Yet another great night. But unlike the barnstorming comebacks against Ipswich, Boro & Yeovil this was a different & perhaps even more satisfying experience. A victory against a top six team at last (& one that must have cost millions to throw together), a clean sheet and a performance full of grit, determination and resilience. I could hardly cope with the tension at the end, especially the FIVE MINUTES of extra time. Like most Rams fans, I’m just starting to think we’re in with a shout of automatic promotion..
We’d come mob handed for this one. Dad, brother & sister-in-law, all for £34, courtesy of the excellent friends & family offer. Bargain. No scarves for us but we were adorned with a variety of woolly hats to guard against the cold. Plus the deerstalker, of course.
Despite the fact that QPR were in second place I was pretty confident about a victory before the game. I’ve got a healthy contempt for Redknapp as a manager & had seen his random menagerie of a team play at Vicarage Road at Christmas. They were mediocre then, at best. Having said that, it was going to be interesting to see how McClaren & the team responded to the fact we’d thrown away a 3-1 lead at Brum last week.
QPR certainly lived down to my expectations in the first half & didn’t give us anything to worry about in an attacking sense. Not surprising really, with Kevin Doyle and Andy Johnson up front. Couldn’t ‘Arry have chucked a few million on a new striker in the transfer window?
We started the game full of energy & confidence, with our creative midfield genius, John Eustace, slipping in Bamford for a run on goal. He was much too hesitant though & the chance slipped away. Eustace was to make an even more incisive contribution in the 20th minute, looping in a header from an astute corner from Hughes (& after a poor clearance by Green). He celebrated it like he’d scored the winning goal in a Wembley play off final.
One nil up, time for us to protect that lead & maybe get another. Wardy was the driving force in our attacking play in the first half, clearly back to his tenacious best & giving the QPR defence a torrid time from the left wing. Sad to seem him limp off injured, presumably from a reoccurrence of his hamstring problems. We coped ok without him though. We were an attacking threat from corners, particularly from Hughes. At last. I would imagine McClaren’s been working on that in training.
Eustace had a mixed game to be honest. The crucial goal, his experience & his constant nipping at the referee were all good points but he lost possession, gave away fouls and was bypassed too many times. I think it might be sensible to rest him & blood George Thorne for a few games. I’ve seen Thorne play for Watford this season. He’s a big lad, comfortable on the ball & easily capable of putting in a crunching tackle if necessary. He might be useful cover but he’s young & still feeling his way back from injury. However, I don’t see the point in getting him in if we’re not going to use him.
QPR came out in the second half with more attacking intent, partly thanks to David Hoilett coming on as sub. He was a danger down the right for the rest of the game, really testing Craig Forsyth’s defensive nous. For the most part Fozzy coped well, despite a booking, and wasn’t far off Keogh & Bucko in the man of the match stakes (in my view). The other sub, Modibo Maiga, thankfully, proved to be just as useless as Johnson.
The second half turned into a bit of a rearguard action with Hoilett, Barton (in a typically mardy performance), Kranjcar & the spectacularly bequiffed Assou-Ekotto all playing well for QPR. Assou-Ekotto was the best player on the pitch by a country mile, he really should be playing at a higher level than this. What ability on the ball for a left back!
We weathered the storm though, with a performance of massive commitment & resilience. All the back five, especially Keogh & Bucko, stood out & it was great to see our “never say die” approach resulting in a clean sheet for once. Most of the team were out on their feet but I’d like to think that the crowd, with their rousing “Come on Derby!” chants, helped to inject a bit of energy & spirit & helped us get to that final whistle.
We have two fairly straightforward games (oops, that’s jinxed it..) to play now before we have another crucial test away at Burnley. I’ll be disappointed if we’re not in second place by then.