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 –
Disappointed to miss my first league game for the club.
It’s easy to sit in the stand and talk about the performance but it’s simple to say that we were well beaten by a better side on the day, but we were nowhere near the required leve on our partl! Early days still…#DCFC 🐏
— Curtis Davies #33 (@TheCurtisDavies) August 11, 2018
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.