Derby County 1 Leeds United 4

Some of my favourite ever moments following Derby have been in games against Leeds.  I think of 2010 at Elland Road, when Kris Commons and Rob Hulse were the stars of the show in the yellow and blue away kit.  2012, a barnstorming victory under the lights at Pride Park, when Ben Davies of all people scored that outrageous volley.  For its sheer brazenness, the infamous moment in 2014 when Adryan performed what was surely the most preposterous episode of play-acting in the history of the English Championship – the Leeds physio mimed playing the world’s tiniest violin as we raged at him – and then of course, the fabulous feeling of last season’s tremendous Elland Road fightback, when Sam Winnall’s brace propelled the Rams to victory after they had trailed at the break.

Leeds are a proper foe for Derby – you don’t need me to recite the amazing folk history involved in that – and games against them mean a little more than the average, to me, at any rate.  And they tend to be competitive, tough affairs, so you have to go back twenty years to find a result as emphatic as 4-1 in this fixture (1998/9 at Elland Road, when Baiano, Bowyer, Hasselbaink and Harte were among the scorers).

So it hurt a lot when, at a time in the game when Derby were battling to force their way back into it and the contest was hanging in the balance, Kemar Roofe body swerved past Richard Keogh and Fikayo Tomori before slamming in Leeds’ third.  The fourth – a routine long free kick dumped over the top, Pablo Hernández not followed by a sleeping Max Lowe and allowed to centre for a close-range Alioski header – was a simultaneous drop-kick to the solar plexus and teeth.  It could very easily have been five, had Samuel Saíz not decided to try to take the piss with a ‘scoop’ finish when clean through on goal.  To have opposition players taking liberties of that nature is never a good look at the best of times and capped a real nightmare start for Frank Lampard on his managerial home bow.

Leeds were very strong, defensively well organised and slick going forward at times, just as they had been in dispatching Gary Rowett’s Stoke on the opening day – but at no time did Derby make life particularly difficult for them.  Leeds were happy to play on the counter when necessary and snuffed out countless dribbles into their final third – their defensive wall was impermeable, with the back four attempting 17 tackles and winning every single one.  Yet Leeds also ended up having more possession.  Failure to keep the ball well enough meant that Derby’s brief spells of pressure were only sporadic and indeed, Leeds’ second goal – an aggravatingly easy header for Kemar Roofe, who stole between the otherwise impressive Tomori and Lowe to finish unchallenged – came after a panicked hoof up the line by Andre Wisdom surrendered possession to the visitors.

It was notable that the Derby defenders tended to play a more direct game than they had done at Reading, probably in reaction to the series of errors committed in the first half of that game, but Lampard confirmed after the match that this had not been his instruction.  He accused the players of ‘stopping playing’ early on, telling BBC Radio Derby:-

“We have to brave on the ball and we weren’t brave enough.  We know they’re gonna press and make it difficult for us to play out, I’d rather see us play out… and lose the ball, trying to do those things, rather than going away from the things that we do.  That’s where we have to go back to the start and be brave.  We are what we are, we need to be strong in our beliefs and [believe] in the quality we have… Today was a great reminder of what happens if you go away from those [values].”

These are very early days, but it would seem that Marcelo Bielsa has seen the Championship and understands how to win in it.  “El Loco’s” team didn’t do anything outlandish – they just pressed high and hard when Derby had the ball at the back, remained compact and difficult to break down when they were under attack and transferred the ball quickly and competently through the lines to their attacking midfielders Saíz and Mateusz Klich, both of whom were too readily able to pick the ball up in front of the back four.  With those two finding such space, Derby were asking for trouble almost from the first whistle and it was no real surprise when Klich punished them just five minutes in.

For Leeds’ first goal, Lowe will get the criticism for having dribbled infield and lost the ball, but he was a hell of a long way from his own goal when he lost it.  Surely he has the right to take a chance in that position and expect a team-mate to cover his back?  Watch it and see the way Mason Mount cruises back, rather than seeing the danger and sprinting to get into position.  Mount doesn’t sense the threat until it’s too late and in the end, Klich is allowed to shoot home from 20 yards under no more than nominal pressure.

Mount is without question a gifted young player and had more shots than any other Derby player on the day, but he couldn’t get on the ball often enough to have a major influence and didn’t put in a single tackle during his 70 minutes on the field.  If he isn’t going to be given the ball, then he needs to do more to help his team to win it back.

Lampard’s decision to bring on Bradley Johnson at half-time was acknowledgement that the midfield balance was wrong and that he needed more presence in the centre of the park.  Johnson had 45 touches of the ball in the second half, compared to 49 combined for Joe Ledley (22) and Mason Mount (27), which shows that both of those midfielders had been relatively peripheral in the match before they were subbed.

Bielsa spoke very graciously about Lampard’s “taste for attacking football” after the match, but privately, he will doubtless have been delighted at how well his side coped with Derby’s attack and, more so, with how much space his midfielders were granted to run the game by a home side who were too easy to play through.

The difference in managerial pedigree couldn’t be more stark – one man is a world-famous player at the very dawn of his coaching career – the other has honed his methods over decades, coached at World Cups and had books written about him, such is his influence on modern football.  Seeing him sitting calmly on his bucket, slurping his coffee, you couldn’t help but feel that Bielsa is already thinking past this level and towards the Premier League (though there is plenty of scope for things to pan out differently).  Lampard, on the other hand, must have known that there would be days like these, but has no reservoir of experience to draw upon.  This is new to him and the Championship is a pretty deep end to be thrown into as a rookie manager.

Mount, Lowe and Harry Wilson are young and we know that more youth was required to revitalise what had become a stodgy, aging side.  But young players who give you speed and flair will also make the type of mistakes that an older pro has already made and knows not to make again.  That is where experienced pros like Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone will hopefully make a huge difference to the solidity of the side – Davies for his strength and vocal leadership and Huddlestone for the reassuring way in which he helps to maintain possession and hence control of the game.

Davies tweeted his disappointment about the result –

So did I and was quickly castigated for doing so, being called a ‘twat’, ‘clown’ and ’embarrassing’, among other insults.  I didn’t say anything particularly different to Lampard, who freely admitted the performance wasn’t good enough, or the Derby Telegraph’s Steve Nicholson – not noted for overreacting to bad displays – who dished out threes, fours and fives out of ten to the majority of players in his match ratings, or Radio Derby’s Craig Ramage, who said:

“We were second best all over the park… We capitulated so, so easy… we was lazy at times in certain areas, it was easy for them to run through, we were so far off them at times, it was unreal and I think that’ll be what Frank will be having a word about.”

Is that overreacting, or being a twat or a clown, or embarrassing?

I used the word ‘unacceptable’ and that seemed to upset some people.  I’m happy for those fans if they are able to accept a 4-1 defeat at home to Leeds, on the grounds that it was only the second game of the season.  However, I strongly suspect that Lampard will not be so accepting of the performance and that we will see changes for the next league game, at Millwall.

When offered the ‘out’ of blaming early teething problems as new players gel by BBC Radio Derby’s Chris Coles, Lampard replied: “There’s a case for that, but that’s just an excuse to say it now.  I’m talking about good players… we should be able to play better than we did today.”

And what did Craig Bryson, the returning prince of Pride Park, make of it all?  He said: “To be fair, the four goals we conceded were all really sloppy from our point of view.  Goals always change games, no matter how well or badly you are playing – and the goals we conceded were kind of unacceptable.”

Is that overreacting, or being a twat or a clown, or embarrassing?

Derby can and will get better.  They will not play teams as strong as Leeds most weeks and the talented crop of forwards Lampard has assembled have the talent to dish out a real pasting to any opponent who isn’t on their game.  But whoever they play, they must defend far better than they did last night to give their attacking talents the chance to win games for them.

They had a stinker against a side which has the potential to get promoted.  It was disappointing in the extreme, but it’s done now and our young manager will have learned a hell of a lot more from the experience than he did from the morale-boosting pre-season wins against Southampton and Wolves (or indeed the last-gasp win over Reading).

The next game can’t come quickly enough.

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New for 2018/9: The Derby County BlogCast, with Chris Ramspace

All has been quiet on the DCB front for a while for personal reasons, but one project which is now under way is the Derby County BlogCast.

Episode 1 was recorded on Sunday 22 July can be downloaded from our Spreaker site.  We discussed the early signs and signings of the Frank Lampard era, with some optimism, it’s fair to say, then have a quick look at the other Championship runners and riders and try to predict the unpredictable – what might happen to Derby County this season.

Chris Smith and I had a great time talking with Joel on the Derby County Podcast over the last couple of seasons, so we’ve decided to keep the audio going now that Joel has moved on to pastures new.

However, I’m very keen that we find fresh perspectives – whether black or white, male or female – so I’m starting to reach out to people to see if they’d like to take part at some point this season.  If you fancy having a chat as part of a future podcast, feel free to get in touch with me @derbycountyblog, or via email – lazerock @ hotmail.com.

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Out with the old

A few days ago, a rather cringeworthy tweet appeared on the Derby County feed:-

The problem I had with this messaging is that it made the club look much too starstruck about its high-profile new manager.  And that is not a good look for any institution.  The boss should never be deemed bigger than the club, no matter how famous he is.

Same goes for players, although I note with interest that some fans have lapped up the inevitable speculation that Lampard would like to be reunited with his old pal John Terry at Pride Park.

Terry turns 38 in December and has left Aston Villa, having reportedly cost the club more than £3m in wages for a single season.  Bizarre financial decisions such as that, taken with a view that promotion could be achieved in a single leap, have left the Villa staring down the barrel of financial oblivion, it has now emerged.

Derby County owner Mel Morris has, as is well known, decided that he will not breach FFP regulations by throwing good money after bad and is reining in the excesses to prevent the Rams from experiencing similar problems, which could lead to a transfer embargo (at best).

A look at the age profile of the current Derby outfield squad shows how ‘top-heavy’ it is and how few of the players could be said to be in their prime:-

Ten outfield players are aged 30+.  One of the problems with this is that their resale value is inevitably much lower than a man in his prime.  Too many of these players are on cushy contracts and couldn’t easily be shifted – and even if we could, it’s clear that Derby would have to accept a punishing loss on Bradley Johnson, to give the obvious example.

A further five players are aged 28 or 29 (including Jacob Butterfield, who will presumably get lots of birthday cards from Rams fans when he turns 28 on Sunday).

Only five players are in what you might call the ‘sweet spot’ of 24 to 26.  Players in their mid twenties attract the highest transfer fees, by and large, which is why Gary Rowett raised funds by selling Thomas Ince, Will Hughes and Cyrus Christie – but now, there are precious few of those players left.  The talk has been of sacrificing Vydra, because there isn’t anybody else within the squad who w0uld obviously command a fee of more than a couple of million pounds.

Then you’re into the ‘homegrown’ group of nine under 23s who have been in and around the first-team squad at some stage, ranging from 22 year-old Jamie Hanson to the 17 year-old prospect Jayden Bogle.

It strikes me that the club needs an embargo on signing any more veterans, no matter how famous they might be.  Chris Baird, Darren Bent and Jason Shackell have finally been shifted off the wage-bill and that process of renewal needs to continue, in fact, should be aggressively pursued, in my opinion.  In with the new, but just as importantly, out with the old.  They’ve been around for long enough, they haven’t achieved promotion and it’s time for a new generation of Derby stars to be given the chance instead.

By the end of the 2018/9 season, we have a fantastic opportunity to shed a lot more of the older players.  If my data is right, Pearce, Olsson, Bryson, Ledley, Johnson, Butterfield, Nugent and Blackman could all be released in twelve months time, even if they can’t be shifted before then (Davies, Huddlestone and Jerome are also out of contract at that stage, but with optional extensions –  the details  of which are of course undisclosed).

This is incredibly exciting to me – for the 2019/20 season.  Because by that time, a huge chunk of unproductive wage spend will finally be gone, giving Derby a bit more room to manoeuvre in the transfer market and therefore a massive opportunity to progress.

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Frank Lampard joins Derby County

The club had been left in the lurch. The chairman was sick of being criticised all the time, fed up of the limelight.  No obvious candidates to replace Gary Rowett were waiting in the wings, because, just for once, it wasn’t Derby County that pulled the trigger.

A sticky situation.

But then, at Derby’s moment of crisis, up steps one of the biggest names in English football, putting his name forward for one of the trickiest, most demanding jobs around.  Either out of naivety, or sheer confidence in his own ability and that of the people who would form the team around him, Frank Lampard of all people threw his hat into the ring.

Said ring cleared very, very quickly.

This has been a strange process, which has felt more like a coronation than anything else.  There were no whispers in the press about a Lampard candidacy until his odds started plummeting at the bookies.  From that point on, any unenthusiastic mumblings about the potential merits of other contenders melted into thin air.  Really, once it was out there, none of the other applicants had a prayer.

Big Mick McCarthy, anyone?

Thought not.

The pros – a truly great player with worldwide renown, a name to make people sit up and pay attention, even foreign players who have never heard of Derby (and who seem not to have even been scouted in recent seasons).  A much more exciting alternative to the tedious litany of experienced but ultimately mediocre alternatives, who are experienced in failure, after all – experienced in relegation and getting the sack.  A reputation so big that the idea of Mel Morris interfering by marching into his dressing room to act as the “grizzly bear” becomes ludicrous.

The cons – he has never managed before, yet could be about to walk into a club which has served as a managerial charnel house ever since Morris took the reins and which has been open about needing to cut costs, to avoid a potential transfer embargo.  The squad is stuffed with too many aging, declining players, so there’s a need not just to cut costs, but to hack out chunks of dead wood.  Lampard will need plenty of  support and guidance from an experienced backroom team – meanwhile, Derby haven’t exactly excelled in recruitment of late, which makes you question the strength of its existing scouting web.  He is not joining at the most opportune of moments in the club’s history.

But the vast majority of fans I polled (and in other polls I’ve seen) were positive about the idea of Lampard taking the job.

Some, of course, are less than enthused and think that the idea of giving the job to an unqualified rookie, no matter how garlanded a player he was, is a recipe for disaster: –

But when you asked the detractors which candidate they would prefer to see appointed, there didn’t seem to be an answer.  There was plenty of talk about the kind of attributes they wanted to see – Championship experience, a proven track record in the transfer market to cope with the budget restrictions – all eminently sensible, of course – but no actual names.

If you preferred a guy who “knows this division”, it was most likely to be the out-of-work McCarthy, or Chris Coleman, fresh from Sunderland’s slide into League One.  Or how about the recently sacked Forest manager, Mark Warburton?

Anyone currently in work and doing well would have commanded a compensation payment and Derby are guarding every penny, as they try to comply with FFP.   Would it really have been worth paying for someone like Dean Smith, Alex Neil or Lee Johnson – and in any case, would they have necessarily come from their solid Championship jobs, when it had already been declared that there would be no “warchest” to spend on revamping the Derby squad?

Managers from the lower leagues – for example Paul Hurst (who has joined Ipswich from Shrewsbury) or the much-praised Cowley brothers of Lincoln – would in my opinion have been just as much of a gamble as Lampard.  They may have learned their chops down the divisions and rightly earned respect for their achievements, but in a totally different environment to the febrile pressure cooker of Derby, with its vastly higher profile and demands.  What do they know about dealing with a dressing room stuffed with pros with Premier League CVs and inflated wage packets (and egos) to match, or a Premier League-sized stadium full of irate punters, upset because you’re losing a game against “the type of team we should be beating”?

A hell of a lot less than Lampard, that’s for sure.

There were lots of sensible objections to appointing Lampard.  But there were lots of sensible objections to appointing anybody else who would have been available.  I’m trying to put myself in the club’s shoes and work out how they would have announced McCarthy as manager.  What would you highlight?   The promotions on his CV (from 2005 and 2009), his years of Premier League fire-fighting, his time with Eire.  These are all valid, but his best achievements are from a long time ago.  Managing Ipswich to Championship safety with an arm tied behind his back financially was valid experience too, but his appointment would have spoken of exactly that – a man being brought in to steer the ship to an unremarkable mid-table harbour while slashing the wage bill.  It may be realistic and might have been a ‘safer’ option than Lampard, but it would not have sent the type of message which people respond to in their droves, or with their wallets (also, the whole “man’s man”, “knock heads together”, “kick ’em up the arse” spiel died, or should have died, around the time of the exit of a certain Pearson, N.)

I don’t know if Lampard will become a great, good, competent or hopeless manager.  But I do know that there is a lot of goodwill around his appointment.

Many of Lampard’s friends in the media have mentioned that Morris must now give his new man time to work and I think, or hope at least, that won’t be an issue.  Morris stuck with Rowett after the pathetic collapse he oversaw towards the end of last season and given that he now says he wants to see a different approach, there should be no kneejerk reponse if we don’t achieve instant success.

I’m 100 per cent behind this gamble, gamble though it is.  I may be drinking the Kool-Aid, as a close pal of mine suggested the other day on Twitter and there is plenty more detail to come about how Lampard will work, with what support staff and under what financial restrictions. But when it comes to this appointment, my instinctive response is not “WTF?”, but “Why not?”

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¡Viva España! ¡Viva la Shithouse! – Derby County 1 Fulham 0 (half-time)

After the Cardiff game, I felt like I needed to take a break from blogging about them bloody Rams, choosing not to continue with my series of game-by-game preview pieces, which I’d originally intended to carry on until the end of the season.   During the Villa game, I took a long walk on the moors around the village where I live – heading uphill to a place with no mobile reception where I could clear my head and enjoy the sights and sounds of spring, rather than go subject myself to yet another emotional battering by listening live to the match with Ed, Chris and ‘Ramma’.

The day before the Barnsley game, I went on a much-needed holiday to sunny Spain with my wife and two close friends, Trev and Linda.  In my Cardiff preview, I made a gallows-humour “prediction” that the Rams, so inexplicably feeble at Burton, would go on to beat the Bluebirds, draw at the Villa and then reach “peak Derby” by losing to the Tykes.  With two out of three of my dark “acca” having come in, I was getting worried, but Trev updated me on the 4-1 stomping we handed to Barnsley as we were driving through the beautiful Calblanque national park.

From then on, I barely gave the play-offs a thought until the day of the match.  We found the local Boris Sports bar on social media and the man himself promised to oblige by screening the game.

“Boris Sports” (image courtesy – www.canalprint.com)

We went off to Cabo de Palos for the day, ate in a local restaurant and then returned to our villa for a barbecue and a couple of beers.  Everything was good and having had a comprehensive breather from thinking about football, I was revved up for the match and a few more cold ones.  But then, as we set off for Boris’ place, I started to feel a bit queasy – nothing too alarming, just a bit off.  I tried to ignore the queasy feeling and bought a round of drinks, before pulling up a strategic pew in front of the big screen.

About a quarter of the way into my pint of Mahou and on the brink of kick-off, I realised that something was definitely not right with my innards.  I fell silent.  I looked across the bar and then over my shoulder to the road behind us and decided that, if the worst came to the worst, I would make a run for the bushes on the other side, rather than risk rushing inside to Boris’ loos and not making it.

My wife suggested I was just suffering from pre-match nerves.  Unable to stomach more lager, I switched to lime and soda and, for the first twenty minutes of the game, achieved a kind of dubious equilibrium.  So did the game, with Fulham setting the tone, but Derby continuing to show how switching to a back three has helped to make them far more threatening than ever before on the counter.

Seeing us play without the ball for prolonged spells will always make me nervous, but there’s no doubt that we are getting better at it.  The first half-hour against Villa was absolutely excellent and again, the Rams’ front three plus the wing backs demonstrated how they could quickly outnumber Fulham’s defenders with the help of an astute pass out from the back – usually by Huddlestone – and spring into a menacing attacking position.

About half an hour in, my nose suddenly started streaming and then, very quickly, the moment of internal crisis had arrived.  I stood up and activated “Plan A” by hastily making my way out front, to cross the deserted road and vomit into the bushes.

But the road was considerably wider than I had realised and the need was much too urgent.  I lurched into a trot, then as much of a sprint as I could muster, but it was too late – an arc of brown bile spewed from my gullet and onto the highway, fortunately not spattering my new DCFC track-suit jacket.  After this initial barrage of spew, I reached the side of the road, sank to my knees in the dirt and retched anew.  I quickly.saw that it wouldn’t do me any favours to stay and stare at the erstwhile contents of my stomach, so I stood up and moved on before dropping to the ground to  puke again.  Move and puke, move and puke.

Then, after the fourth spasm, it was done.  And miraculously, I felt like a new man.  I was pretty much fine.

As I mooched steadily back towards Boris’, I suddenly remembered what I’d been watching before.  I glanced up at the big screen and saw something more majestic than any vista that the proud nation of Spain could ever offer.

For in slow, replay motion, Cameron Jerome was rising, the Fulham left back Matt Targett brutally picked out, isolated and exploited, made to look a callow youth.  Jerome’s header was rocketing past the stretching Bettinelli and distending his onion bag, much as, I suspect, a couple of mouthfuls of my wife’s seafood pasta at that bloody restaurant had distended my innards.

I looked over to Trev, who held up his hands to make the time-honoured “one-nil” gesture.

For Fulham, who attack with width provided by overlapping full backs, the Rams’ tenacity and readiness to rope-a-dope before counter-punching was a major test and they only barely passed it on a number of occasions – sometimes through Derby’s lax final ball, other times through a last-ditch defensive intervention.  The Rams may have had only three shots in this game, but they had plenty more threatening situations than that, whereas Fulham, despite their 13 shots, very rarely worked dangerous openings.

If Derby do go up this season – and although we are considered outsiders, it’s a real possibility now – then we will have to sit in and defend a lot in many games, against far classier outfits than this Fulham team.  I wondered aloud if Rowett may have come up with a formation and way of playing which would work in the Promised Land.  Trev, a United fan, chuckled as we talked through it.  “You’re coming around to the Mourinho way, then?”

I guess I was always something of a McClarenista, in some ways – entranced by the Hughes – Hendrick – Thorne midfield trio and convinced that to win consistently, you had to dominate the ball, at this level at least.  And while good teams have done it that way, Sean Dyche’s Burnley and, decisively, Neil Warnock’s possession-phobic Cardiff have proved that it can be done in other ways too.

A fluent counter is one of the most thrilling things in football – a pal even messaged me during the game to say: “This is some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen them play” – and it is beginning to suit these players well.  Keogh is allowed much more licence to join in the play.  Forsyth seems much more comfortable at left centre-back.  The less time we spend on the ball, the less likely it is that Johnson will lose it in a dangerous area (and he has played a couple of delicious through balls in the past two games).  Huddlestone’s playmaking ability helps to release Lawrence and Weimann, who seem happy in their wide-ish roles – and the powerful, hard-charging Jerome, who simply can’t stop scoring at the minute, is unchained.

All being well, we even have a cracking young homegrown left wing-back to come in next season and while Rowett has said that Wisdom isn’t really suited to the wing-back role on the right, I’d say he’s played pretty well there so far.  Ryan Sessegnon’s early departure on Friday night after a largely ineffectual showing was a major feather in Wisdom’s cap.

Rowett made a good double switch at a time in the game when Derby were really starting to struggle under the weight of Fulham’s probing pressure.  I imagine Ikechi Anya will start on Monday, although he may not see out the 90.  Another conundrum is whether to start Vydra as one of the front three, or leave him out in favour of Weimann or Lawrence.   But Rowett very rarely drops either of those two and they are undeniably better suited to the 3-4-3 / 5-4-1  than Vydra, who can’t or won’t consistently tackle or track back.  Rowett has already shown that he’s not afraid to leave out the Championship’s top goalscorer and I wouldn’t be particularly surprised if he did it again on Monday.  The composition and discipline of the team is the main thing.  As Curtis Davies said: “We’re a clean sheet away from Wembley.”

It’s nuts.  As I’ve said before, Rowett deserves huge credit for overseeing a turn-around in form from the crisis moment, after a dismal run of results threatened to derail the whole season.  Regardless of whether we get promoted, or even get to Wembley, I can finally see what he is driving at now when, for a while, I feared he had badly run out of steam and ideas.  Just at the vital moment, he came up with something radical enough to re-energise the campaign.

Friday night’s win over the divisional darlings was close, very close, to being the perfect performance.  Had just one more of those vicious, swift counters ended in a goal, then it would have been.  Trev raised an eyebrow when I made that point after the final whistle – “you’d have taken 1-0 if offered before the game” – and I absolutely would have done.  But the way the match panned out, the way we largely nullified them as an offensive force, I had a slight nagging suspicion that we’d missed a chance to, if not kill the tie off, then at least to go to Craven Cottage with a significant advantage.  Rowett adopted the same tone in his post-match interview for Sky Sports, saying: “I felt we could have picked them off for a second and I’m a little disappointed we didn’t.  You can see when we switch play, we get into great positions.”

As for Fulham, I quite like the fact that both Slaviša Jokanović and Kevin Macdonald said that the Cottagers “totally dominated” or “battered” Derby, because they actually didn’t.  That ‘domination’ was, mostly, by Derby’s choice and the end result for the Rams was a clean sheet.  If Fulham feel that more of the same will eventually win them the game, fine.  If they feel that morally, they deserved a better result, more than fine.  We felt like that at Wembley a few years ago – and ended up heart-broken.  If you’re superior to us, then score the goals.  Prove it.  That was the challenge for Derby in 2013/4 and it is the challenge for Fulham tomorrow.

Fulham’s Kevin McDonald, quoted in the Mail on Sunday

Having done so well for so long and being so settled in their style, they won’t change significantly.  Neither will we.  So the second leg will be nerve-wracking at times.  We will sit in very deep and defend for our lives.  Nearly every pass will go short, so Fulham need to find pockets in and around the box.  The key to success will be not allowing them time and space to pick their way through into the penalty area, because they prefer not to sling in hopeful crosses – just look at how many short corners they took for proof of that.   We snuffed them out through sheer concentration and a touch of luck at times – if ever we lapsed, they would find room for a shot, but fortunately, these were usually from outside the box.

But conceding so much of the ball to such creative. technically able players makes it inevitable that they will get a chance at some point.  Curtis Davies has been a colossus, but he and the rest of the defenders could do with the players in front of them keeping the ball a bit more, if only to provide a bit of respite.  Three shots on goal may have been a strange reflection on a game in which Derby got into so many exciting positions, but it was undeniably a poor final reward – especially against the rather flappy Bettinelli, who looked like an accident waiting to happen all night.

The first goal at Fulham will change the balance of the tie utterly.  But rather than feeling nervous, or pessimistic about it, I feel really happy.  Happy with how things are going, happy with the direction of travel, happy with the team, happy to be a Derby County fan.

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Posted in Derby County, Match Previews, Match Reports | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off on ¡Viva España! ¡Viva la Shithouse! – Derby County 1 Fulham 0 (half-time)