Derby County 1: Norwich City 0 – 26th November 2016

Derby 1: Norwich City 0
It’s just like 2013. The Mac is back, so is Chris Evans, so is the old name of the stadium (nearly) and the so are the results. In fact, so far, the results more or less mirror exactly what McClaren achieved when he came back the first time. So it’s four wins on the trot & a resilient, watershed victory against a big, parachute payment laden team in the top six (albeit one that has a few issues, this being their fifth defeat in a row), five clean sheets in a row at home and we’re now two points off the play offs. As much as I was willing to persist with Pearson, what McClaren has achieved is astounding.
The team news was unsurprising. After the easy win against Rotherham the previous Saturday, there was not really any need to change anything around. So the bench still contained £20 million worth of players that McClaren doesn’t deem good enough to be in the first team at the moment. As I’ve said before, that’s not a sign we have a strong squad, that’s an indication we have a dysfunctional, unbalanced one. And, let’s not forget, it’s perfect evidence of the random, inconsistent approach we’ve had to player recruitment over the last few years. 
The main talking point before the match was Hughes’ alleged rejection of a new contract. Despite the prevailing view being that “players always reject the first contract offered” and “Mel will throw enough money at him to persuade him to stay” I tend to think it’s time for Hughes to move on for the sake of his development. I think he needs a new challenge, an opportunity to refresh his career. He was to have a mixed game. The usual sublime touches, with a few wayward passes & lost possession. I think he was trying too hard, to be honest.
This was Bradley Johnson’s match. Clearly still well regarded by the Norwich travelling faithful, Johnson continued to perform well in the Eustace/Thorne role (aside from a few occasions where he was bypassed or lost possession too easily) and scored the winning goal after Hughes had ran into a dead end on the edge of the Norwich penalty area. 
We had to be resilient and solid to get this win, particularly in the first half. It appears that McClaren may have banished those flaky defensive performances of the last few months of his first reign. Pearce, Keogh, Lowe & Baird (who had one of his best games for us) deserve a lot of credit for this. 
Norwich had the best of the first half but only manged to carve out one chance, with the talented Wes Hoolahan shooting just over. We’d managed just the one chance too, with Ince having a strong 25 yard shot saved after good work by Russell and Bent.
We had the better of the second half, although Norwich had their best chance of the game when Carson saved well from Steven Naismith’s low shot. After that, we started to gain control of the game, with Bent, Ince and Butterfield all having chances. Ince was working like a trojan, I’ve never seen him put in such a shift. It was effective too. 
The breakthrough from Johnson came on the hour mark. It was pleasing to see him keep a shot down for once. He didn’t celebrate in front of his old fans but did appear to make a few gestures in the direction of Alex Neil, in the Norwich dugout. Perhaps he was still a tad angry about being ditched. Fair play to him. I’d lost patience with him last season (and the start of this one) but he’s done well and demonstrated what a capable player he is. Obviously, he’s a bit of a confidence player, so this run in the side and this goal should stand him in good stead. Good. We need a player who can play that role for probably the rest of this season. Let Thorne get properly fit this time.
It’s at times like this, with only a one nil win to defend, you kind of expected us to throw it all away and concede a late goal or two. But no, only a pathetic free kick from Alex Pritchard came anywhere close to threatening us and there we were. Another victory and I’m starting to enjoy watching this team again. Thanks, Steve.

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