I nearly fell asleep during this game. That’s an indication that either the match was extremely boring or I was intensely relaxed about the whole affair. In truth, it was a bit of both. It was a scrappy game, exactly what you’d expect from the 1st game of the season, with a new manager, playing against a fellow play off finalist from last season. In the scheme of things it was a good result, as most people (apart from the more hysterical Twitter folk) have been saying since Saturday. Clean sheets are important & as Pearson suggested afterwards, it’s probably a game we would have lost last season.
The team news was interesting, to say the least. Bent, Blackman & Ince have all had a good pre-season, so their inclusion wasn’t a surprise. I was quite heartened to Martin was on the bench to be honest. I think the days of him being picked when he’s off his game, in the vain hope that he’ll perform, disappeared with Pearson’s appointment.
What else? Aah… Hughes on the bench & a retro central midfield of Bryson & Hendrick. It seems Pearson wanted to go with a bit of energy in the centre rather than the robust guile of Will. I’m sure that will change, given Hughes’ performance when he came on & the ineffectiveness of the other two (although Bryson ran his socks off). I expected Johnson to be in there somewhere, perhaps to give us a bit of physicality. That just leaves the most unpopular team selection of the day, Baird in at left back instead of Fozzy, who was playing a support role at a local hospital. “What about Max Lowe?” was the plaintive cry from a few Rams fans. Well, Baird did a good job defensively against Knockaert, one the most effective attacking wide players in the Championship. I don’t think you want a kid, however talented, to make his debut against a player like that. Fozzy’s absence meant that there was no chance of much attacking play on our left side though.
The game then. Not a satisfying experience but I can’t recall an opening home game of the season that’s exactly filled me with joy. The 1st ten minutes or so were actually quite good with Bent nearly connecting with a Christie cross & Stockdale saving well twice from Ince. Blackman was looking dangerous too. Perhaps if we’d scored then the game would have been different. However, our performance dropped off, we didn’t use the ball well enough in central midfield & Brighton began to dominate. Half time was a bit of a relief. We had a nice chat about the broken bit in the roof above us & the continued ineffectiveness of the PA system. It was more exciting than talking about the football to be honest.
The 2nd half was equally unmemorable. Brighton had a bit of a purple patch but were faced with some resilient defending (although a tad too much on the desperate side for my liking). Christie and Shackell cleared off the line. Bryson ran around like a dervish as you’d expect, Hendrick picked out a few good passes in the final third but was prone to looking a bit heavy legged. Carson was his reliable self. Hughes improved things when he came on & we got more into the game near the end without getting a shot on target.
Johnson then. Slow in thought, slow in action, he again looked very lethargic and uncommitted. His distribution was awful at times & quite a few Derby attacks foundered as a result. He had been very poor in that 1st half but seemed to get worse in the 2nd. It was inevitable he’d get replaced at some stage & when Will came on & Johnson’s name was announced, there were ironic cheers from a significant number of fans (me included).
A bit of a debate has raged about this ever since & I can sort of see both sides (Steve Nicholson’s article on Johnson is excellent and gave me much food for thought). It’s been said that the reaction to his substitution was not going to help someone obviously low on confidence & we should give him more time. It’s also been said that it’s much too early in the season to be criticising players & we should not forget his brilliant performance in the thrashing of Hull. All valid points. However, I’m of the view that fans are entitled to express their frustration with someone who is paid very handsomely but has seemingly failed to take the opportunity offered by Pearson’s “fresh start”. If it was his debut or first few games for us, it would be different, however, he’s been playing poorly for a long time now. I’ll be happy to be proved wrong but I can’t see him ever being able to make any sort of meaningful contribution to this club.
So there you go. A 0-0 draw to start the season off. We needed to make sure we didn’t lose & we got point when we didn’t play well. Something to build on then & I’m confident we’ll improve.