Derby County 3 : Bristol City 3 – 11 February 2017

Ridiculous. Bonkers. Inept. Pathetic. Resurgent. Unreal. Phenomenal comeback. A defining moment. Just a few words and phrases to describe this craziest of games. As I travelled back to London afterwards, I couldn’t really contemplate what I had seen. A gutless bunch of players, lacking commitment and character who had thrown away a chance for an easy win? A team ready to implode and spiral away from a spot in the play offs, just like a couple of seasons ago? Or a team that responded magnificently to a half time shellacking from its manager & clawed its way back dramatically from an almost certain defeat. Who knows? I don’t know what this team is doing anymore. Or what it’s capable of achieving.
What I do know is the rest of the season is going to be a rollercoaster ride. That much is obvious. Is it going to be a chance for play off glory at Wembley or time for us to bottle it and start rolling out the excuses (I can hear the “if only we’d not chosen Pearson and had McClaren from the start” refrains even now.)
We’re in an unusual run of three home games now against struggling teams, who we simply have to stack up points against if we want a play off place (that gap is widening again). Yet, we were completely outplayed by Bristol City in the first half, as they cut through our midfield at will and our defence gifted them three soft goals. They weren’t that good but could knock in a half decent corner, pass the ball around nicely and were full of commitment and energy. It was all that they needed to have us on the ropes.
Why did the players play so poorly in the first half? They were fresh and rested so there were no excuses about the lethargic way they played. Most of them had been spared FA Cup duty in midweek. Why didn’t we go at them from the start? Where was our tempo, our energy? And why, given that is the obvious way to succeed in this division (apparently) and the manager exhorts them to play like that, why does this team consistently fail to do it? Has the team got the stomach for this fight, the commitment? I thought we had a great squad and they just needed the right system to play in and they would be fine. Really? McClaren needs to find answers, quickly.
Bizarrely, no one could have had any quibbles with the team selection. It was our strongest team. The Warrior back as holding midfielder, Hughes back in to provide the guile and creativity (well, not really) and Bryson to provide those goal scoring runs into the box (well not really). Bent restored to the frontline and Blackman and Vydra consigned to the wilderness. Camara on the left to deliver his unique combination of skill, pace and trickery (well, not really). Pearce returned in place of the unlucky FA Cup specialist, Shackell. Olsson was back for the fragile Lowe. There you go. Our best team. And they were awful. Camara in particular. Nothing seemed to work for him and that didn’t change all game. He stayed on the pitch by default.
I can understand why McClaren felt he needed to make changes after half an hour. Something needed to be done. Johnson and Bryson were hauled off but it made little difference. I found it impossible to work out what formation we were playing when Anya and Butterfield came on. Butterfield did well actually but Anya was lost. He appeared be playing somewhere behind or to the side of Bent. Or was that Ince? Was it a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-1-1? Who knows? I didn’t see Johnson throw his shirt to the floor. Presumably he was angry with himself for the way he played in that first half an hour, although he wasn’t the worst. I think I might prefer a display of passion and anger rather than Bryson running off the pitch and politely applauding the fans.
When did the fact that some of the crowd boo when we play badly become such a crucial issue for these players? Are we not entitled to express dissatisfaction? What do the players expect from fans at half time after a performance like that? Polite applause? Silence? Perhaps we all should have taken our shirts off and thrown them on the floor. If McClaren can show anger at half time about how the team played, why can’t the fans? McClaren says he “lost his Christian values” at half time. How did the players react to that then? Did they all collectively flounce out of the dressing room in response, saying “I will just not be spoken to like that!” That half time warm up was crazy too. They’d clearly been sent out early as a punishment but after a few half-hearted jogs across the width of the pitch, they just stood around in the cold waiting for Bristol to come out.
As we know, the second half was a whole different ball game. Slightly reminiscent of the comebacks in the Ipswich and Yeovil home games in McClaren’s first season.
The Matty Taylor miss at 1-3, I think I could have scored that.
Hughes. Apart from the occasional spark, he was off the pace and didn’t look match fit. Battered and buffeted by City players late in the second half and ended the game a heap on the pitch.
Baird’s cross for Bent’s goal was sublime.
Anya’s cross for Ince’s goal was equally sublime. Strangely, he looked a lot more effective going forward when he moved to right back. I reckon he should start against Cardiff but perhaps instead of Camara rather than Baird.
I was pleased to see Nugent on the pitch in what looked suspiciously like a front two (perish the thought). Ince doesn’t look effective centrally. He had a lot more impact on either side.
We all look forward to the Cardiff game. What side will we put out, what formation will we play, will we play with tempo or not. Not sure what the answers to those questions are but I’m sure we have many defining moments ahead of us.
Onwards and upwards.
 

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