So. A first return to Pride Park since April & time to see what state the club was in after a dispiriting defeat to Sheffield United & an even more dispiriting end to the transfer window. You could say I had low expectations about the game as The Witch & Spicy and I took our seats in the Guthrie. It was also a bit of a strange experience, to be honest. I’d given this up, I’m a Watford season ticket holder now.. However, it was nice to catch up with the old gang before kick off. Aside, that is, from having to field the obligatory “I see Will Hughes isn’t playing for Watford” question. Annoying.
The team news contained a few surprises. Wisdom out due to illness, so the ever reliable Bairdinho came in at right back. Tom Lawrence replaced Russell wide on the left. Thankfully, Gary Rowett persevered with Vydra & Nuge up front. I had sort of assumed he would revert to 4-3-3 & Chris Martin, which seems to be the default position whenever we run into some poor form. Given that we’d loaned out 15 central midfielders, it was inevitable Huddlestone & Johnson would be in the centre. There was no place for Kieftenbeld unfortunately..
I’m not naive enough to think that this performance heralds a new dawn for Derby but the tempo & intensity from the start was at a level I’ve not experienced since that first McClaren season. And felt pleasingly similar to those Forest and Brighton games. It was all quite euphoric really.
Vydra was at the heart of everything, nearly scoring from an overhead kick early on. He was in the thick of the action a few minutes later & won a free kick on the edge of the area. And then he smashed it in. Brilliant stuff. I did think for a minute that the goalie could’ve done better but it was a fine strike & he was unsighted.
Hull were still in the game at this stage. Dawson flashed a header wide from a free kick & then the watershed moment of the match came. Hull lobbed a dangerous ball in from the left, which Aina would have connected with if Lawrence hadn’t hauled him down. God knows what he thought he was doing, as it was a classic rugby tackle. Perhaps he lost his footing a bit. It didn’t matter, as Larsson blasted the ball over much to the derision of the Derby fans all around us. I was starting to think this would be a good evening..
Hull collapsed after that, probably due to a number of factors. The intensity of Derby’s performance, the clinical finishing, Slutsky’s naivety in this league, the presence of me & The Witch, the alignment of the stars.. I reckon Hull are just a team going through serious transition, getting used to being without their Premier League status, losing Marco Silva & selling their best players. We probably caught them at a good time.
Anyway, back to the clinical finishing. Vydra slotted in his second after some great interplay with Johnson, Lawrence & Nugent. Nuge and Vydra look like they’re building up a good partnership. It’s good to have two strikers on the pitch too, although obviously Vydra’s in the hole. Hull couldn’t really cope with the interplay, movement & flexibility this 4-2-3-1 system seems to provide (when played well). Certainly, the way it worked in this game was a world away from the tippy-tappy, ponderous, predictable football of the last three seasons. Let’s hope this continues & wasn’t a one off.
The Davies goal was significant. Yes, it was a good goal, although the Hull defence didn’t cover itself in glory. It was significant because it hinted at two things – we have someone for once (Lawrence) who can take a corner properly. And we also have someone (Davies) who is a threat at set pieces. How exciting!
Lawrence is also a threat from open play, as he quickly demonstrated with an excellent cross a short while later, ably slotted home by Johnson on the far post. The atmosphere in the stands was jubilant at this stage, man (& woman) hugs abounded in our little area. There was just time for a fine shot from Vydra before half time, which was well saved by their keeper. That would have been a well deserved hat trick.
As half time came & went we all knew Hull might get back into things & they did to a certain extent. However, although the tempo & intensity couldn’t match that of the first half, it was enough to get us a fifth goal, causally & seemingly effortlessly stroked home by Johnson. He had a good game although there was a fair smattering of the usual misplaced balls & a few occasions he was completely bypassed in midfield. There was another significant thing about the goal though. It came from an error by a Hull defender but that only happened because of Weimann’s pressing & harrying. Another thing I’ve not really seen from a Derby side for years.
I liked the look of Sam Winnall when he came on. Obviously in the Rowett mould, as in he worked tremendously hard but he showed a few glimpses of skill as well. He’s clearly earmarked for “The Nugent Role” too, which feels a positive development. This left Martin as Vydra’s understudy, a role which he’s more suited to than playing up top, especially as he again (in my view) demonstrated a ponderous lack of mobility.
And there we had it. A 5-0 victory, a clean sheet, several highly significant moments & a performance of rich promise. All that was left was for me & The Witch to head back to our sumptuous, luxury riverside hotel for a celebratory beer.
It’s back to the hard reality of the Premier League on Saturday for the visit to The Vic of everyone’s tip for Champions this season, Man City. Jobs a good ‘un.