This has got to be the most depressing nights of football I’ve experienced in recent years. A soulless, box of a ground, seemingly made from bits of concrete & corrugated iron, an increasingly cold & damp evening and a performance so abject at times it made you question why we keep putting ourselves through this.
Again, you could see the logic of the team selection. If Thorne isn’t match fit, there is little point in him being in the squad (although you have to ask how it was possible for Wassall to have assessed him as fit to start the Wolves game & come on against Huddersfield). Bryson & Butterfield would hopefully give us a good balance of guile & energy in central midfield. The fact that Hendrick was on the bench was probably an indication he was either knackered or Wassall wasn’t impressed by his overall performance on Saturday. Russell scored a great goal on Saturday, so he was an odds on starter.
We had a good first ten minutes, knocking the ball around well in relatively advanced positions. I think Ince (again placed on the left) had a decent shot on goal. And then QPR steadily got into the game with their forwards, Tjaronn Chery, Matt Phillips, Junior Hoilett & Sebastian Polter all looking mobile & dangerous. They sort of did the normal things decent teams do. Pass to each other, keep possession, move forward with pace, cross the ball into dangerous areas. Score goals.
After 24 mins, the inevitable happened, Chery opened the scoring with a volley from six-yards out after some casual defending from us (perhaps we were defending with “freedom”?). You’d expect some sort of reaction from Derby after that, especially if our team spirit is so high and they’re all so highly motivated by our Head Coach. But no.. we fell apart basically, started playing too deep, struggled to pass the ball to each other or keep possession. All the normal faults. I was going to say that you would have thought Hanson would add some grit & control to central midfield too but sadly that wasn’t to be. In fact for most of the game he appeared to be playing as a sweeper. Yes, really. Not shielding the central defence but often positioning himself between them & Carson. Bonkers. I can’t believe he did this of his own volition, so it must have been a stroke of tactical genius from Wassall. God help us.
Time for the half time chat from Wassall, the best motivator in the club. Things began to improve for us but only really in the sense that we were less awful than we had been in the first half. We huffed and puffed a bit but were still struggling to look fluid or create any chances. Martin, who had cut an isolated, dispirited & distraught figure throughout whacked a soft volley into the pitch & towards the goal that was easily dealt with by Smithies. Some Derby subs began to leak onto the pitch. On came Jeff, who ran around a lot & added a bit of energy. On came Bent as well, who did a nice little cameo of a player who’s had very little game time over the past 6 months. Blackman came on for the completely ineffective Russell. He didn’t add much.
Then the inevitable happened. Four minutes to go, Phillips crossed into the box and an unmarked Angella knocked the ball in at the back post. Again, this was woefully defended. And then it was all over. The players trudged off, apart from Martin, who ambled over to us to politely applaud us for our attendance. Thankfully, the defeat meant that there was no aggressive fist pumping from Wassall. Personally, I think a bit of polite applause would have been nice. Maybe he was put off by the “Derby Way” chant we were singing in the latter part of the game.
So. Where does this leave us?
QPR weren’t brilliant but they had enough quality to cause us problems. But, given they’d been struggling recently & we’ve got our sights on promotion (I think) we should’ve got a result here. The fact that we deservedly lost doesn’t bode well for the rest of the season. If we do get in the play offs it will be down to the failings of others in the top 6. Only Burnley look impressive out of that lot at the moment.
Our defending was awful in this game. A million miles from our defensive resilience at the start of the season. Is Wassall not working on this on the training pitch? Is Craig Short? If they are, they’re not doing a very good job. I wonder what we could achieve if an experienced coach was working with these players.
The holding midfielder role is clearly a problem but Wassall is making things worse. Is Thorne fit or not? It’s not surprising if he has got fitness issues this season, after all he’s probably played more games this season than at any time in his career. But why play him at Wolves if he wasn’t fit. And why say he’s not in the squad against QPR, suggest he’s going to play for the U21s & then change your mind & say he’s fit for the Rotherham game? And is Hanson good enough? And why play him so deep? I’ve got no confidence in Wassall’s handling of all of this.
Rotherham on Saturday & then the visit of Forest will be seminal games for us. No Derby fans are confident about them & I can see us out of the play off positions by the end of it. Will that bring Mel to his senses & result in the appointment of a proper manager? I doubt it. I think that particular die is cast.