In the glow of the damn good thrashing of Watford, league results to date can certainly be said to pass muster. Facing two relegated Premier League sides away from home, plus a promoted team from just up the road on the opening day has to go down as a very difficult start to the season and we’ve acquitted ourselves well, with the exception of a highly disappointing second half against Sheffield Wednesday.
The questions raised about our defensive strength by the disaster against Scunthorpe in the League Cup have still not quite been answered. Clough and Richard Keogh will both be extremely keen to see the side get their first clean sheet sooner rather than later.
However, it’s a different story at the other end of the pitch. Derby are carving out plenty of chances and were pretty unlucky not to beat Wolves, having created enough openings to win two games. Not to worry – the hapless Hornets copped for it instead.
Keogh and Jake Buxton are both goal threats from set pieces and the delivery from Paul Coutts and Michael Jacobs (when selected) has been good enough to create goals. In recent seasons, a major flaw in the Rams’ play has been an inability to get goals from set plays, but these now seem to be coming in abundance.
Watford manager Gianfranco Zola was candid enough to admit that he had underestimated our ability to cause problems from free kicks and corners – other clubs will presumably now be looking closely at the videos and certainly try to mark our centre backs as tightly as they can, by fair means or foul.
On the League Cup disaster, it should be noted that an awful lot of clubs have been knocked out by lower league opponents already – not least Leicester, who got done 4-2 at home by Burton Albion. That said, Derby’s capitulation was stupid and pathetic. Jacobs and Theo Robinson, who missed a penalty having asked Jake Buxton if he wanted to take it instead, have both been left out of the team since that result, with Clough suggesting that they had not shown the necessary application on the night.
Since that embarrassing result, there has been far more resolve, concentration and professionalism in our performances, although the second half retreat against Wednesday, which was turgid and fearful, was certainly a hangover from Scunthorpe.
Fortunately, that demon now seems to have been properly exorcised and the thumping win over Watford was exactly what everybody needed, going into the international break. We can now look forward to the next phase of the season in good spirits.
After Sheffield Wednesday brought a huge travelling army of over 6,000 with them to Pride Park, swelling the gate to 27,437, it became clear that home attendances would be starting this season considerably down on last season’s, continuing the trend of recent years.
It seems that a good number of fans decided that ‘enough was enough’ after last year’s mid-table finish, while the club’s stated ‘spend what Clough can raise’ transfer policy was never likely to bring the hordes flocking in. The sale of Jason Shackell prompted a flurry of requests for refunds on season tickets – almost as many as Cardiff received when they announced they would be changing their home kit colour from blue to red – and doubtless also prompted many Derbyshire folk to decide against splashing out on what is, at the end of the day, a fairly expensive indulgence.
With the economy tanking in the age of austerity, the sad reality is that many people can’t afford a season ticket and single match tickets are pricey these days.
The new Digonex demand-based ticketing system means that ‘bargain’ seats will be made available for certain games. Watford, for example, was a ‘Deal of the Week’ match, with tickets on sale from £19 and this sort of price will presumably also be offered when the likes of Peterborough, Barnsley and Charlton come to town. However, non-season ticket holders will still be asked to cough up much more for a ticket to see the Rams play Forest, or Leicester.
This week’s Deal of the Week is the Leeds match on 8 December. Fans prepared to buy a ticket three months in advance can get a seat in the South West corner for £21. To sit anywhere else in the ground though, you’ll have to pay at least £32.
Interestingly, although Derby’s attendance for the Watford game was our lowest home league gate for a long time, it was still higher than Forest and Leicester’s on the same day. Both of those clubs attracted gates of less than 20,000 – this despite Forest recently signing a whole new team (including Simon Cox and Billy Sharp) and King Power’s concerted policy of financially doping the Foxes.
Hopefully, if the Rams continue to play attractive football and score goals, attendances will gradually creep up again. However, with Football League attendances seemingly down all around the country, the campaign to bring back limited terracing for ‘safe standing’ areas looks more and more sensible.
Safe standing is a real hit in Germany and has led to cheaper tickets being available, higher attendances and better atmosphere within the grounds. To their credit, Derby were the first English league side to publicly back the idea this summer and according to Nick Webster, the DCFC flagman who is a prime mover in the campaign for safe standing, more and more clubs are getting behind the idea.
The reality is that plenty of people stand up anyway (or naturally bounce out of their seats at various times during the game) and this can conflict with those who prefer or need to remain seated at all times. So if this can be properly managed, with the fans who like to stand given their own dedicated area, surely everybody will benefit.