Poll: Derby County fans concerned over Mel Morris’ performance as Rams owner

42 per cent of more than 800 voters said they were unsatisfied with Mel Morris’ performance as Derby County owner, in a recent Twitter poll.

A further 40 per cent of voters said they were ‘on the fence’, while 18 per cent said that they were satisfied.


The poll was conducted using the hashtags #dcfc and #dcfcfans and with 806 people having responded, the overall picture is one of deep reservations and serious concerns over the future direction of Derby County, rather than of a happy camp.

And this is no surprise, with Nigel Pearson’s inevitable departure from the iPro Stadium having finally been confirmed.  The first report from a national newspaper – filed at exactly the same time as the club’s official announcement – claimed that Chris Powell will now be appointed until the end of the season.

Powell would certainly be a huge upgrade on last season’s stopgap head coach, Darren Wassall, but inherits a much more difficult situation.  The Rams’ start to the season has been appalling.  Chris Martin is gone and linchpin midfielder George Thorne remains sidelined.  Supporters have endured five home league games with only one goal, leading to nervous tension and negativity around the iPro Stadium.  Next up is a visit from the Damned United – which could end in cathartic relief, or a bit of a nightmare – and then a trip to the division’s surprise package, Huddersfield Town, top of the league under Jürgen Klopp’s former assistant David Wagner.

On the plus side for Morris, 40 per cent of voters remain ‘on the fence’ about his stewardship of the club and 18 per cent declared that they are satisfied with how he has done.  Doubtless, these loyal fans are mindful of Mel’s proven financial commitment, which has built up the club’s infrastructure and its Category One academy – even if the cash lavished on new players did not have the expected immediate impact.

However, on the whole, the wild positivity which accompanied the local lad Morris into Derby just 18 months ago has since been replaced with deep nervousness about the long-term direction of the club.

The main problems:-

Turnover of managers

Paul Clement’s dismissal followed a relatively iffy run of results, but still came as a shock.  A simple explanation was recently offered by Clement’s brother Neil: –

Listen facts are under my bro you where top at xmas and slipped to 4th in Jan.  And your chairman had a panic up cos he’s a nugget…   And that was because the season before you slipped up under mclaren toward the end of the season.

But if Neil Clement is right and Morris thought that promotion was slipping away again, then that leaves the question of why he didn’t look to appoint an experienced hand straight away – and then we come back to Mel’s infamous statement that promotion was not the main aim…

…And then we end up going back down the rabbit hole.

Whatever the reason, we ended up with Wassall until the end of last season – with a never-fully explained role invented for Harry Redknapp, after the shameful 3-3 draw at Rotherham.  This was a bit of a shambles all round and there was a general feeling that a golden opportunity to go up had been wasted.

Pearson’s appointment this summer was met with sage nods from the pundits and the majority of supporters, but it was always clear that it would mean a fundamental shift of emphasis – from the passing football we’d come to know, love and sometimes moan about when clubs frustrated us with a deep-lying defensive blob, to something more functional. Pearson spoke stirringly about playing good football ‘when possible’.

From the outside, it seems to me that well-run clubs have an identity and a clear vision in place for the type of manager (or head coach) they want and that this ensures continuity of appointments.  Swansea and particularly Southampton spring to mind – whoever is in charge, they seem to put out neat, passing teams, remain fundamentally stable and progress incrementally up the football pyramid, recruiting well to replace those players who are pinched by bigger clubs.  And if the club wants to play a certain type of football, then it needs a manager who will buy into that.

Unless Powell is appointed and makes a real go of it, long-term, the club might now looking for somebody who is more of a continental-style head coach – possibly a foreign appointment – and certainly somebody who plays football in ‘the right way’.  For example, at the time, his reputation was at a low ebb, following his sacking by Everton but it’s unquestionably the case that Roberto Martínez would have been a better fit for the current squad than Pearson was (although it may not have gone down well with Steve Nicholson!)


To put it bluntly, the money put in to strengthen the squad since Mel took over has not translated into improved performances.  Chris Evans’ tenure as Head of Football Operations resulted in a slew of underwhelming signings and it is only recently that new Directors of Recruitment have been brought on board.  Unfortunately, the money has already been spent and Financial Fair Play constraints are undoubtedly a factor.

The new manager, whether it’s Powell or somebody else, will not have access to a blank chequebook and will probably have to sell before he buys, or rely on the loan market.  That is not necessarily a disaster, as there is a good squad of players in place and one or two loanees, hopefully with the impact of a Jordon Ibe or a George Thorne, could be just the boost we need in January.  Derby are a club that can attract the top young prospects from the elite clubs and this is a market we can profit from.

Also, Will Hughes’ contract situation is one that will become more pressing as the days tick down.  At the moment, I can see no reason why he would pen an extension and that might force the club to cash in, at some stage.  It would be awful to lose him – but unless the player can see a clear direction and vision for progress, leading to the opportunity to play in the Premier League, then why would he stay?


Things have got a bit weird of late.  The club refused to allow Chris Powell, or anybody else, to speak to BBC Radio Derby after the Reading game and since Radio Derby tweeted this, there has been no further mention of the incident, as far as I am aware.  Presumably, things will be back to normal for the Leeds game next Saturday, but it was a very unusual thing for the club to do, to say the least.

I’ve seen it suggested that this was because Owen Bradley introduced his coverage of the game with the line: “The Derby County soap opera continues…” and if it is really the case that this mild and objectively reasonable comment led to a ‘power play’ from the club, then that seems like an incredibly heavy-handed response.  Subscribers to Rams Player may also have noted that the Radio Derby commentary, which used to be overdubbed onto the match footage, is no longer played on ‘Full 90’ videos.  I don’t think that this is a coincidence.


For what it’s worth, although I will never understand why Morris’ sacked Clement, I don’t disagree with him on this one.  Pearson was in place very early in the summer and had plenty of time to assess the squad, both through video analysis and then during pre-season.  He decided that the players he’d inherited would be able to play his way and that no changes were required – a policy reversed only in the dying moments of the August transfer window, by which time, it was abundantly clear that we were in a spot of bother. Morris watched all this unfold, watched the team die on its arse against Blackburn and then in the aftermath, whatever happened, happened.

In an interview with the Derby Telegraph this week, Richard Keogh seemed to make it pretty plain that the squad were not exactly devastated to see Pearson go.  “Our season started against Cardiff”, he said, adding that it was clear that 4-3-3 (or 4-1-4-1, if we must call it that) “probably does suit us a lot more [than 4-4-2].  We’re getting our ball players higher up the pitch and they can affect games more.”  Hallelujah.

But while I don’t disagree with Morris’ latest decision, that doesn’t mean that I am prepared to defend an owner who has now appointed and then sacked two managers in such a short space of time.  It is undignified and unsettling for everyone who cares about the club – some people will have voted ‘unsatisfied’ in my poll precisely because they disagreed with Pearson’s sacking – and without doubt, unsettling for the players as well. It’s been pointed out to me that if Powell is appointed until the end of the season, then the Rams could be in a position of a new man coming in next summer as the club’s sixth manager in two years. Even by the standards of today’s trigger-happy game, that is insane.

What happens next is far more important than knowing the gory details of why Pearson has gone.  But it cannot be denied that having another manager depart so swiftly is another black mark against the owner.  It is hard to think why any promising, highly-rated manager would risk coming to Derby now – and also hard to see how the club could afford to pay compensation for an in-work coach, given that pay-offs for Clement and Pearson have been added to the wagebill.

I think it’s fair to say that the majority of Rams fans are still willing Mel to succeed with Derby County, but are desperately keen for him to bring the stability we need in order to progress.  We all want to talk about performances on the field, not rows behind the scenes – and points on the board, not rumblings in the boardroom.

Share this with other people...
[Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Twitter] [Windows Live] [Yahoo!] [Email]
Posted in Derby County, Finances, History | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Poll: Derby County fans concerned over Mel Morris’ performance as Rams owner

Derby County Podcast – on Pearson, Powell, Morris and where we go from here

I was pleased to be asked to take part in another Derby County Podcast, this time with Joel, Chris Smith (AKA Ramspace) and Matt Bregazzi.  The guys talk a lot of sense and it’s always interesting to get their perspectives on events.

In this episode, there was a hell of a lot to talk about – so we did well to keep it down to an hour.


Share this with other people...
[Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Twitter] [Windows Live] [Yahoo!] [Email]
Posted in Derby County, Podcasts | Tagged , , | Comments Off on Derby County Podcast – on Pearson, Powell, Morris and where we go from here

How I learned to stop worrying and enjoy the ride on Mad Mel’s Crazy Bonkers Derby County Train

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

I spent hours on a piece analysing where Derby were up to under Nigel Pearson and within hours of me posting it, Morris has suspended him.

To be fair, if Clement’s performance last season was only good enough to get him to February, then it’s no surprise that Pearson’s ended in, reportedly, a massive dust-up before the end of September.

The fact that Morris was saying before the season that he liked the fact that Pearson would tell you what he thought and sort things out man-to-man (which was a clear dig at his last victim, Paul Clement) may have led Pearson to think that he could tell Mel what he thought and sort things out man-to-man, but when he did, he got suspended.

Cards on the table – I couldn’t stand Pearson.  From all the evidence I saw and heard, he was a charmless, humourless, paranoid bully, with no personal skills and zero flair.   I was never as keen on his appointment as many other supporters were – I saw the reasons why, but also catalogued my misgivings in a blogpost, which were around his bizarre ‘charge sheet‘ from the 2014/5 season, in which he verbally abused a young journalist, verbally abused a Leicester supporter and grabbed an opposition player by throat in the middle of a game.  These were not the actions of a normal, balanced individual and it worried me.  When I said he was ‘more suited to the job at Villa‘, I was really thinking, ‘please take him Villa – he might end up here, otherwise’.

I hated the way he seized so radgily on Owen Bradley’s use of the word ‘deployed’ in a recent pre-match interview – sneering and belittling the journalist for having the temerity to use a polysyllabic word, I guess.  Again, it was a little window into Pearson’s world, a little loss of temper at a vanishingly trivial ‘offence’, or something that he deemed an offence.

Anyway, he’s gone.  Mad Mel strikes again.

And I think we just have to accept that this is the way it’s gonna be from now on.  We don’t have a rational, hands-off chairman who leaves things in the hands of the professionals.  We have a guy who can’t detach himself – a kid running a sweet shop and going absolutely mental on the sugar overload, might be another way of describing  it.  All those icy-veined business decisions that made him a multi-millionaire…  Not relevant to his role as custodian of Derby County.  If results go badly, he will take it upon himself to do something.  He will ‘enter the dressing room’.

The old logic – that the manager needs to be given years to set up his team – is largely gone from the game in any case – if you screw up, you’re gone, quick as a flash.

Then again, I don’t know why I’m bringing up the word ‘logic’ in an article about Mel Morris’ Derby County.

Stability is boring anyway.  Remember GSE and Clough?  We pootled along in mid-table, painstakingly developed multi-million pound assets in Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick, shopped in Scotland and the lower divisions and eventually, the arse dropped out of the attendances.  For better or for worse, there’s no danger of things getting stagnant with Mel around, this much is clear.

I’m going to ‘live blog’ this evening and post it after the final whistle against Reading.

6:15pm – I announce on Twitter that I’m available to take the reins for the rest of season, if Mel requires a ‘cheap, FFP-busting option’ – by FFP-busting, I meant ‘helping the club comply with FFP’.  Not a very good choice of words, but there you go.  I was a bit over-excited at the time.  It get me a few likes, but Mel doesn’t call.  Perhaps he’s busy.

6:45pm – The team is announced and Lowe, it is glorious – Max Lowe is handed his debut (as predicted in my last article.  You know, the one I spent hours on and was then redundant almost as soon as it was published.  I don’t know why I bother…)

And it’s 4-3-3!  You know, that system we used for three seasons and which had us in the top eight every time and yielded 38 home wins, compared to 13 losses, but was apparently shite.

7:20pm – A chap rings Radio Derby to suggest David Wagner as a good replacement for Pearson.  It’s a lovely idea – a technical coach, previously assistant to the superb Jürgen Klopp, playing short, passing football with aggressive pressing.  However, think of it from Wagner’s point of view – why would you entrust your future to Mel Morris?  He’s been well backed by Huddersfield, who have allowed him to bring in his own players – and they would resist any attempt to poach him.  Such is the amount of Mel’s money that has been jizzed on non-producing players, that I don’t see how we could afford to pay even more money out on compensation for a manager.

7:36pm – Owen Bradley reports that Big Sam is about to be sacked as England manager….

7:40pm A couple of highlights from Twitter, as we warm up –

Brian Ellis (chief reporter at the Lancashire Evening Post) – Nigel Pearson on his way out? Well that didn’t take long. Most obnoxious manager I think I ever came across in 25 years as a footy writer.

My mate Stu – It appears talk of Sol Bamba was the final straw!

7:45pm – We’re off!  Ed Dawes censures Craig Ramage for using the word ‘transition’.  “You can’t use that word, it’s banned…”

7:48pm Tom Ince has a good shot and I get a genuine sense of excitement – two minutes in, it’s already better…

7:58pm Always worth having a look at the whoscored.com Match Centre for an idea of how the game is going.

7:59pm Rickie Lambert goes off with a groin injury, replaced by Kenneth Zohore.

Steve Nicholson – First chants of “Chrissy Powell’s balmy army” from the Rams fans. He will be on the shortlist should Nigel Pearson be sacked

8:04pm Cardiff have half a spell of pressure and there’s a bit of noise echoing around what sounds like a perilously half-empty stadium

8:06pm Ben Lavender posts a poll – would you take Steve McClaren back as Derby manager?  I vote ‘No’.

8:07pm “Johnson’s first touch gives the ball away” says Ed.  I’m afraid that’s something you see all too often.

8:10pm Patient possession – remember that?  And Hughes has a shot blocked out for a corner.

8:11pm More shots!  Ince, saved, Vydra, saved for corner……  This is exciting!

8:12pm Another corner!  Not that we ever score from corners.  But neither does anybody else – a study of Premier League corners 2011-13 found that only two per cent of them resulted in a goal.

8:14pm Ed says how much he’s enjoying himself.  Me too!  Long may this continue.

8:18pm Noone denies Butterfield, aaaaargh…… Nerves!

8:19pm Lex Immers sounds like a super-villain.  Meanwhile, Whittingham nails Vydra and is booked.

8:29pm Max Lowe getting lots of praise.  Which makes me idly wonder…  Did Morris not feel that Pearson shared his focus on youth?  That was part of why Clement was sacked, apparently.  When ‘the kids’ came off the bench in the cup friendly against Liverpool, Pearson said it “wasn’t political”, which I thought was a very odd choice of words.  If it wasn’t political, why even say that?

8:34pm Half time 0-0 and were those a few boos from the home end?  Ed suggests that Derby have ‘better control’ and the pass success is certainly much more like it – 84 per cent, compared to 75 per cent under Pearson.  That’s the extra central midfielder.

8:40pm The Derby Way is back, apparently…!

Hebberd’s Shin Pads ‏@wristslasher909 – We lost the plot appointing Pearson, never a #derbyway man.  I would never have paid to watch 2 seasons of that shite

MEL8:52pm We’re back and Ramage just launched into Ashford & Simpson’s Solid (as a rock), in praise of Alex Pearce.  Would it be a stretch to suggest that this is all reflective of the delirious sense of relief which has followed the suspension of Mr Pearson?

8:57pm Ince denied by Amos, there’s that excitement again…  The Rams fans are audible – all 317 of them.  God love them, every one.

8:58pm Ramage discussing the fine art of ‘defending from the front’ – something I also heard the great Klopp talking about last night on Sky and which I thought was sadly lacking on Saturday.


9:00pm Ramage: “Possession football – our footballers are coming good.”  YES RAMAGE, YES POWELL

9:01pm Eek, a stung Cardiff come straight up the other end and win a corner, which is headed just wide by Morrison…  Lucky.  “TOUCH TIGHT”, roars Ramage.

9:03pm Ramage using the ‘E’ word…. ‘Enjoy’.  “They’re enjoying it”.  First time all season….

9:08pm The away fans remind me what the Derby way is:-

“If you don’t attack, then you get the sack,
It’s the Derby Way…”

That’ll do as a definition for me!

9:13pm Bradley Johnson getting plenty of encouragement from Ramage.  If he can do that holding role, it would be a huge bonus for our season.

9:15pm Top three players on the park, according to whoscored.com

Ince 7.7 (/ 10)
Lowe 7.6
Pearce 7.4

9:16pm Ed says “Cardiff are the worst side we’ve come up against and if Derby can’t beat them…” Instantaneously ushering in a spell of Cardiff pressure and making everybody listening curse him bitterly.

9:17pm Ramage: “This is the Bradley Johnson we’ve been looking for”.  Long may that continue.  Ed: “Derby’s passing has been very good this evening”.  Long may that continue.

9:19pm 15 minutes to go and Cardiff trying to mount a comeback.  You’d think it would be time for Powell to use his bench – but the bench is Baird and five forwards.  A reminder that there are still some problems, for whoever is going to take the job on, to tackle.

9:20pm Nick Blackman is coming on… It’s a fresh start for everyone.  He’s on for Vydra.

9:24pm Blackman has won a penalty and Connolly is sent off!

9:24pm Nerves


9:26pm Derby have scored more than one goal in a game for the first time all season.  No Pearson, no problem.  Apparently.

9:26pm: Ramage: “I don’t know, this 4-3-3, you know….

“They’re not a team of doggers.”

9:29pm Ince is withdrawn for Russell and receives warm praise from the commentary team and the fans.  Lovely.  Another player who had apparently been destroyed under Pearson.  Centre back Manga is brought on for the injured super-villain Immers.

9:31pm I just keep hearing long spells of commentary which involve Derby passing the ball to each other.  It’s like the good old days again.

9:33pm A pithy quote from a long suffering Cardiff journo…

Dafydd Pritchard ‏@DafPritchard
One more goal and Derby could double their tally for the season in one game.


Since I was young
I followed them
The 4-3-3
It’s the shape for me….

9:35pm Five minutes of stoppage time to play.  Nigel Pearson is still trending, but has been displaced from the top of Twitter by terms like #SamAllardyce, Southgate, Nicklas Bendtner (unfortunately) and Steve Bruce (in connection with the England job, not Derby)…

9:38pm Ramage: “It’s been a stroll.  We could get another one, here… I’ve been starved”.

9:39pm: Weimann on for Anya, to waste a few seconds.

9:40pm Butterfield almost scores another one… “WELL DONE” It’s the Ramage Roar

9:40pm “AND THAT IS TIME”, Ed says.  Cardiff 0 Derby 2

Bigger tests than a moribund Cardiff are ahead of us, but this is where it starts.



Share this with other people...
[Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Twitter] [Windows Live] [Yahoo!] [Email]
Posted in Derby County, History, Match Reports | Tagged , , , | Comments Off on How I learned to stop worrying and enjoy the ride on Mad Mel’s Crazy Bonkers Derby County Train

What the hell is wrong with Derby County?

Understatement – things are not going to plan.  So much so that the pre-season expectations of promotion have now been officially replaced in the club’s communications by a rather desperate repetition of the word ‘transition‘ (a transition, on the face of it, from good to bad).

After the shattering defeat on Saturday, I thought it was time to see if the stats can tell us anything about more about what on earth is going on – perhaps, I hoped, there might even be some much-needed reasons for optimism.

Fair warning – if you don’t like stats, then this post is not for you – go and do something else.  Cheers.


Derby’s catastrophic lack of goals is not for a lack of trying.  They have taken 14 shots per game, the seventh highest average in the Championship – more than league leaders Norwich (13.2) and second-placed Huddersfield, who have taken only 9.9 shots per game (the lowest figure in the division).

Derby have had more shots than their opponents in six out of nine league games to date, taking 57.7 per cent of the total shots – 124 (for three goals) to the opponents’ 91 (for nine goals)


For context, last season, under Paul Clement and Darren Wassall, Derby’s total shots ratio was lower – about 54.5 per cent – and under McClaren in 2014/5, it was lower still, at 50.7 per cent.

However, the Rams’ average of 3.6 shots per game on target is distinctly underwhelming – 16th best in the division.  Barnsley, Sheffield Wednesday and Tammy Abraham Bristol City currently lead the way, with more than five shots on target per match.  Ben Mayhew, blogger at Experimental 3-6-1 and head of sports data visualisation for the Press Association, points out that Derby’s shot accuracy (25.7%) is among the worst in the division.

An important factor is where the shots are being taken from.  Too many of Derby’s ‘dips’ are coming from outside of the penalty area, from where, you are unlikely to score.  The analyst Ted Knutson has calculated that a player shooting from a central position outside the box has only a three per cent chance of scoring.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing to try your luck from distance, if the chance arises – but the vast majority of goals are scored from inside the box, so it’s something of a worry that 53 per cent of Derby’s shots so far have come from long range.  Only the bottom club Wigan have a worse record on that front.

Even so, Derby have still had more shots on target than their opponents in total this season – 31 (for three goals) to 27 (for nine goals).

Mayhew describes the Rams’ lack of goals as “something of a mystery”.  It is downright freakish that Derby have scored so few, based on the amount of shots they’ve taken. By no means do the stats describe a side which genuinely deserves such an abysmal record.


Even after losing four of the last five league games, Derby retain one of the better defensive records in the Championship.

When it comes to shots conceded per match, Derby (10.1) are better than anybody else in the division, except for Norwich (10).  They have played an average of just 26 per cent of each game within their own third of the pitch – the joint best record in the division, with Brighton.

In other words, the Rams are not being peppered with shots, not giving up huge amounts of chances and not being put under sustained pressure in games, with Carson often largely untroubled.  It is simply gutting to note that in the last three games, Derby have allowed the opponents only six shots on target – from which, four goals have been scored.

Passing and possession

The Rams’ average possession advantage has decreased under Pearson, but not massively. Although the figure is a shade lower than it was under McClaren or Clement, it remains the fifth highest in the division.

What has decreased is the number of passes per game – or more accurately, the number of short passes per game.


The number of long passes per game is basically the same as in previous years, but the number of short passes has dropped noticeably.  This means that the proportion of long balls has increased, from about 14.75 per cent to 17.5 per cent, and this has led to a notable decrease in pass success – from more than 78 per cent in each of the last three seasons (when we were always among the best in the division), to below 75 per cent (which is about average for the division).

Derby cross the ball as much as anybody else – which could be seen as a positive, except that it’s now considered that crossing is the least efficient way of trying to create goals.  According to a study by Jan Vercer, from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, a goal results from only one in every 92 crosses, on average.  Derby currently deliver 23 crosses per match, so you could reasonably expect a goal to result once in every four games, if Vercer is right (so far, we’ve seen Forsyth’s goal from Hughes’ cross and, off the top of my head, there was Hughes’ big chance at Bristol City, from Anya’s ball in).

Players who bang in cross after cross tend to get accused of being ‘wasteful’ – Christie, for example – but it’s the imprecise nature of crossing itself which is the issue, not so much the player involved.  Vercer’s analysis suggest that, in theory, teams would score about half a goal more per game if they stopped crossing altogether and just kept passing it short instead (so maybe Louis van Gaal has him on speed dial).

When you consider everything that has to fall into place for a cross to result in a goal – the execution of the ball in, the positioning of the attacker, no defender getting in the way, the execution of the shot or header, the goalkeeper not making a save – it’s no surprise that academics deem it an inefficient use of possession, especially as most crosses end with the attacking side losing the ball, which means having to work hard to get it back again.

And it doesn’t surprise me in the least to note that the statistically canny Huddersfield Town and Brentford are among the teams who have crossed the ball least this season.  Both clubs are punching well above their financial weight at the minute, while Derby flounder.


I spoke to Dustin Böttger, CEO of Global Soccer Network, who was kind enough to prepare the following graphic, giving GSN’s assessment of each Derby player’s performance this season.


The GSN Index is developed by tracking and rating more than 150 different categories of actions within every game – both positive and negative – to give an overall performance score for each player.

The Derby players, in GSN’s assessment, are not actually playing that badly – not brilliantly, but not so badly that you would expect them to be struggling at the bottom, or scoring five goals less than anybody else in the division.  For context, Böttger also provided me with graphics for sixth-placed Brentford and mid-table Sheffield Wednesday – and Derby’s team average score was higher than either of theirs.

Forsyth is rated as Derby’s top performer (albeit from only three appearances), with Olsson among the worst, suggesting that Forsyth’s injury has affected the team.  I would not be shocked if Max Lowe was called into the side tonight, based on Pearson’s comments after Blackburn and the fact that Olsson has been substituted in three of the last four matches.

Of the players who have featured more or less all season, Christie scores highest on the GSN Index, followed by Hughes, Shackell and Keogh.  Anya and Vydra have also done relatively well.  At the other end of GSN’s scale, Johnson scored the lowest of any Derby player, for his nightmare hour against Brighton, while Bent, Ince and Blackman have all underwhelmed and Wilson has not got started yet – in part, due to the knee injury he has suffered – nor has Weimann, again, returning from injury.  There is a dire need for somebody to step up and partner Vydra effectively, assuming that Pearson is planning to persist with his 4-4-2.


While the points tally and goals total are completely unacceptable, it appears that the problems in front of goal are not so severe that you could reasonably expect the current barren run to continue indefinitely.  There is no underlying reason that I, or the two professional analysts I asked, can see that would suggest that the Rams deserve to have scored so infrequently.  That said, they need to create more shooting opportunities inside the box, instead of taking so many hopeful shots from range.

Although the team has been negatively affected by the absence of Forsyth and Shackell, the defence has still performed well overall.  Another positive is that Vydra and Anya have improved the team’s level since arriving – but this has to be weighed against the fact that the Rams have not seen anything like enough from any of the other forwards, so far.

Morale in the stands may be at rock-bottom and every error may seem to be getting punished at the moment – but at some point, the Rams’ luck should start to turn. Eventually, a few shots have to start sneaking in – and the results should start to pick up.

Tonight’s game at Cardiff would be a very good place for the turnaround to start…

To explore Championship statistics to your heart’s content, go to whoscored.com, who don’t pay me for the link – I’m daft enough to do it for free

Share this with other people...
[Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Twitter] [Windows Live] [Yahoo!] [Email]
Posted in Derby County, Statistics | Tagged , , | Comments Off on What the hell is wrong with Derby County?

The strange death of Derby County – Rams 1 Blackburn f**ing Rovers 2

“Goals are over-rated.”  So wrote The Blizzard‘s Jonathan Wilson, a phrase so intriguing that it’s since been turned into a t-shirt.

I think he meant that the last thing we want is for football to be tilted too far in favour of the striker – mad 4-4 draws, like the one we had that time under McClaren at Huddersfield, are so memorable partly for their extreme scarcity.  “The beauty is in the struggle”, Wilson concluded – evoking the satisfaction we feel as fans when a side’s determined, sometimes grim efforts to find a crucial winner in a tight game are rewarded, the release of tension in the ground as the home side make it 1-0.

But coming into their match against Blackburn Rovers, Nigel Pearson’s Derby had tested both Wilson’s maxim and their defenders’ abilities to the limit.  Two goals in eight league games was the staggeringly awful return – and it was to the back four’s credit that the Rams had scrabbled together even six points by this stage.  Goals may be over-rated and overly craved by the social media / highlight reel generation (of which, we’re all a part) – but they remain the fundamental point of the game and if you can’t score any, you’re fucked.

In a relatively open start to today’s match – which was, by any lights, a must-win for Nigel Pearson and Derby County – the nearest thing to a goal came when Bent failed to connect with one of many Christie crosses.  But for the first ten minutes or so, Derby failed to really assert themselves and dominate their visitors, who looked competent on the ball without carrying any obvious threat.  This was not the fiery start you might have expected from a team in dire need of a win.

Derby’s shape was not quite a straight 4-4-2, as Butterfield floated across the pitch, popping up centrally and even occasionally on the left, leaving Christie to carry the attacking threat from his flank.  Vydra also floated, behind Bent -a pairing which didn’t really put the Blackburn centre backs under any pressure when they had the ball.

Hughes’ first corner on 15 caused chaos in the Blackburn box, but nobody was able to capitalise.  Bent then tried an overhead kick, after Vydra’s scuffed shot from a decent position – generated when Anya nodded down Hughes’ fizzed ball – reached him via a looping deflection.  It was the Rams’ first real chance, following a spell of moderate pressure, as Blackburn retreated into their shape.

Hughes then released Anya, who completely over-cooked his cross when a cool head could have provided Vydra with a tap-in, as Derby enjoyed what would prove to be their best spell in the match.  Seconds later, Blackburn looked to have been decisively undone, as Vydra released the rampaging Anya, who slotted past Steele only for his celebrations to be curtailed by the linesman – offside.

Chances were coming to Derby thick and fast, with Blackburn rather hanging on, but there was a nagging sense that the Rams needed to capitalise on this period of dominance. Butterfield’s strike from 20 yards was palmed wide, as Derby knocked on the door without making the crucial breakthrough, although Steele took an age to clear the ball after claiming the resulting corner – a sign that the away side were feeling the pressure.

Lowe was then booked for pulling down Anya just outside the box as he threatened to streak away – but Butterfield’s curling free kick lacked the power to beat Steele.

Blackburn had their first meaningful shot on the half-hour, Marshall driving towards the box but missing with a tame effort from a decent position, after Pearce gave the ball away with a poor pass.

At this stage, Derby’s mobility in forward areas was providing a test for Blackburn, but there was a certain openness to the Rams in midfield which raised concerns that they could be got at on the counter, if Blackburn could find the right pass. Frankly though, at this stage, that seemed unlikely – one particularly dreadful pass by Hoban leaving Conway visibly frustrated.

Blackburn had managed to ride something of a storm, it seemed, although Bryson popped up to toast a sweetly struck volley, unfortunately too cleanly, picking out Steele.

Next, a brilliant tackle by Hughes stopped a Blackburn attack and sent Butterfield hurtling forward, with only a crude professional foul from Evans curtailing his forward motion.

Derby had been generally dominant, but disaster struck in the 38th minute, when they conceded a penalty.  Emnes, who had been ineffectual until this point, chased a ball into the box and was upended, leaving the referee with no choice.

But Derby experienced a rare stroke of luck, with Marshall rolling his spot-kick against the post, then inexplicably side-footing the rebound wide of an open net.  Perhaps it would be Derby’s day, after all.

Or maybe not, as Bent rose towards a dangerous cross from Christie, only succeeding in flicking it away from Bryson, who was arriving in the box behind him, intent on striking the dropping ball.  It was a moment which summed up Derby’s performance and season to date – a team threatening to look good, but seemingly just not able to click.

You got the sense at this stage that if they could just get one goal, then the floodgates could open against such limited opponents.

But from the start of the second half, a sense of drift was pervasive and you got the sense that Derby needed somebody, anybody, to step up with a moment of game-changing class. Anya, who had been bright throughout, tried to provide it with a quick turn and direct burst forward which forced a corner, but the Rams’ clear desire to force an opening led them to commit bodies forward – sometimes overly so, with Conway at one point allowed to run the length of the field to win a corner, after Butterfield lost possession on the edge of Blackburn’s area.  Soon after that, the otherwise anonymous Gallagher was almost released clean through.  In trying to win it, Derby were looking in danger of being caught out at the back.

Gallagher was replaced by Danny Graham shortly after the hour and it felt like the right time for Nigel Pearson to shuffle his pack too, with the Rams’ performance in real danger of petering out.  But the double change that came was a head-scratcher.  Blackman for Bent was no shock, but Weimann for Bryson meant that Butterfield would move across to partner Hughes in a creative but undeniably lightweight central pairing.

With the subs having only just trotted on, Derby suddenly led 1-0.  It was as easy as pie when it came, Blackburn switching off from a throw-in, allowing Vydra enough time and space to compose himself in the box and slide the ball beyond Steele.

The relief around the ground was huge.  The beauty, like Jonathan Wilson said, was in the struggle – and Derby had finally cracked it.

Except for that the narrative as we understood it – that Derby just needed to get their noses in front and they would then settle down and go on to win – was suddenly, shockingly, hideously exploded.

With the lead barely a minute old and with the celebrations barely dying down, Graham completely mugged Pearce in an aerial challenge, helping the ball on to Emnes, who advanced menacingly into the box and saw his drive deflected unerringly (of course) into the corner of Carson’s net.

Derby tried to seize the lead back instantly, with Blackman’s cross saw Vydra force Steele into a flying save.  But seconds later, the ball was in the Rams’ net again – and they were staring down the barrel.

The goal was absolutely pathetic, embarrassing.  A pedestrian Blackburn, who had looked blandly competent on the ball throughout without carrying any real threat, were allowed to play a lengthy sequence of passes around Derby’s final third at their leisure, with Hughes, Butterfield and the rest apparently mesmerised, reduced to useless spectators, not quick enough to put in a tackle or anticipate the next pass.  The ball was eventually flicked beyond a static back four, releasing Graham, who couldn’t miss.  A glance at the linesman to check he was OK and he wheeled away in celebration.  It was a truly awful goal to concede -Derby’s passive, rabbit-in-the-headlights ball-watching getting exactly what it deserved.

Here was where Pearson’s decision to withdraw Bryson was shown up as deeply flawed, at best, with the threat of a real disaster looming.

There was time left – but the belief had simply drained out of Derby and they floundered horribly.  It was painful to watch, in truth, with many supporters quite sensibly deciding that they had seen enough with ten minutes or more to go.

A penny for Mel Morris’ thoughts as he watched the supporters streaming out.  More walked away when Weimann made a complete mess of a defensive throw-in and almost forced Carson into conceding another penalty.

Pearson’s last throw of the dice was to change Olsson for Ince, with Hughes apparently asked to nominally fill in at left back – another incomprehensible decision by the manager.

The final minutes ticked down – the game was dusted.  Ince’s dismal pass out of play on 84 minutes was the cue for more departures, the emptying stands a damning indictment for Pearson’s Derby.

With time ebbing away as steadily as the crowd, Blackman stabbed a low shot narrowly wide from the edge of the box, a half-chance which was the nearest Derby would come to an equaliser.  A better side than Blackburn might have inflicted pain on the counter, as Derby desperately but ineffectually committed bodies forward.

This deeply depressing and hurtful defeat leaves Pearson with many questions to answer, about his team selection, his tactical decisions and his transfer activity.  His inability to handle criticism during Leicester’s difficult 2014/5 season led to a string of bizarre on and off-field incidents and it is hard to know how he will react in the coming weeks, with the club’s former reputation as a Championship heavyweight being steadily unpicked, stitch by stitch, setback by soul-sapping setback, defeat by morale-shredding defeat.

In my last article, I said that change takes time.  And it does – but my call for optimism was undermined by both the failure to win at Bristol City and has now beem further derailed by this disastrous and pathetic defeat to one of the Championship’s worst teams, at home.  This was a game from which anything less than three points was simply not acceptable.

While it is abundantly clear that some of the current players are not part of the solution – and their FFP-busting recruitment is not on this manager – Pearson must accept that his attempt to introduce a new playing style, without making any changes to the squad until the very last moments of the summer window, has backfired horribly.

He chuntered in the DET this week that he didn’t see why changing the shape (and disposing of one of the Championship’s best proven goalscorers in the process) was such a big deal – well, unfortunately, Mr Pearson, it is.

As a result of his decisions, Derby County have staggered not just a step, but a country mile backwards since even last season (which was bad enough in itself) and are apparently incapable of snapping out of their current malaise.

Derby have not been relegated to the third tier since 1984, but results as bad as this – and the lack of any fightback after they went behind – mean that not since the tenure of the incompetent Paul Jewell have they looked so vulnerable to such a fate.  It is still relatively early in the season, but the current form, results, standard of performance and lack of goals are cumulatively terrifying.

Derby are in trouble and it is difficult to see how they are going to fight their way out of it, when on today’s evidence, they do not look like they could punch their way out of a paper bag.

We are a fifth of the way through the season and we are in the relegation zone.  We are 13 points behind automatic promotion (remember that as an ambition?), ten points off the play-offs and five points behind 16th.

Given the money spent and the club’s stated ambitions, this is an absolute disgrace.

Share this with other people...
[Digg] [Facebook] [Google] [MySpace] [Twitter] [Windows Live] [Yahoo!] [Email]
Posted in Derby County, Match Reports | Tagged , | Comments Off on The strange death of Derby County – Rams 1 Blackburn f**ing Rovers 2