Derby County 3: Rotherham United 0 – 19th November 2016

I was intrigued how I would feel about this. Apart from watching the first half against Wolves on TV,  I’d not seen a Rams game for eight weeks, the inglorious defeat against Blackburn. The game that pushed me 50% of the way towards being a Watford season ticket holder next season. 
There’s been a lot to take in since then. The ludicrous suspension & inevitable sacking of Pearson (in my view, unfairly stereotyped as a morose, psychopathic 4-4-2 obsessionist). Oh, that pushed me a further 40% towards being a resident at Vicarage Road next season… 
To be honest, I was actually excited by the return of the Mac, even though I was 5,000 miles away in a hotel room in Quebec City when I heard the news. I’m obviously still an idealist at heart. Who can forget those glorious days under him in the 2013/14 season when we played some wondrous football until we crashed & burned at Wembley. I feel more confident about him being on the touchline (with his cup of coffee) than Clement, Wassall or Pearson. 
However, the return of Chris Evans and the mysterious silence over the future of our fabled, recently appointed recruitment department (Steve Hitchen & Rob Mackenzie, if you’ve forgotten their names) worried me somewhat. If they’re still here & Chris Evans isn’t in charge of recruitment, what is he actually doing?
And…. Have we forgotten our struggles in the 2nd  McClaren season? Forget the guff about him flirting with the Toon, what about the obsession with 4-3-3 when we’d lost the only 2 players that made it work? What about the hideous last games of the season when we sank like a stone and lost 0-3 at home to a mediocre team, when we only needed a draw to get in the play offs? Has Steve reflected on that & learnt lessons? I hope so. Has Mel? Probably not.
Having said all this it seems to have worked out ok. So far. Not flawless by any stretch of the imagination but there has definitely been progress. After all, we’re only four points off the play offs now, when most people, including me, were writing off our chances. The team seems more at ease with itself, more confident, more positive. And like in his first season, McClaren’s coaching appears to be getting an extra 10% or so from the players, perhaps even more so with the likes of Bent & Ince. Johnson has been resurrected too, something I never thought I’d see. I gave him a standing ovation when he came off. I hope Mel was impressed by my positivity.
Anyway. The game. What happened? Well, it was a good win but Rotherham were shocking & it felt like a training match or pre-season game at times. McClaren pulled a bit of surprise with the team selection. Christie needed replacing & we all assumed he would go with Scottish international attacking right back Anya. But no, McClaren took the Andre Wisdom option. A solid, cautious defender on one side & a dangerous attacker on the other side. We don’t want to completely throw caution to the wind do we? 
One of the main things I recall from 2013/14 was that tempo we started games with, making sure we started “on the front foot”. We often absolutely blew teams away doing that. Not this time. The first 15 minutes sort of drifted away with no Derby player looking too interested in getting at Rotherham.
After 15 minutes that all changed. Johnson did his job of breaking things up in front of the back four & Butterfield had the run of the midfield to dart forward & release Ince. Ince did what he normally does from the right. Cut in. It doesn’t normally work but the Rotherham defender wasn’t up to it. Over Ince went. Penalty. Poorly taken & saved by Daddy’s Boy but Ince scored from the rebound. You would think he might have a little word with himself & think “Must do better if I get another penalty”. Well… 
Four minutes passed. Another gaping hole in the Rotherham midfield, another darting run from Butterfield & a great run into the box & finish from Darren Bent Bent Bent (our nouveau Chris Martin) & away we were. Two nil. Then there was a chance for Alex Pearce to make it three with what looked like, at the time, a soft header. On reflection, it was a great save from Lee Camp. Bless him. 
Two nil up at half time. The half time break allowed us to ruminate on what had happened & spout the usual “a two nil lead is never enough” & “there for the taking” clichés.
The second half proceeded at the same languid pace as the first. Not sure we’ll get away with doing that against a good team. Or Norwich even.
After the hour mark, it was time to relax. Ince was put through on goal by Johnson & finished well. Three nil. Then another penalty & a chance for Ince to get a hat trick. No. Not the worst penalty in the world but not good enough to beat Daddy’s Boy. Then a chance from Vydra. He nearly scored but could have done better. It pains me to see him & Anya on the bench. Bent has been leading the line well, make no mistake but it’s a good example of our dysfunctional recruitment policy that we have our  £12.5 million record signing wasting away on the bench. Time to rotate maybe? 
And there you go. It was all over. Time to applaud the team off & revel in the fact that we were four points off the play offs. Would you believe it? Top six by Christmas anyone?

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