Derby County 1 Dirty Leeds 0

“Your dad was a cunt and so are you” – the Leeds United supporters

“Nothing changes” – Dave Tomlinson

Individually, I reckon I could have a good – albeit lively – chat about football with a Leeds fan.  Collectively, however, they are insufferable, representing as they do the Dark Side of the beautiful game.

Their values seem skewed, somehow.  To be a Leeds fan, you have to tacitly accept a particular attitude to winning.  And there’s an arrogance to them.  As they belt out their anthem, ‘Marching On Together’, you’re left in no doubt that they still see themselves as a massive club, despite their years of turmoil.  In fact, when we beat them at Elland Road last season, their sulky silence was only really thrown off when the Derby fans started to sing ‘You’re not famous anymore’.

The Leeds team were as unlovely as I assume their fans expect them to be.  Surrounding the referee, lecturing the linesmen, going down at the faintest touch, moving the ball forward five yards at a dishonestly-bought free kick when the ref’s back was turned, or simply spotting it in the wrong place in the hope he didn’t notice – all of this infuriating stuff seems to be a part of their DNA.  McCormack, Brown and Snodgrass are particularly unlovely bearers of the ‘dirty Leeds’ tradition.  As the Tomlinsons pointed out, all they need is Billy Davies to take over as manager from Simon Grayson, because it would be a match made in heaven.

I would hate it if the Derby players constantly harangued the officials in such egregious fashion, but then, we’re Derby, not Leeds.  They seem to believe that there is some sort of global conspiracy against them, that if the referee and linesmen could only be made to see that they were intrinsically biased against them, that justice would be done and every decision would rightfully go their way.  We shuddered, thinking of the timewasting antics that would surely have taken place if Leeds had got the first goal.

Watching Snodgrass indulge in a tantrum for nigh-on two minutes when Roberts wasn’t booked for a foul the referee hadn’t even seen fit to give – the linesman flagged for it – was absolutely unbelievable.  In the dying seconds, the same player went ballistic appealing for a non-existent handball on the line, only ceasing his arm-waving histrionics when he suddenly realised the possibility for a short corner was on.

Of course, no team plays with absolute honesty and the odd bit of gamesmanship is part and parcel of football, but I can’t remember seeing any other team so totally committed to this particular approach.

It was an open game, which either side could have easily pinched, but Derby played the better football, created more genuine openings and ultimately, deserved to win.  Yet again, Jamie Ward was our chief attacking threat and his left-foot finish, first time on the rebound after his initial right-footed first-timer was blocked back to him, was sensationally well-judged.  I was nonplussed for a second as I realised it had gone in – how? the angle was dead against him – assuming as I had that he would fire it across the goal for the unmarked Robinson to tap in.

The late aerial bombardment from the Whites was reminiscent of the Elland Road fixture last season, but so was the response of Shaun Barker.  On that day in August 2010, the captain had to climb off the bench to play when he really wasn’t fit – over a year later and he is just returning to something like fitness from the same knee problem, which was finally operated on over the summer.  His shambling gait makes it seem to me that he’s still limping and his defensive partner, Jason Shackell, cruises around like a Rolls Royce in comparison, but Barker is now winning the vast majority of his headers – and made several crucial and difficult interceptions.

Between them, the two centre backs seem able to cover most attacks; although neither is blessed with tremendous pace, they are experienced and aware enough to be positioned correctly almost every time.  Much has been made of the fact that Derby hadn’t kept a clean sheet since the 3-0 win against Millwall, but we have only conceded four goals in the last five games – a major improvement on the overall concession rate of 1.39 goals per game across the whole season (32 goals in 23 League matches).  Since the 3-1 defeat at West Ham, when the returning Barker was bossed by Carlton Cole, that average has come down considerably, from 1.56 goals per game (28 goals in 18 League games).

I crunch these numbers to demonstrate the importance of Barker to the team.  The return of Brayford has also made a difference and Paul Green, who actually seems like a fish out of water on the right side of midfield, nevertheless made his presence felt once we had a lead to defend, his tireless defensive shuttling denying space to the Leeds midfielders as they sought to find an equaliser.

Unfortunately, it seems increasingly likely that the Ireland midfielder is going to leave.  There has been no news on a contract extension and we should be in no doubt that he will be missed when he does go.

If there is any scope to bring in new players next month – and both Clough and Ward have mentioned the possibility in interviews – I would prioritise the right side of midfield.  There is only Ben Davies who is a natural for that slot at present (Lee Croft having been returned to the discard pile after a few early-season appearances) and with the strikers returning to fitness, I feel that the right wing is more of an urgent priority.  If we had a player on the right who can threaten even half as much as Ward can on the left, we would create a lot more goalscoring opportunities.

The centre forward position, meanwhile, should be addressed next summer.  This season, the transfer budget had to be spread quite thinly, with players arriving in bulk to make up a squad, but now, we have reasonable depth in most positions and so in my opinion (and assuming we don’t suffer any more serious injuries), the time will be right to ‘go big’ on a goalscorer.

We don’t have a 20-goal per season man and whilst the likes of Sharp and Maynard will go elsewhere, there should be no reason not to try to spend somewhere in the region of £1.5 – 2m on a striker, especially as several ‘non-productive’ relatively high earners will be shifted off the wage bill by then.

The most expensive signing last summer was Jason Shackell, at £1m, but next year, there should be no need to spend huge sums in any other position.  Let’s go and get a talismanic number nine.  We’ve not had a real goalgetter for years and there’s no doubt that a prolific centre forward would pay for himself by boosting attendances at Pride Park and making us a true force at Championship level.

LEAGUE POSITION: 14th

LEAGUE FORM: WLWDLL

ODDS TO BEAT NEXT OPPONENTS: West Ham United (H) 11/4 – The Hammers are almost evens favourites to win, which is understandable, but after the excellent result against Leeds, Derby can go into the game with no fear.

Certainly, West Ham will miss the suspended Nolan (who should have been sent off at Birmingham for a terrible foul on Zigic), as well as Collison, McCartney and Faubert, but they will still expect to win the game.  It will take another tremendous effort for us to beat them, but when the atmosphere is good at Pride Park, this group of players are capable of finding that extra bit of determination and stamina to get the result.

Jonathan Wilson’s new biography of Brian Clough, Nobody Ever Says Thank You, reminds us of an old Harry Storer quote.  Storer, who managed Derby in the fifties, told Clough to count the hearts on the team bus before each away game and not to bother setting off if there were less than five.

Nigel Clough must have received that advice from his father in turn, as there seems to be little room in his team for players who don’t give their all.

GOALS:
Theo Robinson 6
Steve Davies 5
Craig Bryson 4
Jamie Ward 3
Jeff Hendrick 2
Chris Maguire 2
Callum Ball 1
Tomasz Cywka 1
Tamas Priskin 1
(own goals 1)

ASSISTS:
Ben Davies 9
Craig Bryson 4
Jamie Ward 4
Lee Croft 2
Theo Robinson 2
Tomasz Cywka 1
Steve Davies 1
Paul Green 1
Jeff Hendrick 1
Mark O’Brien 1
Gareth Roberts 1
Jason Shackell 1

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