Northampton Town 0 : Derby County 1 – 18th July 2015

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Pre-season games are obviously about testing formations, tactics, getting players “game time” and working out your best 11 for the start of the league campaign. I had hoped that Clement, with all his much touted coaching expertise, gained from top clubs in England, France & Spain, would bring in some innovative, fresh way of playing that would mark a big difference from the eventually tactically inept McClaren era.

Er.. no…

Clement decided to start this game with McClaren’s formation of choice, 4-3-3. Baird played the “Eustace role” & looked exactly what he is – a solid utility player playing in a highly specialised role. It didn’t quite work. He was neither as tenacious as The Eust nor as creative as Thorne.

I think we all realised last season that there is only one (hugely talented, slightly petulant, a bit stocky) player on our books that can play the lone striker role. For all his goals last season, Bent is about as unsuited to that role as you can get. He can’t hold the ball up & involve other players in the game. Apart from nearly getting on the end of a great Fozzy cross in the 2nd half, Bent contributed nothing. Let’s hope Clement’s learnt a few lessons about formations here.

Aside from Carson, the team that started the game, played 60 minutes before mass substitutions ensued in the 2nd half. Presumably that means that they are his current preferred starting 11 & the guys that came on in the 2nd half are slightly behind but still have a chance to impress.

Seeing as I’d lost all faith in Grant by the end of last season, I was sort of hoping Carson would prove to be a solid, reliable alternative. Not on this showing I’m afraid. He was reasonably capable at set pieces etc but didn’t really dominate his area. His distribution was awful to be honest, at times he seemed incapable of keeping the ball on the pitch, let alone finding a Derby player. Perhaps no one’s told him that the only player in the side capable of winning a header from a goal kick is Fozzy.

It was interesting to see how well Alex Pearce did. I’d read an article from Reading fan, Rob Langham recently (via Derby County Blog’s site) about his attributes & weaknesses & this article proved to be quite prescient. He won all his headers & was full of wholehearted endeavour but he’s certainly not a ball playing centre half. He was also playing on his “wrong” side, in order to accommodate Keogh on the right side. I don’t think that helped him to be honest, as he sometimes looked pretty uncomfortable

Not as uncomfortable as Keogh though. This was a typical hokey last season performance from everyone’s love-hate figure. A few dashes forward, a few well won headers, a few flailing last ditch, panicky challenges & a few histrionic hissy fits when he thought he’d been wronged (either by the ref, a Northampton player or a team mate). I didn’t see the penalty he conceded but that prompted ironic chants for Jason Shackell in the main Derby end. Not good. I didn’t even realise he wasn’t captain until after the game. I have to say that the time has come for Keogh. If (& it’s a big if) we get a reasonable offer for him we should take it. I think we all need a fresh start.

Talking of fresh starts, it was “same old, same old” in the full back department. Christie had a decent game, rampaging forward to little effect, occasionally getting caught out of position & defending reasonably well. However, I thought Ssewankambo looked decent when he came on, powerful, mobile & a seemingly more assured presence. I’d like to see him given a go instead of Christie. Fozzy was his usual self from last season. Once decent cross to Bent but aside from that his delivery was poor.

Aside from Baird, the midfield had a familiar look to it with Hendrick & Hughes taking up the more advance positions. Jeff probably did better out of the two. Weimann started on the left of the front three & was pretty quiet, apart from his set up for Russell’s goal. He did have two knocks early in the 2nd half so maybe that put him off. Russell, of course, was the star performer, gutsy, skillful & determined. He put his goal away extremely well & is clearly the player to watch so far this pre-season. Sod off Cardiff.

It was a pretty poor 1st half if truth be told but  we did sort of hold out a bit of hope that mass changes in the 2nd would lead to a significant improvement. Er.. no.. And still McClaren’s 4-3-3.

The Cobblers had done pretty well actually. Nippy, organised & clearly up for it, they were better than us for most of the game. They should have equalised after our ex-captain hauled down Woolmer in the box but he proceeded to hoof the ball well over the bar. 

Mass substitutions ensued. How did they fare? Shotton & Warnock continued to demonstrate what poor, limited signings they were last season. Bryson was pretty anonymous until he had a chance near the end. Hanson looked ok, as did Thorne. I think we need a lot more that “ok” from George this season though. Him & Martin were clearly feeling their way back to match fitness again. Hopefully they’ll get better the more minutes they get.

Ince was one of the few highlights. We’d started playing some sort of diamond formation after the substitutions & he was playing at the top of it. Hopefully, that might indicate he won’t be stuck out on the right on his wrong foot for the season ahead.

Have I missed anyone? Oh yes.. Sammon. He didn’t play too badly actually & certainly put himself about a bit. But he’s clearly still lacking in confidence in front of goal & that is never going to change, especially when he has to put up with sarcastic chanting coming from a section of our own fans. The miss at the end, from a perfect Ince pass, had a certain inevitability about it. Another player who needs a fresh start somewhere else.

So, there you go. Not the best of performances & plenty of things for us to mull over & worry about as we approach the new season. I don’t think I’d have it any other way..

Millwall 3 : Derby County 3 – 24th April 2015

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A strange & sad day. The Witch, Spicy Kev & me were supping a pre-match beverage in a pub near London Bridge as the awful news came though about Colin Bloomfield passing away. What a courageous bloke, what a gentleman. He was never far from our thoughts for the rest of the day.

What a bonkers game though. Millwall were clearly up for it, as teams fighting relegation so often are. Other than a bit of huff & puff they weren’t much cop, to be honest. But they didn’t need much else, if you added their grit & determination to a bit of random refereeing & a few colossal howlers from our good selves.

There was a nice little bonus for The Witch in the ground, once we got past the massed ranks of the Millwall security staff, SWAT teams & local paramilitary militia. They were playing the Brighton v Watford match on the concourse. Another resilient, confident performance from the Glory Hornet Boys, if only we could play like that..

This was our second visit to The Den. What a soulless place it is. The giant recycling incinerator nearby was probably more welcoming. To be fair to the Millwall fans, the minutes silence for the anniversary of the Bradford fire was immaculately observed. I never expected that. The Derby fans, filling the top tier of the North Stand, were in fine voice as the game started. The “One Colin Bloomfield” chant was pretty emotional, I have to say I nearly broke down during that.

The game? It was insane. Keogh looked in trouble from the start. He got a few lucky free kicks but never looked comfortable. I tried to work out who out of our erstwhile midfield trio of Hughes, Hendrick & Dawkins was playing the holding role but it was a bit of a challenge to say the least. Let’s just say they were a bit fluid.

Before long we were one nil down. We’ve conceded many goals this season due to horrendous errors but this really took the biscuit. A poor back pass from Fozzy put Grant under a bit of pressure but he still had time to compose himself & lob the ball up to Sammon. Instead he scuffed the ball up in the air, allowing Gregory to gallop forward & shoot at goal. Not the best of strikes to be honest & Fozzy could have easily cleared it asĀ  he raced back towards the goal line. He didn’t though. We were incredulous at that. Madness.

What was to come was even worse. Hendrick cravenly lost possession in midfield & we all know that means our defence is instantly under pressure. Keogh’s luck ran out & the ref adjudged him to have handled the ball in the box, despite the fact that he was lying on the floor at the time & it had hit his leg first. If the ref had judged that to be deliberate, surely he should have been sent off? Keogh wasn’t even booked, although you wouldn’t have thought so from the histrionic, mardy tantrum he came out with. Two nil down. I’m pretty sure some Derby fans departed after that, although they could’ve just decided to partake in a lukewarm plastic bottle of Carlsberg on the concourse.

As in many other games since January, we got out of jail courtesy of the educated left foot of Thomas Ince. That free kick meant he’d scored 11 goals in 17 games. We’d be in mid table without that. At least that gave us some hope at the half time whistle but that goal hadn’t covered up our failings. The team left the field to a chorus of boos. At least we were still in the game, just as long as we didn’t make any more mistakes…

Anyway, I couldn’t really see what happened, as it was the other side of the pitch, but clearly Jeff must have been having some sort of wrestling match in the area with a Millwall player. Another penalty, a hat trick for Gregory & the massed ranks of knuckledraggers in the Millwall stands were celebrating wildly. And, obviously, puffing their chests out & threatening to kill us after the game.

I’m pretty sure McClaren threw Martin & Albentosa on at this stage but I could be wrong. Obviously, The Petulant One went up front with the ineffective Sammon & immediately made a difference, not just by his touch & hold up play but also by his ability to win the ball in the air. I also expected Albentosa to go up front to be honest. Nope. Warnock was off, Fozzy moved to left back & the big Spaniard was popped into central defence. Not really a game changing substitution was it?

Despite this, a bit of resilience & fight crept back into our game. You have to give them credit for that. Before long we had a penalty courtesy of Ince’s direct run into the box & his ability to start going to ground before anyone touched him. 3-2. We had a chance. We kept plugging away & Russell (who’d been pretty ineffective after replacing the hapless Lingard at half time), for once managed to get a decent cross in, Ince won a header & Jeff, in his one positive contribution to the game, smacked in a superlative volley. There you go. 3-3.

All that was left was for us to watch the animals invade the pitch at full time, swiftly depart the ground, check the table to see that we were still in the top 6 & Watford had been promoted. The Witch was quite pleased at that. Oh & one more thing to do. Find a pub on the Thames with a decent view & raise a glass to Bloomers. A strange & sad day indeed.