Is Lampard the man to get Derby over the line? Interview
Saturday, 6th Oct 2018 08:59 by Clive Whittingham
Squeezing in under the tape, Derby fan Ollie Wright on whether Frank Lampard can solve the annual Derby choke and if Mason Mount is the real deal.
Can we do a bit on Gary Rowett first, because it’s intriguing that he’s doing so poorly at Stoke having spent a bundle of cash. He was meant to be the great white hope at Derby, but it didn’t really work out and then he upped and left – what do you make of his time at the club, departure, all of it really?
It’s a funny one, because we made the play-offs under him, but he was never universally popular. To be honest, I had a fundamental problem with him from the moment he sold Will Hughes so cheaply, because I couldn’t get my head around why - it was a chronically awful decision. Hughes recently said that he left because Rowett told him he didn’t fancy him as a player and this, coupled with the fact that Rowett spent the end of last summer’s transfer window trying to sign his old Birmingham midfielders David Davis and Maikel Kieftenbeld as replacements, tells you all you need to know.
Rowett is essentially a negative coach, who needs to feel like his team are the underdogs to justify his reactive, counter-attacking philosophy. For him, the more you have the ball, the more chance there is that something will go wrong, so better to let them have it. That style worked well for him at Birmingham, where he didn’t have particularly good players - even so, some of their fans weren’t keen, from what I can gather - but as soon as you put him at the helm of a club which expects to take the game to their opponents, he has a problem and it doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.
In his defence, he got the best out of Matej Vydra, helping to turn his career around in the process. But when the chips were down and we took a 1-0 advantage to Craven Cottage in the play-offs, he dropped Vydra, because he didn’t trust him. And we lost.
If he’s given more time, he might well eventually grind Stoke back up into the top six, but again, from what I’ve seen, he's already turned off a lot of supporters there and it’s absolutely no surprise.
At the time, I was very much of the opinion that it was worth a go. Look, it was either that or Mick McCarthy, so in those circumstances, it had to be worth the punt.
He’s brought coaches with him from Chelsea - most notably Jody Morris - and also players, of course, in the form of the wunderkind Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori. The fans have certainly taken a shine to both of those youngsters, Mount for his creativity, Tomori for his wholehearted defending.
Because it’s Derby, you can never get away from what Chris Martin once called ‘the monster of expectation’, but Lampard is undeniably an impressive guy. However, he’s also undeniably inexperienced and so we have to bear with him while he goes through his teething problems. At the very start of the season, the players seemed to have interpreted his tactical instructions as “we cannot play the ball long under any circumstances”. That doctrine has gradually relaxed, to the point where the last 20 minutes against Norwich were very much “cry havoc, let slip the dogs of war and get it in the mixer” (the huffing and puffing saw us salvage a draw, after an hour of ‘sterile domination’ was punctured by a fully foreseeable away goal). We also saw him totally lose his rag when we couldn’t break down Rotherham and go marching down the touchline in search of the assistant referee. Rightly, he was sent off.
Had you asked me after the Manchester United game, I’d have been offering him an eight out of ten, but what niggles is that the exasperating defeat at Bolton last Saturday was our fourth loss in ten league games - only two of which have been against teams in the top half of the table. Of the two games against ‘top’ teams so far, against Brentford, we were sparkling, while against Leeds, we got tonked.
You looked pretty slow to me when I saw you last season, presumably that’s changed given the results (only seen you at Reading where you were poor and Man Utd where you were excellent) – how has the style of play been modified and improved?
It’s funny isn’t it, because in Vydra, Tom Lawrence and Andi Weimann, we did have pace last season - but yes, there are several younger players in the team now (Rowett had put together the oldest team in the top four divisions, by one analysis I saw). Harry Wilson, the 18 year-old attacking right back Jayden Bogle and especially Mount have added dynamism and Tomori, who has deputised for the injured Curtis Davies with distinction, is one of the quicker centre backs you’ll see at this level. Also, Craig Bryson - sent to Cardiff on loan by Rowett, because of reasons - adds impetus with his box-to-box style of play. Bryson turns 32 next month, but is showing no signs of slowing down.
Lampard’s playing style is actually more along the lines of what we saw under Steve McClaren, with an emphasis on ball retention, building from the back, passing through the lines and the full backs (especially Bogle) pushing on to provide extra width. It’s a lot easier on the eye than Rowettball, but we’ve run into trouble against sides who have parked everyone behind the ball in a smug way and said, “go on then, break us down”. Three times, we’ve lost to technically inferior teams that way. We also got stalled 0-0 at Pride Park by Blackburn’s rearguard action and took a long, long time to get past Ipswich at home, eventually breaking the deadlock through the unlikeliest of source (a deflected Joe Ledley shot from 20 yards).
Fortunately, Rowett isn’t crushing it at Stoke, because if he was, some fans might be complaining that we need a return to his ‘shithouse’ football, or something more like it, as the fabled ‘Plan B’.
Stand out players…
Mount is the man charged with making things happen. Tomori has become a popular figure at the back. Young Bogle has caught the eye and is extremely promising (albeit far from the finished article).
How good is Mason Mount, called up for the full England squad this week?
He’s a cut above and has been our chief attacking threat. Whenever he gets on the ball, he is likely to use it well and make something happen. The challenge for him though is to do that more regularly and really grab games by the throat - something which is hard to do when you’re being tightly marked. But the need to go through that learning curve is why he’s here.
Midfielder Bradley Johnson is the type of player who has a mistake in him, particularly in his maddening propensity to dwell on the ball, maybe thinking he’s too strong to have it nicked away. McClaren tried to cast him as his “warrior”, but this combativeness can manifest itself in unproductive ways, such as silly tackles and ranting at the ref when we’re losing. In fairness, once he’s had his mandatory yellow card, he is usually able to rein it in.
Bogle, for all of his promise, is still raw and can get caught out of position, especially as he’s encouraged to raid forward so much. Another potential flaw in this team is the fact that defenders Richard Keogh and Craig Forsyth (if selected) are more than capable of giving the ball away in a terrifying area.
Will this season be different from all the other late chokes that went before? Why?
It’s very hard to tell which way it’s going to go at this stage. There have been some blinding performances, but also some bitterly disappointing ones and I cannot tell how it’s going to pan out. If we keep losing games we shouldn’t on the road, we’ll have a hard time making the play-offs at all, never mind sliding away from the automatic spots, as we’ve done in previous seasons. But if we can play like we did against Brentford or Manchester United on a consistent basis, then we’re more than a match for anyone at this level.
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