Derby County 2 : Barnsley 1 – 4 March 2017

For the first time in ages I felt strangely positive about Derby’s prospects before this game. I thought we’d win this comfortably and play well. I was partly right. A first win after a dreadful February and 7 games without a win and if you forget about the first 30 minutes, we were pretty good. Barnsley were dangerous to start off with and are above us in the table, so it was a good win. Not sure it changes our prospects of getting in the play offs (that ten point gap needs to start closing quickly) but you never know. Could we be on the start of a run? A run that will keep McClaren in his job?
 Following the now usual pre-match ritual of a burger in The Bell Hotel, we professed ourselves satisfied with the team news when it came through while we were strolling through the desolation that is Derby Riverlights in the direction of Pride Park. Vydra back in the fold and potentially playing behind Nugent. Hughes dropped to the bench, which was fully justified given his more recent poor form. Olsson in for Lowe was a bit strange but perhaps the kid is being wrapped in cotton wool given his well known fragility. Thankfully the selection signalled a move away from the failing 433 (yes I know it worked earlier in the season but no one is saying it’s effective now, not even McClaren). The motivation behind the new system was to ensure the main striker wasn’t too isolated.
All my positivity drained out of me within minutes of the game getting underway. Firstly, Vydra wasn’t playing alongside Nugent or in the hole behind him. He was stuck out on the left. Hmmm. Visionary stuff from McClaren. Of course, the game started without any tempo or energy from Derby but that wasn’t the only problem. They were edgy and could barely string a pass together. Balls were lumped forward vaguely in the direction of Nugent without much effect. The body language of some of the players was awful. Was this heading for another defeat?
After our woeful first half hour, Barnsley lost their focus and let us back in. Or maybe we set our nervousness aside and discovered some inner resilience. That prevented a chorus of boos at half time but it wasn’t enough to stop us conceding after 52 mins. Barnsley chucked in a quite tremendous long throw in, not a single Derby defender rose to challenge and Matty James had a free header. One nil down. To our credit, we were back in it pretty quickly and Ince equalised two minutes later from a Christie cross. Some resilience from the team then, haven’t seen that for a while.
Ince was playing in that role that you think a player of his ability would be perfect for. The playmaker in the hole. Trouble is Clement and Pearson have tried to play him there and it never seemed to quite work. It didn’t this time either, in my view, although Ince looked dangerous from the odd free kick or when attacking from the wing. To give him credit, not for the first time this season, he worked tirelessly for the cause. Pressing, harassing and chasing after aimless long balls. He did it all.
After the match we learnt from McClaren that, until he was struck down by illness, Bent was supposed to be playing up front (presumably with Nugent in the hole) and Ince in Russell’s position out wide. Hmmm.. Not sure that would have worked as well. And Vydra asked to play on the left apparently. Well I never.
 De Sart struggled defensively. And offensively. He was so inadequate we struggled to work out who Butterfield had replaced at half time. We’d literally forgotten he was playing for us so anonymous was he in that first half.
Johnson put in his standard robust performance, sprinkled with the usual wasteful balls and wayward strikes well over the bar. You would hope that, if we’re having a central midfield two from now on, Johnson will have a stronger partner. Hughes perhaps? He’s been off his game for a while but still looked better than de Sart when he came on. And had a shot on target.
Russell had a good game. Direct, pacey, committed, he should have scored in the first half when through on goal (all his own work, mind) but his finishing let him down. Too tame. He kept going though and had a strong shot tipped over in the second half. Vydra did well actually in that left forward role and worked hard. He gave way to Anya late in the game allowing the nicest man in football to demonstrate what natural wide players can achieve – he had the beating of their defenders twice in quick succession and nearly created chances for us to score.
Nugent’s winning goal wasn’t spectacular, it took a hefty deflection on the way in but I think we probably deserved a bit of luck and we certainly deserved the win. His celebration was impressive, part manic acceleration and part 20 yard knee slide.
A gentle roar greeted the final whistle. A deserved victory and hopefully a sign of some redemption for the team and McClaren before the end of the season. And ten shots on goal too, when did we last achieve that!
 
 

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