they can’t expect this squad to finish in the top half of the table - never mind about the play-offs.”
A few days later, Metgod said that the team “won’t finish in the bottom three”. So that’s reality this season? It’s still September and Rams fans should accept that Derby County will finish between 14th and 20th in the Championship?
Johnny, these fans are the ones that were told before Christmas 2008 by Billy Davies and Adam Pearson that we were as good as relegated from the Premier League and were building to ‘bounce straight back’ and ‘hit the ground running’ over the subsequent six months.
Paul Jewell then ensured we were rocketed out of the Prem with a forlorn but well-paid squad - which only managed to ‘bounce’ off the bottom places of the Championship at the end of the season. The same thing happened last season.
David Bowie’s song title ‘Reality’ was the departure point for RamsWeek 38. It could have been written for Metgod. The Thin White Duke crooned: “I look for sense but I get next to nothing. Hey boy, welcome to reality.”
Metgod’s ‘realism’ was alarming. It doesn’t make sense after half a dozen games (and this at the same time as fans are being berated for being too impatient). It certainly compounded the disappointment among the fanbase which has replaced the optimism of the opening-day win at Elland Road.
Metgod’s further criticism of Derby supporters whom he said were booing after only 45 seconds against Sheffield United last Saturday is hardly likely to endear him to the Rams’ long-suffering fans. That is a small minority; fans have mostly learned to be patient and not expect too much from this allegedly developing Rams’ squad.
Johnny, face it - there IS something wrong with the way Derby play - we defend badly and cannot make or take chances that will get us something from the game.
The summer came and went with only modest signings secured; the club’s fit strikers were sold or loaned out to save money, as the August transfer window passed. Loanees have been belatedly obtained to fill those shirts as stop-gaps.
DCFC felt that Hooper was too costly or ‘not right’; they missed out on Billy Sharp to mighty Doncaster Rovers but the most curious ‘pass’ by Derby County was QPR’s Jamie Mackie. Rangers snatched him from Plymouth Argyle as a proven goalscorer of only 24 years of age, for £200k. He’s got eight goals himself already; Derby haven’t yet scored eight goals this season!
He might be on decent wages - but I’d doubt that he is on the large sums that the Rams have saved on Rob Hulse and Luke Varney. Surely, we can buy players like Mackie? Some feel that Derby will reap the grim harvest of their prudent outlook - and that a progressive team that can compete and climb the table is a fast-fading hope. Even the coaching staff have started telling us what to expect...
So, we’re told daily that the club will still search for reinforcements; however, the team’s lowly position might now inhibit interest from agents and players. Aston Villa full-back Shane Lowry was named as one player that Clough is tracking.
With the team struggling and the pre-season bedding-in behind us, we are past the right time to attract better players (and not just more bit-part loanees) - and any newcomers will feel under more pressure to produce results straight away.
We are waiting for other clubs to assess their own injury problems before they let players out on loan - and a new contingency was factored in by Nigel Clough this week, in that this week’s Carling Cup round will see some clubs eliminated from the competition.
That means those clubs might have a greater propensity to allow players out on loan, with fewer games to play and spare players not now being cup-tied if they play for other clubs. We’re always beholden to others for favours, though; we can’t afford a team of our own that is strong enough to pull the club up by its boot-straps.
DCFC Vice-President (Commercial) Tim Hinchey announced that he will leave Derby soon to return to the States, after some 3 years involvement. Family reasons are behind the decision and Mr Hinchey doesn’t know what he’ll do next.
I’d observe that (like Adam Pearson) his stint doesn’t exactly represent ‘the long haul’ in terms of GSE’s intended rehabilitation of Derby County. GSE have benefitted from him gaining experience in Europe, as have DCFC in having him ‘networking’ fastidiously, as the management company build Derby’s ‘partnerships’.
It might have been a “wonderful adventure” for him - but whilst he has aided the Rams’ commercial rehabilitation, he’s only witnessed an unentertaining side that has bumped around the bottom of the table. Go tell the guys back home Tim that the fans would like a team! Get networking with those rich investment partners, partner!
Ahead of the away game at Barnsley we were told that midfielder Stephen Pearson was close to fitness and back into contention. That will add an option to Clough’s selections although Pearson needs to convert his running power into productive delivery (and score a few goals himself) to help turn around the team’s fortunes.
Pearson made the bench and Clough made changes. Robbie Savage was put on the bench and his captain’s armband went to Sean Barker. Kris Commons started, so he and Bueno had the chance to strike up a rapport and provide ammunition for Shefki Kuqi up front.
Derby started brightly and there was more cohesion and invention in the first half. They took a deserved lead after 14 minutes, though it wasn’t the forward skills of Alfredo, Kris or Shefki that provided the difference - it was Dean Leacock bundling a corner home, for his first ever goal in professional football.
The Rams held firm until the break as Barnsley huffed and puffed; Derby played the more considered football. Both sides had their moments in the second half but neither could clinch the decisive goal. A 1-1 draw at least prevented Derby’s barren spell from being extended.
Derby’s defence held firm after Brayford’s fateful error for Barnsley’s leveller, as he presented the ball to Adam Hammill, who made no mistake.
Paul Green had an excellent match; Bueno and Kuqi got some more Championship minutes under their belt and there were signs of more movement and dynamism in midfield and attack, though Kris Commons still needs to produce more.
Kuqi might have won it with a second-half chance had he been sharper; they might have won it had Brayford held firm right at the start of the second half. Derby moved out of the bottom three of the Championship table. QPR and Ipswich lead the table.
Manager Clough was disappointed with just a draw and bemoaned the defensive mistake from Brayford that cost Derby the Tykes’ equaliser. His search goes on to add more experience, resilience and firepower to his squad.
A draw at Barnsley is hardly revolutionary - but at least the rot was stopped and the squad can look towards two home games to build on some new relationships in the team with Kuqi and Bueno playing together and Commons or Cywka adding their skills.
We now need to gather more points, not just murmur on about how well we play in patches.
In RamsWeek 38 last year, Derby had to pick themselves up from a home defeat by Sheffield United and play Barnsley.... Ohh! They put Hull City in between those two episodes this time in 2010!
Manager Nigel Clough was putting on a brave face as Derby lost twice in a week. Different season, same thing happens....
Deja voodoo struck again in 2009 as Derby’s wayward form continued. I called the 3-2 home defeat to Barnsley ‘ridiculous’ and it was; we missed chanced and gave away daft goals. Derby dominated early on and Hulse powered them into the lead.
Derby’s defence presented Barnsley with three goals after that, until Shaun Barker headed in his first goal for the Rams in added time at the end of the game.
The Rams went to Crystal Palace the next weekend and were defeated 1-0, the Eagles' goalkeeper Julian Speroni denying Derby’s bright play that became ultimately fruitless. a 55th-minute goal from Darren Ambrose condemned Derby to another defeat.
James Vaughan arrived on loan from Everton to bolster the forward line. He didn’t. This weekend in 2010 he is on loan at Crystal Palace and scored a hat-trick.
As a Rams fan, do you ever get the feeling it’s not your day, your month, your year...or your life? Playing 'well' and losing, chances missed and goals given away - somebody change the record!
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