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!

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