Three and easy – Barnsley 0 Derby County 3

For 40 minutes, it was a non-event, but Barnsley evaporated as soon as Derby made the breakthrough.  After the swift 1-2 to the gut that the Rams landed just before half-time, the only way Derby could have failed to win this was by beating themselves – but Barnsley lacked the quality to capitalise on the errors Derby made in the second half and the Rams, clearly superior to their hosts in every department, cruised to victory without ever really needing to get going.

On this showing, League One could yet await Barnsley, who slid tamely to a fifth successive defeat – while Derby must now be seen as genuine contenders for the top six. Certainly, they are a cut above the average Championship side – but as ever with the Rams, we must sound note of caution, because we have been here before, at this time of year, more than once.  And there was a potentially serious dampener, the withdrawal of Tom Lawrence at half-time – the Wales attacker having gone down, seemingly badly hurt, shortly before the interval.

Derby lined up in their by now familiar 4-4-1-1, with Martin selected to lead the line.  He put in an assured performance and did his chances of staying in the side no harm at all, with David Nugent relegated to a role entertaining the away faithful on the touchline (he also very nearly landed an artful lob onto the bald pate of a member of the coaching staff in the pre-match warm-up.)

George Thorne was unlucky to drop back to the bench, but Tom Huddlestone’s class on the ball helped to make the difference and the vital opening goal.  At times, the first half degenerated into a scrap, but as soon as Huddlestone got on the ball, order was restored, the pace slowed, the beginnings of an attack constructed.  He is excellent.  His ability to calmly manufacture all the time he needs to pick the right pass is a rare treat to see in the usually frenetic Championship.

Andi Weimann played with his customary gusto, starting on the right before switching to the left for the second half.  It’s a shame that his brain doesn’t work quite as fast as his legs can carry him, but it was great to see him smash in a volley in front of the 3,000+ away fans and celebrate like a man who meant it.  He needed, savoured and deserved his goal.

Scott Carson was largely untroubled, but did make a fine one-on-one save to keep the score at 2-0, after Martin’s misjudged pass set Barnsley away on the counter and a goal looked inevitable.  Other than that and a drive from the edge of the box which clipped the bar, after Derby fell asleep at a throw-in, the Tykes were pretty blunt in attack, Bradshaw ploughing a lone furrow without enough support. They livened up slightly after the introduction of the tricky winger Hamill and pony-tailed midfielder Moncur from the bench, but by then, it was too late – they were just doing that loser thing of having a five-minute spell of pressure when you’re 2-0 down.

Derby diligently defended the free kicks and corners they conceded – no more do we need to cringe at every set play – and finally, after numerous promising counter attacks ended in disappointment, Weimann’s emphatic goal killed the game stone dead.

So there you go – three goals, several other passable opportunities passed up, Carson forced into only one meaningful save, the home supporters sloping away dejected into the bitterly cold West Yorkshire night long before the end.  You can only beat what is in front of you.  Derby did that with minimal fuss and move on to tougher tests, starting next Saturday, against Aston Villa.

Player ratings

CARSON – Largely untroubled on a bitterly cold afternoon, yet had the concentration needed to come up with a big save to maintain Derby’s 2-0 lead when called upon.  On current form, he has to be considered one of the best (if not the best) ‘keepers in the Championship – 7
BAIRD: Another reassuringly solid performance from the veteran, who even sent in a couple of dangerous corners.  He may not have the pace to get up the pitch in support of counter-attacks, but his understanding of the game and positional sense can’t be faulted – 7

KEOGH: Not one of the most taxing afternoons he will face, but coped well with what Barnsley threw at him – 7

DAVIES: Seemed to enjoy his afternoon, getting stuck into challenges and more often that not, winning them – 7

FORSYTH – Defended well against the winger Thiam and chugged forward to support the attack, but as usual, he struggled at times to use the ball well.  It was such a pity that he couldn’t finish off the dazzling counter-attack move late in the game, instead blazing over – 6

WEIMANN – His pace makes a big difference to Derby as a counter-attacking unit and he buzzed and bothered Barnsley all afternoon.  His distribution and decision-making remain maddeningly erratic, but hisemergence into as a genuine first-team regular has been a major boost for Gary Rowett – 8

HUDDLESTONE – Huddlestone was an obvious cut above everyone around him in terns of seeing the whole picture on the field.  Everyone knows he is not the quickest, but this is only a problem if opponents can exploit it – Barnsley couldn’t get the ball off him, or stop his passes – 8

LEDLEY – Can anyone remember a time when Joe Ledley wasn’t there? – 7

LAWRENCE – Hadn’t made a big impact on the game from the left flank, until suddenly, he got into the box, rode a challenge and smashed home the vital opener.  We can only keep everything crossed and hope that his ankle injury isn’t as serious as it initially looked – 7

VYDRA – Much like Lawrence, Vydra struggled to find the space to do his thing, until suddenly, Barnsley lose him for a second, one chance, bang.  His goal tally is starting to look mightily impressive this season, the quality everyone knew he possessed finally shining through – 7

MARTIN – Great to see the big man back.  I know he will never be everyone’s cup of tea, but not even his detractors could claim that he doesn’t look fit and motivated at the monent.  It’s a shame he couldn’t grab a goal, but this was a good performance in terms of his link-up play, shielding the ball – the things we know that he is good at were present and correct.  He knows he has to play we to stay in the team – fair play to Rowett for giving him the chance – 7

Subs

RUSSELL – Showed up well after replacing Lawrence, buzzing around on the right and always looking likely to make something happen.  Coming on at 2-0 up v Barnsley, with spaces to exploit, is a different challenge to facing Aston Villa, but Russell did his chances of getting a start no harm – 7

JOHNSON – Replaced Vydra and played on the left of midfield (his best position) for the last 20 minutes – gave the full range of Johnno features, winning headers and playing one astute through ball, while also occasionally giving the ball away. Claimed the assist for Weimann’s goal and basically did fine – 7

WINNALL – Expert trolling from Rowett to bring on Sam with the game already won – a pity he couldn’t bundle home his one chance, the ball somehow looping over the bar instead of nestling – 6

 

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Archive project: “Homegrown” players who started league games for Derby County, each season since 2002/3

In their seminal book “Who’s Pereplotkins?“, my friends the Spacerams did a great piece of research which listed the players who had emerged from Derby’s academy to feature in a league game, each season from 2002 to 2009.

As research by @s_spaceram shows, many of the Derby academy products plying their trade in the EPL and EFL today came through years ago.

As I’m in an ‘archive project’ place at the minute, I thought I’d update the list to bring it up to date.  So here we go…  If you think I’ve missed anyone out, let me know: –

Homegrown players who featured in a league match (including as substitute, but not including the final game of the season)

2009/10 – Addison, G. Mills

2010/11 – Addison, Ball, Hendrick, O’Brien, Severn

2011/2 – Ball, Bennett, Hendrick, Hughes, O’Brien

2012/3 – Bennett, Hendrick, Hughes

2013/4 – Bennett, Grant, Hendrick, Hughes

2014/5 – Bennett, Grant, Hanson, Hendrick, Hughes, K. Thomas

2015/6 – Grant, Hanson, Hendrick, Hughes

2016/7 – Bennett, Hanson, Hendrick, Hughes, Lowe

2017/8 – Bennett, Huddlestone, L. Thomas

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Time for special measures? A mid-term report for Derby County’s academy

In the last Derby County Podcast, we discussed the current state of the Rams’ academy.  I wanted to talk more with Chris about it after reading his recent post, which pointed out that for all the cash lavished on facilities by Mel Morris, the club has not produced any players for its own first-team squad since the emergence of Hughes and Hendrick.

Chris’ take is that the academy may well need a shake-up at this stage and shining a light on the situation feels timely.  The reality of Financial Fair Play means that the taps have to be turned off, the well-paid misfits need to be shipped out and there is a dire need for an infusion of young blood.  Those new players could be recruited, but it would be ideal if at least some of them could be promoted up from the under 23s.

In the podcast, I mentioned a study by a parent, Mark Crane, who was trying to work out which academies were the most productive.  His research focused on which academies the English players who played a league game in England’s top five tiers during the 2016/7 season came from*.

In modern clickbait terminology, “what he found may shock you”:-

Number of English-qualified players from an academy who played a league game in England (2016/7 season)

Manchester United – 65
Tottenham Hotspur – 54
Arsenal – 46
Chelsea – 45
West Ham United – 41
Everton – 40
Southampton – 36
Liverpool – 33
Crewe Alexandra (Category 2) – 32
Middlesbrough – 31
Charlton Athletic (Category 2) – 30
Wolverhampton Wanderers – 30
Aston Villa – 29
Leeds United (Category 2) – 28
Manchester City – 28
Coventry City (Category 2) – 26
Crystal Palace (Category 2) – 25
Newcastle United – 24
Reading – 24
Blackburn Rovers – 23
Watford (Category 2) – 23
West Bromwich Albion – 23
Ipswich Town (Category 2) – 22
Leicester City – 22
Norwich City – 22
AFC Wimbledon (Category 3) – 21 
Bolton Wanderers (Category 2) – 20
Fulham – 20
Leyton Orient (Category 3) – 19
Sheffield United (Category 2) – 19
Birmingham City (Category 2) – 18
DERBY COUNTY – 18
Millwall (Category 2) – 18
Nottingham Forest (Category 2) – 17
Sunderland – 16
Brighton & Hove Albion – 14
Stoke City – 12

* (I’ve refined Crane’s data to only count players who featured in the Premier League or EFL, disregarding the National League).

The mega clubs are streets ahead, which is understandable, but Derby are also lagging well behind Crewe, Middlesbrough, Charlton, Wolves, Leeds, Coventry and Reading, among many others.

According to Crane’s analysis, Derby has one of the least successful Category 1 academies in England.  Ten Category 2 academies produced more English players who featured in the Premier League or EFL last season and even two Category 3 academies – AFC Wimbledon’s and Leyton Orient’s – were more productive overall.

Given the relative levels of investment involved, that has to be considered something of an embarrassment.

It’s clear that the relatively huge expenditure on players during the failed bid to buy promotion blocked any path through for any young player to the Rams’ first team, but in recent years, the academy has not even produced many players who have gone on to forge a career elsewhere in the English professional game.

As research by @s_spaceram shows, several of the Derby academy products plying their trade in the EPL (Grant) and EFL (Camp, Evatt, Holmes, Huddlestone) today actually came through in the early 2000s.

Mel Morris is clearly acutely aware of this and mentioned in his recent “Fans Charter” meeting that measures have been taken to focus more keenly on the development of the best prospects in Derby’s current system.  He explained that a full-time member of staff has been appointed, from within, to manage a ‘bridging’ process for academy players whom the club seriously believe have the potential to make it.   These ‘fast-track’ prospects, he said:

“will become part of a group managed… to bridge the requirements of the first team and what happens to them in the academy…  Gary goes to almost every U23 game, he’ll spot the guys he thinks have got a real chance and will tell us what he thinks they need to work on… 

“The person in this new role will make sure that the individual training of that player is done to the prescription of the first team, as a priority above everything else.”

It’s a little strange that Morris didn’t name the staff member involved, but in any case, this is a clear concession that at least some reform was required for how the academy was operating, to make it more productive.

Those fast-tracked players may not become regular fixtures in the Rams first-team, but the additional, focused effort put into their development will hopefully mean that they are at least better prepared to have a chance of building a career elsewhere in the EFL.

Of course, it’s a positive that under Darren Wassall, Derby’s U23s have been promoted to and survived in the new PL2, competing with and sometimes beating the big boys – this season, they have beaten Manchester United, Liverpool, Spurs and most recently handed West Ham a 5-1 walloping at an empty Olympic Stadium.  But in his latest book, No Hunger in Paradise, Michael Calvin reports that the PL2 has been described as ‘crap’ by Man United’s academy director Nicky Butt and as a ‘waste of time’ by Gareth Southgate.  “The majority of games are stripped of passion and pressure”, Calvin says of a league which cannot be seriously seen as a challenge worthy of the most gifted young players.

Meanwhile, the Premier League’s Checkatrade Trophy wheeze – which forces, at the threat of a fine, lower league clubs to field strong teams in glorified friendlies  – was rejected by most sentient fans as an insulting notion at best, or as a Trojan Horse for B teams in the Football League at worst.  It was not even supported by most of the biggest clubs it was designed to attract – Derby got the call to enter a team last year after Man United, Man City, Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool all declined the invitation.  Simply put, there is no way to simulate league football – young players just need to play it.

If they’re not ready to feature for the first eleven, then a time-honoured way to find out whether they can cut it or not is to send them out on loan.  This worked well for Callum Guy last season, who did well for Port Vale of League One (until a hamstring injury prematurely ended his season).  Jamie Hanson spent some time at the sharp end, helping Jake Buxton and Stephen Warnock in Wigan Athletic’s unsuccessful fight against relegation from the Championship, while Kelle Roos helped AFC Wimbledon to win promotion to League One via the play-offs.

This year, Offrande Zanzala has had a spell at National League side Chester FC, while Kellan Gordon has scored three goals for Swindon Town, with Timi Max Elsnik also playing his part in the Robins’ League Two play-off push.

On the other hand, Farrend Rawson spent time with Coventry City in League One last season and is now with Accrington Stanley, in League Two.  This is an alarming regression from 2015/6, when he was described as a ‘future Premier League player’ by Steve Evans, his manager at the then Championship side Rotherham United.  Roos, meanwhile, is 25 and so even in goalkeeper terms, can no longer be seen as a prospect and really should be establishing himself as a number one somewhere by now.

Although Roos and Rawson’s careers seem to be drifting, there’s no doubt that loans can be invaluable in helping a player to establish himself as a professional.  I can’t for the life of me understand why Jonny Mitchell, just shy of his 23rd birthday, isn’t out on loan, if something could be arranged for him.  It would necessitate the signing of an experienced ‘number two’, but this should effectively be seen as a youth development investment, because Mitchell will surely learn little warming the bench.  He had a difficult time of it in a rare start in this season’s EFL Cup – when he was criticised by Rowett after the Rams lost at Barnsley – and so in the event that something happens to Scott Carson, would the manager really be happy to turn to the young man as his cover, or would he rather have him out learning his trade elsewhere?

Hanson, Max Lowe and Mason Bennett are the three products closest to the first XI, but Lowe has been dogged by injuries and now finds his path to the team blocked by Craig Forsyth.  He has featured in Derby’s last six U23 games and if he isn’t going to get a chance in the first team, is another who could probably do with a loan.

Bennett was horribly unlucky to suffer a bad knee injury early on in his first league start of the season, at Brentford – it would be nice to think that he could challenge the likes of Johnson, Russell and Weimann for a place in the side once he returns to fitness.  As a ‘utility player’, Hanson always offers a manager an option, though a lack of specialism can also be viewed as a curse.  We were told years ago that he was being ‘groomed’ to play as a holding midfielder, though he seems to get more games as a full back.  In Rowett’s system, there is in theory a place in the squad for a ‘shithouse’ midfielder to run around alongside Huddlestone, booting people as appropriate.  ‘Bruiser’ Hanson might be tailor-made for this role – if Rowett thinks that he is good enough.

Let’s be fair to Rowett, who has a first team to manage and is expected to win (and win “well”).  He cannot afford to indulge anyone.  Winning is quite rightly all that matters to him and he needs to be able to trust whoever he selects to do  what he needs them to do.  As Rowett pointed out last night, Luke Thomas was so nervous about making his debut against QPR that he ran onto the field and took up a position on the wrong wing of the pitch.  That’s funny in the context of a comfortable victory, but makes the bigger point quite well.  The onus is not on Rowett, who has a big enough job to do already, but on the youth development staff to help the manager by producing youngsters who are as ready as they possibly can be, if and when the first team needs them.

There is no magic wand for player development and the harsh reality is that the vast majority of kids in even the most productive academies cannot make it into the upper echelons of the game.  The dustbin of history is littered with the names of boys who had everything, but ended up falling short – for as many different reasons as there are people.  Calvin’s book includes a chapter on poor Zak Brunt, whose father recently made his dispute with Derby County public.  The player himself is clearly a fine prospect, but had endured a chaotic ‘career’ through the academies of four major clubs by the age of just 15.

In recent years, Derby’s headlong pursuit of promotion was seemingly the only thing that mattered, but it was not achieved and so now, it’s time to take stock and reassess.  There’s no doubt that a lot of money and effort has been poured into the development of academy players at Derby, but in any other business, Morris would expect a reasonable level of return on a substantial investment.  This football club has arguably failed to deliver that in recent times – and it should not be judged any differently.

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Archive project: Where are former Derby County academy players now?

This is an archive project and so by its nature, a work in progress, which I will try to keep updated as much as possible.  At this stage, I don’t have any plans to try to go further back than the turn of the millennium….. 

If you have any suggestions for adding to or improving it, contact me @derbycountyblog

Will Hughes 
Sold to Watford, summer 2017
(Reported fee £4.5m – 5m, potentially rising to £8m – £9m)

Alefe Santos
Released 2017
Signed by Yeovil Town

Jeff Hendrick
Joined 2008 from St Kevin’s Boys (Ireland)
Sold to Burnley, summer 2016
(Reported fee £10.5m – club record)

Shaquille Mcdonald
Signed as free agent, 2014
Released summer 2016
Signed for Nuneaton Town (National League North)
Current whereabouts unknown

Kwame Thomas
Released summer 2016
Signed by Coventry City

Ross Etheridge
Released 2015
Went on to play for Accrington Stanley, Doncaster Rovers

Luke Hendrie
Signed as a free agent from Manchester United, 2013
Released 2015
Joined Burnley

Josh Lelan
Released 2015
Went on to play for Northampton Town, Crawley Town

Mark O’Brien
Released 2015
Went on to play for Luton Town, Newport County

Rhys Sharpe
Released 2015
Went on to play for Notts County, Swindon Town, Matlock Town (Northern Premier League)

Ross Atkins
Released 2014
Went on to play for Gresley, Leamington, Mickleover Sports (Northern Premier League)

Callum Ball
Released 2014
Went on to play for St Mirren, Corby Town, Barwell, Nuneaton Town
Current whereabouts unknown

Kane Richards
Released 2013
Went onto Ilkeston, Chester, Dover Athletic (National League)

Stefan Galinski
Released 2013
Went on to play for Boston United, Stalybridge Celtic, Alfreton, Grantham Town (Evo-Stik League)

Miles Addison
Sold to Bournemouth, 2012 (fee undisclosed)
Went on to play for Peterborough United, Kilmarnock
Whereabouts unknown 

Aaron Cole
Released 2012
*Cole played for a few non-league teams, but apparently only half-heartedly and is now pursuing an alternative career in social care, working with young people with autism, Asperger’s and challenging behaviour.  Good on him!*

James Severn
Released 2012
Went on to play for Scunthorpe United, Worcester City, Ross County
Whereabouts unknown

Alex Witham
Released 2012
Went on to Wembley, Biggleswade Town
*Witham came from Arsenal’s academy, but failed to make a break-through at Derby.  I can find no evidence of him still being involved in football, but he did take time out to comment on Gary Rowett’s appointment as Rams manager…*

Medi Abalimba
Joined 2009 from Southend (reported fee £25,000)
Released 2011
Went onto Oldham Athletic, Farnborough, Corby Town, Perpignan
Imprisoned for fraud and dishonesty, 2014
*Sadly, Abalimba became one of the many young footballers who turn to crime, after the big time is denied to them – a phenomenon which Michael Calvin examines in his book ‘No Hunger in Paradise’.  In 2014, Abalimba was jailed for four years, having posed as the then Chelsea player Gaël Kakuta to run up thousands of pounds in expenses at hotels and VIP nightclubs.  The Independent reported that he had been on £20,000 per week with the Rams, which, given that he joined as a 17 year old and never played for the first team, sounds truly outlandish.  But whatever wage he was actually on, the taste of money certainly did him no good in the end*

Mitchell Hanson
Released 2011
Went on to Oxford United, Eastwood Town, Gresley
Retired

Kallum Keane
Released 2011
Went on to play for Alfreton, Exeter City, Eastwood Town, Granthan Town, Carlton Town, Belper Town (Evo-Stik League South)

Greg Mills

Released 2011 – signed by AFC Telford United
Went on to play for Worcester City, Boston United, Barrow, Corby Town, Tamworth, Nuneaton Town, Darlington (National League North)

Mark Dudley
Released 2010
Went onto St Patrick’s Athletic, Hinckley Town, Brigg Town, Rainworth Miners Welfare (National League North)

Jake Kean
Joined Blackburn Rovers, 2009
Went onto Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday

Lewin Nyatanga
Left to join Bristol City, 2009
Went on to Barnsley
Current whereabouts unknown

Paris Simmons
Released 2009
Went onto Eastwood Town, Carlton Town, New Orleans Jesters (MLS Development League)
Current whereabouts unknown

Lee Holmes
Released 2008
Went on to Southampton, Preston North End, Exeter City
*Lee was the youngest ever player to play for Derby, until Mason Bennett made his debut*

Lee Camp
Sold to Queens Park Rangers, 2007 (£300,000)
Went on to Nottingham Forest, Norwich City, West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth, Rotherham United, Cardiff City

Nathan Doyle
Sold to Hull City, 2007 (nominal fee)
Went on to Barnsley, Bradford City, Luton Town
Current whereabouts unknown

Lee Grant
Released 2007 – signed by Sheffield Wednesday
Rejoined 2013 as free agent
Sold to Stoke City, January 2017 (reported fee – £1.3m, potentially rising to approx £2m)

Lionel Ainsworth
Released 2007 – signed by Hereford United
Went on to play for Watford, Huddersfield Town, Shrewsbury Town, Rotherham United, Motherwell, Plymouth Argyle

James Meredith
Released 2007 – signed by Sligo Rovers
Went on to play for Shrewsbury Town, York City, Bradford City, Millwall

Marcus Tudgay
Sold to Sheffield Wednesday, January 2006
Went on to Nottingham Forest, Coventry City
Current whereabouts unknown
*The ever-popular “Tuggy” even managed to come back to Pride Park with the Red Dogs and, unlike Camp, conduct himself with dignity, for which he deserves real credit*

Pablo Mills
Left to join Rotherham United, 2006
Went on to Crawley Town, Macclesfield Town, Rotherham United, Bury, Brackley Town, Mickleover Sports
*Mills was part of the non-league Crawley side which knocked Nigel Clough’s Derby out of the FA Cup in 2011*

Steve Elliott
Joined Blackpool 2004
Went onto Bristol Rovers, Cheltenham Town, Bath City
Retired
*Steve’s move to Bath ended within days, as he returned to Cheltenham to act as assistant caretaker manager, following the dismissal of Paul Buckle*

Lewis Hunt
Released 2004
Went on to Southend United, Wycombe Wanderers, Bradford City, Hendon, Sutton United
Retired

Ian Evatt
Released 2003
Went on to Chesterfield, QPR, Blackpool, Chesterfield
*Still skippering the Spireites at 36, the durable Evatt played in every game of Blackpool’s 2010/11 Premier League season*

Marvin Robinson
Released 2003
Went on to Chesterfield, Notts County, Rushden & Diamonds, Walsall, Stockport County, Lincoln City, Macclesfield Town, Oxford United, miscellaneous non-league teams
*Currently assistant manager of Hednesford Town*

 

Players from outside the UK, or currently playing abroad

Alban Bunjaku
Joined as a free agent from Arsenal
Released 2016
Joined Dordrecht (Dutch Eerste Divisie)
Whereabouts unknown

Mats Mørch
Signed 2010 from FK Mandalskameratene
Released 2016
Whereabouts unknown
*
I’m told by a Scandinavian pal on Twitter that Mørch has now retired*

Jack Tuite
Joined 2012 from Cherry Orchard (Ireland)
Released 2016
Returned to Ireland
Whereabouts unknown

Adam Wixted
Released 2014
Went onto Drogheda United, Bohemians, Bray Wanderers, Drogheda United, Sligo Rovers (League of Ireland)

Luke Adams
Joined 2012 from Waitakere United
Released 2013
Returned to New Zealand – now playing for South Melbourne (Australia, NPL Victoria)

Ryan Connolly
Joined 2010
Released 2012
Went on to play for Sligo Rovers, Galway United, Shamrock Rovers

Graham Kelly
Joined 2008 from Lourdes Celtic (Ireland)
Released 2011
Returned to Ireland, now at St Patrick’s

Arnaud Mendy
Joined 2008 from FC Rouen
Released 2011
Went onto Macclesfield Town, Luton Town, Lincoln City, Whitehawk, Hemel Hempstead Town, Naxxar Lions (Maltese Premier League)
*Mendy has two caps for the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau*

Aleksandr Prijović
Signed 2008 from Parma (undisclosed fee)
Sold to FC Sion, February 2010 (nominal fee)
Went on to play for Djurgårdens IF, Boluspor, Legia Warsaw, PAOK (Greek Superleague)
*Having represented Switzerland at under 21 level, Prijović made his full international debut for Serbia in 2017*

Giles Barnes
Released 2009
Went on to play for West Bromwich Albion, Doncaster Rovers, Houston Dynamo, Vancouver Whitecaps, Orlando City (United States, MLS)

 

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Leeds United 1 Derby County 2

Brothers and sisters, that was immense.  
It started to flow in the second half of a game which could have got away from Derby, who were not punished for a lacklustre first 45 – too slow, wanting too many touches and too much time, losing possession too often in dangerous areas.  The answer – and this goes contrary to my instincts – was to counter Leeds’ aggressively high line by being less precise and more direct, to turn them and force them to retreat into their own third.  Leeds’ left back was a winger, Stuart Dallas – this seemed an obvious avenue to exploit, though in the first half, Derby’s full backs’ unwillingness to get forward and stretch Leeds limited our opportunities to create chances.

The home side got off to a fast start through the classic tactic of squeezing very high and hard – Huddlestone was caught on the ball and will get the criticism for the Leeds goal, but the situation initially arose from a poor touch by Forsyth, who allowed the ball to escape his control.  There were many such moments of sloppiness in the first half, but fortunately, Leeds lacked the quality to fully exploit them and kill the game off.  1-0 at half time felt about right and so it was over to Gary Rowett to direct the team to turn around what had been a very disappointing display.

I was prescribing substitutions – my thoughts were maybe Thorne on for Huddlestone and at some point, Vydra, probably for Lawrence, who had been peripheral – but the manager persevered with his starting XI for more than an hour – in fact, he didn’t even use his third substitute to eat up time, as the Rams saw it out in relative comfort, a rising drive from the edge of the box in the last minute aside.  That half-chance came from nothing, just a long ball and a nod-down – it flashed over. 

The luck is with the Rams at the moment, but they are rolling with it and hoovering up the points, leaving opposition managers and supporters to howl at the injustice of it all.  It is the opposite of what “the Derby Way” had become – and it is brilliant.

Even at the hour mark, it wasn’t obvious that the Rams were going to get back into it, but it was plain to see that Leeds had very few attacking ideas.  Isolated counter-attacking opportunities were presented to them by our mistakes, but they were unable to take advantage.  Derby were starting to control possession as the Leeds pressing game naturally faded and the longer it stayed at 1-0, the more the feeling that there was something in it for Derby grew. 

Huddlestone, who had struggled badly with the pace of the game in the first half, gradually became more influential and the pressure started to build.  Leeds were forced back and began to make errors of their own.  Corner after corner was flighted in and, in the end, they cracked.  It was the kind of quality pass you expect from Huddlestone, the perfect low cross on the run from Forsyth, an emphatic, net-busting finish from Winnall and it goes down as one of my favourite moments watching the Rams in recent times.  I think back to Ben Davies v Leeds at Pride Park, Johnny Russell v Forest in the 5-0, Thorne at Huddersfield and against Brighton in the play-offs – this one was up there with those magic moments. 

At the moment, Winnall for Butterfield is looking like one of the cannier deals Derby have done in recent years, shifting out a midfield misfit in return for a striking option totally different to what we had at the club.  Winnall is a goals man – another one of those late-blooming strikers who erupts from the lower leagues – and he could be a big asset for the rest of the season.  Having proved his Championship worth at Barnsley, joining Wednesday as an understudy to bigger names was an unfortunate career move, which cost him valuable time.  Now, his desperation to play, impress and snaffle goals is obvious and he had the balls to step up and convert the crucial penalty, as well.  I don’t see how he can possibly be dropped for the Reading game now and so Rowett has some interesting decisions to make ahead of Saturday.

So to sum it up, Leeds charged out of the blocks, worked extremely hard to stifle Derby for an hour, ran out of gas and ultimately – and actually rather tamely – lost, to a team which showed that bit more quality in the final third.  If a team is ultimately as good as its strikers, then Derby are very good at this level – and the good times could continue for a while yet.

Leeds can whinge all they like about the penalty award, but the fact is that their defender was rumbled and tried to get cute by committing a professional foul marginally outside of the box.  And it backfired on them – tough.  My instinct in real time was that it was a penalty and I can absolutely see why it was given. 

While Norwich can justifiably say that they were unlucky not to get at least a point out of their defeat to us last weekend, I don’t think Leeds – who mustered only one shot on target out of a grand total of eight – can have any complaints.  On that showing, I’m comfortable in predicting that they will finish well outside of the top six this season.

Beating Forest and Leeds within the spaces of a couple of weeks is brilliant – and Gary Rowett is surely October’s Championship manager of the month – but now it’s time to capitalise on Saturday, with a more prosaic, but equally important home game against Jaap Stam’s Reading.  It’s too early to start getting carried away, but at least we can talk about one ‘p’ word – positivity – which is undeniably flowing through the club again.

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