Derby County 1 : Middlesbrough 1 – 18th August 2015

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Well, that was interesting. Another draw, 2 more central midfielders out injured, a big crowd, an up & down atmosphere & an equaliser at the death against possibly our biggest promotion rivals. What’s not too like?

Everyone expected a 4-3-3 & Weimann to come in for Russell. But no one expected Warnock to come in instead Fozzy, of one of Saturday’s best performers & that caused a bit of consternation amongst the flag returning masses. He’ll get turned over by their wingers won’t he? Well, no actually. Warnock had his best game in a Derby shirt. He had a lot of the ball, used it well, got forward to good effect & defended resiliently. I think I’d still like to know why Fozzy was dropped though. Knackered already? Surely not.

We started off really well, which surprised me as much as Warnock being in the side. Thorne was prominent in central midfield & we knocked the ball around well, without really creating much in the final third. Hendrick did have a cracking shot from outside the area, which was well saved by Constantinople (pretty sure that was his name) in the Boro goal. The tempo was good & we pressed & harried Boro all over the pitch. The crowd were doing their bit as well, with the “Barmy Army” chant reverberating around the ground.

And then it all derailed. Friend advanced on the right, easily passed Baird, scuffed a shot into the path of Kike, who finished with aplomb. Totally against the run of play &, unsurprisingly, it knocked the stuffing out of the team & the crowd. The Boro fans became more vocally prominent, while the rest of the ground became tense & subdued.

Boro regressed after that & sat back, letting us keep possession (and regularly lose it), while trying to hit us on the counter. You can’t blame them, it’s a classic away tactic & it nearly came off. It didn’t really show them in a good light though, I’m sure they’ll play a lot better than this during the rest of the season.

Anyway, things went from bad to worse with the enforced substitutions of Hanson & Jeff. The team was shuffled around into a 4-2-3-1 formation. That one we seemed to have discarded. On came Shotton to a rapturous reception (ok, I made that last bit up..). Russell came on too. Doesn’t look like Dawkins has much of a future in central midfield then.. We huffed & puffed for the rest of the half & our threat increased enough for us to carve out a couple more chances. An Ince free kick & a Martin header nearly put us back on level terms.

The second half continued in the same vein, Boro conceded possession & were happy for us to knock the ball around at the back. We lacked penetration badly & our one creative option, Thorne, began to make errors with some loose passes. Given that we were, in a sense, playing 4 forwards (Martin, Ince, Russell & Weimann), the lack of mobility in the final third was staggering. It seemed to me that most of those players were standing still when the defenders or Baird/Thorne were looking to slot a pass through. Boy are we missing Will Hughes badly. Or any other player who can slot a ball through to a forward. Things didn’t improve much when Bent came on either. Not his fault, he can’t do owt if no one passes the ball to him.

There was me thinking we were sunk & I was already preparing myself for the onslaught of negativity from Spicy Kev & Slim Paul on the walk home but…. along came Johnny “On the Spot” Russell to redeem himself (& the team) with a fantastic finish from a hopeful punt by Shotton, flicked on by Martin. The crowd erupted & the cohort from Teesside were silenced. Thank god for that.

What next then? It was a great result in the circumstances. They are our promotion rivals after all & took six points off us last season. The defence looked solid (apart from the lack of concentration by Baird & possibly Keogh that led to the Boro goal) so it’s just the midfield that needs bolstering. And we need to work out what formation we are going to play for the Brum game. Oh.. and we need to work out how to pass to our forwards.

Come on you (unbeaten) Rams!

Derby County 1 : Charlton Athletic 1 – 15th August 2015

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I was slightly apprehensive about this one. I’m very much of the view that were going through a transitional period at the moment, with the trauma of last season to get over, lots of new signings & a new, inexperienced head coach. Add to that a long term injury to our best, most creative player & a uncertainty about what is our best formation (or the right players to fit in that formation) – that means, in my view, that our start to the season is going to be a bit of a slow burner. At best.

I have to say though, by the end of the game I was on a bit of a high. It was a performance of rich promise. We deserved a win but I wasn’t actually bothered about the result at the end. Plenty of time to build a head of steam up & climb the table.

I’d not wasted my time trying to predict a team or formation beforehand. We’re all a bit unsure about who or how we’re going to be playing & I’m not sure Clement has made his mind up about that yet either. Anyways, there were a few curveballs. McClaren’s formation of choice, 4-3-3, made a comeback, meaning a start for Jamie Hanson in one of the more advanced midfield roles, a place back on the wide right for Ince & a place back in the centre of the universe for Martin. Presumably that means 4-3-3 will be the way forward from now on in home games, seeing as the diamond doesn’t work & the 4-2-3-1 thingy is seen as too cautious. So much for Clement’s tactical flexibility, it’s back to the “tried & tested” for now..

I think I’d better stop moaning. Because it worked. In fact I don’t recall feeling this positive about a Rams performance for a long, long time..

There were 2 new innovations at the start of the game as well. Firstly, the mass flag waving in the South Stand when the teams came out. Credit to all those associated with the 1884 group for working so hard on this. Not as good as Watford yet but it’s getting there.. Secondly, we kicked off towards the North Stand in the first half for the first time in at least 2 season’s. I think that’s a great idea. It must help the players in the second half, IF they’re pressing for a goal, to be playing towards the loudest & most active section of our fans.

Anyway, we all know how the game went. We had a significant amount of possession & dominated the game, particularly in the 2nd half. 26+ chances, although most of them were off target &, obviously, only one of them went in. On another day, we would have won by 4 or 5. Let’s hope we become a bit more clinical soon.

Charlton were pretty decent to be honest. Their goal was lucky but they defended resiliently & knocked the ball around well. Tony Watt was absolutely brilliant & gave us a fair bit of difficulty with his control & movement. Guy Luzon was a sight to see on the touchline,  all manic hyperactivity with an occasional bout of squatting. Interesting.

So how did our players rate?

Carson – I was mightily impressed with him to be honest. Good distribution, authoritative, brave in going in where it hurts (particularly when saving Baird’s blushes in the 1st half) & reliable on crosses. The polar opposite of Mr Flappy then. As long as he stays consistent & fit, he’ll be between the sticks this season.

Fozzy – back to his near his best & a constant threat on the left wing. Delivered some excellent crosses, which someone should have really got on the end of.

Baird – aside from the aforementioned error when he nearly chested the ball into the path of a Charlton player, he was solid & reliable in defence & pretty reasonable going forward. I think he’ll be a good option to slip into midfield next to Thorne when we’re under the cosh.

Shackell – a quiet home debut (re-debut?) but he clearly is going to be a dominant force & calming presence for us. That’s bound to help his defensive colleagues & perhaps already has..

Keogh – his performance was a bit of a revelation to me, to be honest. Not being Captain has clearly lifted a burden from his shoulders. He couldn’t be blamed for the goal, he was solid in his defending & there were plenty of his trademark charges forward. Looks like he could be the perfect foil for Shackell. And there was me thinking he’d shot it & was, like you say, on his way out.

Thorne – he was brilliant, my man of the match. A few crunching tackles showed that his injury problems last season haven’t affected his willingness to assert the physical side to his game. He controlled the game, as we all know he can, & was our most likely source of a goal from the edge of the box. If he remains injury free, he’s going to have an outstanding season.

Hanson – another revelation. Clement’s obviously seen something in him that McClaren didn’t. The boy can pass & was confident enough to he spraying 40 yard passes all over the shop. Seeing as he can also tackle like a resurrected John Eustace & dash forward with the aplomb of Bryson (2013-14 version), we may just have a complete midfielder on our hands.

Hendrick – if he’d scored from one of his many chances I might have felt more positive about his performance. I’m not saying he had a bad game but his limitations in the first two thirds of the pitch stand in stark relief when compared to the all round game of Thorne & Hanson.

Russell – not one of his best games & looked tired & out of sorts. A bit of a shame given his pre-season form.

Ince – an increasingly effective performance as the game progressed. I would have thought that he would have done well in that tip of the diamond/playmaker role. £4.75 million quid should buy you more than a winger in this day & age. However, he is obviously more comfortable on the wide right & was a constant threat. He wasn’t far off with his set pieces & even attacked using his right foot on a couple of occasions. I’ll have to stop moaning about that.

Martin – he’s looked pretty quiet, if uninterested so far this season & until his typical clinical & arrogant finish for the goal, he wasn’t much different here. But after that he was back to his brilliant best. All our creative play went through him & he nearly scored the winner from a header at the death.
Christie – added a bit going forward when he came on & even stuck in at least one excellent cross.

Weimann – brought a bit more urgency to the left once he replaced Russell. I would expect him to start against Boro.

So there you go, a positive start to the season so far. I don’t give a fig about the Cup, so we’re unbeaten & look like we’re developing well. Let’s see if how we cope with the Boro game.

Onwards & upwards.

Derby County: 2015-16 pre – season musings

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So. Have you recovered from last season yet?

Not really. Ironically, I got over the play off defeat pretty quickly the season before last. Everything felt so positive back then &, like most people, I believed McClaren was an outstanding coach with a magic touch & real affection for the club. As it turned out, he wasn’t. I think we were all a bit naive about him, to be honest, & it was a poor season that ended really badly. Despite the changes made over the summer, I can’t really get those defeats against Wigan, Forest, Fulham & most of all, Reading, out of my head.

Happy with what’s happened over the summer?

Very happy, with some caveats..

I suppose the first highlight of the summer was the sacking of McClaren, which I heard about when I was in the bar of a Premier Inn at Liverpool Airport. Not the most salubrious of surroundings but that pint went down rather well. I’m just glad we got rid of him on our own terms.

And then it began. First Pearce & Bent. Signed by our “standalone” recruitment department when we didn’t even have a head coach. Interesting.. Then came the much touted announcement of Paul Clement as McClaren’s replacement (more of him later.) I did find it quite strange, at the time, that Colin Gibson was so heavily involved in all the publicity shots. Then I realised that was our new Lionel Pickering-style, blast from the past, Chairman-in-waiting, Mel Morris. He worries me slightly. Is he too hands on?

Then we started to shell out money big style. Weimann, Baird, Ince, Carson & then the one we were all waiting for (yes, even me), putative captain (er…) Jason Shackell. Transfer records were broken & presumably wods of cash have been blown in wages & signing on fees. Maybe that won’t put us at risk of breaking FFP (which appears to be being swiftly dropped anyway) but it can’t be sustainable unless we get promoted. We still lost £7 million last year, despite a 23% increase in turnover.

The signings of Weimann (who impressed me when he was on loan at Watford several years ago) & Shackell (obviously we should never have sold him) have made me feel pretty positive about things. The others haven’t but I supposed I only have the Northampton friendly to go by. Let’s see how they all get on as the season progresses shall we?

So what DO you think of Paul Clement?

Straight talking, knowledgeable, authoritative, pleasingly flexible with formations and. . with no experience of managing a football club.

To be fair.. He’s come across really well & things like the dissatisfaction he showed after the Northampton game, the willingness to depart from the standard McClaren 4-3-3 & the decision to look for a new captain, all bode well for the future. Let’s see how he copes when he makes some inevitable mistakes & how he learns from them. That will demonstrate what sort of head coach we’ve chosen. Time will tell.

How do you think the team will look like for the first game against Bolton?

Difficult to predict what the formation will be & who will play, to be honest. I hope Clement knows. Bolton will struggle this season I think, so I think we need a positive diamond style formation. I’ll go for Grant, Fozzy, Baird, Shacks, Pearce,  Thorne, Hendrick, Hughes, Ince, Martin, Weimann. Russell will come on after 60 mins & score the winner.

Who’s going to be player of the season?

Shackell. I think he’s been the missing part of the jigsaw since he left. There you go, that’s the kiss of death from me, Jason.

Who’s going to be this season’s Leon Best?

I think Bent might have a difficult season & will probably spend a lot of it on the bench. Martin, Weimann & Russell are all ahead of him in the pecking order at the moment. He’ll score a few goals of course but we all know he contributes little else.

Finally, what are your predictions?

Martin will score 20+ goals.

Thorne will play a full season.

The DCFC Megastore will release “Clement” branded pullovers within weeks.

We’ll finish 5th.

ViewfromaRam

- Since I was young......

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