The trouble with the new RamsTV service is that, having endured a few weeks with no Rams, I’m now so over-excited by the Return of Football and this new and rather slick service that I feel compelled to review every pre-season of 2017/8…. so here goes another one.
Gary Rowett trailed the ‘double-header’ of games against Doncaster Rovers and Port Vale as matches which Derby might struggle to win, due to his strategy of giving as many players as possible 90 minutes, with the opposition expected to make the usual raft of pre-season substitutions. It is an interesting approach, but worked to Rowett’s satisfaction at Doncaster, where all eleven players completed the full game against a home side which had been swapped over almost entirely by the hour mark.
Jonny Mitchell was in goal for this one and within seconds, was smartly off line to sweeper-keep ahead of onrushing attacker. Mitchell looks a very promising goalkeeper to me, with a robust build for one so young and decent shot-stopping – and shot-holding – ability. I wonder whether Derby will loan him out to play games this season?
The Rams started reasonably well, with Doncaster dropping deep into a shell when out of possession. A nice passing move with Butterfield at its hub ended with Johnson stabbing it straight through to keeper, but Butterfield had enjoyed a far brighter start to the game than at Macclesfield. With Donny sitting off, Martin looked to exploit the space by dropping off the front, collecting possession and smashing a 30 yard drive, off-target.
A fine counter-attacking move involving Forsyth, Weimann, Butterfield and Bennett indirectly led to the opening goal, via a corner kick (yes, really). Butterfield landed his delivery straight on Keogh’s noggin for an unstoppable header.
Derby probably should have gone further ahead when Hanson’s dangerous, whipped cross was punched to edge of box, where Nugent attempted an insolent lob, which was undercooked. You’d like to think that in a game that mattered, the Nuge would simply had got his head down and drilled it, much as he did against Kidderminster.
Derby were very dominant at this stage, but there followed an almost total lull, with Donny pinging some pleasant passes with the odd hint of promise, but no end product. Next, Bennett latched onto Forsyth’s long (right-footed!) pass behind the defence and laid it off to Martin, who curled a shot against the inside of the post. We were in “useful workout” territory as the Rams took a 1-0 lead into half-time.
Donny made two substitutions at the interval and their club legend James Coppinger showed up extremely well straight away, looking a cut above his teammates and giving Derby serious problems in the final third. The shape out of possession looked like a straight 4-4-2, with Bennett and Weimann dropping into a line alongside the central midfielders. It was clear to see the issue with this formation, which invites opposing forwards to drop between the lines and collect passes through the centre, behind the midfielders. Coppinger, for a time, had a bit of a field day and skinned Johnson on more than one occasion.
Here was where the players’ fitness truly began to be tested and Martin certainly showed willing, with a lung-burster to prevent a Donny goal kick.
Nugent messed up a chance to counter, presenting the home side with a counter-counter. Nugent chased back to concede a free kick, which very nearly resulted in a free back-post header, the cross inches too high. Mitchell was then forced into a solid near-post parry following a one-two in the Derby box, as Donny dominated.
Their equaliser on 58 minutes was no surprise and followed another passing move, with the flagging Rams midfield powerless to intervene. As Rovers built ominously towards the box, Butterfield was left with two midfielders to close down on his own, Johnson passed a runner onto the defenders rather than track him, bish bosh, a stepover and the Rams were prised open. 1-1.
Donny then sent on their full raft of subs, while Derby persisted with their starting XI, as Rowett had planned. Unsurprisingly, Rovers continued to look fresher and quicker to the ball and Nugent’s misplaced pass set them on another counter, resulting in a back-post chip volleyed fiercely and saved smartly by Mitchell.
The Rams players were treading water at this stage, slowing things down and struggling to hang on. Until, on 72, they were offered the chance to take an unlikely lead. Johnson did really well to rob a dallying Rover and Bennett was then played through on goal by Nugent, before being hauled down for a penalty. Unfortunately, Martin smashed it hard and too high.
Martin tried to make amends by flicking Mitchell’s goal kick into the path of Weimann, who carried the ball to the edge of the box from the left, but measured his attempted floated finish just past the angle of post and bar. He was still full of running, as was Bennett and it was encouraging to see the Rams rally in the later stages of the game.
Perhaps the Donny subs were lower-standard players, but nevertheless, Derby had caught a ‘second wind’ which allowed them to come back into the match. Forsyth’s dangerous cross was next headed behind for a corner as Derby’s revival continued.
Martin and Weimann linked well again, but Martin was seemingly brought down – you can never quite tell – only for the ref to wave play on. Donny were suddenly through four-on-three and only failed to score because Coppinger was too short to reach the final cross.
Nevertheless, Derby continued to compete into the game’s final knockings and almost nicked it when a long-throw fell to Martin, who hooked an instinctive effort across goal and wide.
And that was that. The modern style of online writing is, apparently, to ask – what have we learned? Well, we’ve learned that performance in pre-season can be pretty variable, as players try to surf the line between doing the work and not over-exerting themselves to the point of breaking down. That Rowett is still assessing the various options at this disposal (and still trying to strengthen in attacking areas). That most of the players look basically fit and ready, with the season a couple of weeks away.
All eleven players got through the game with no problems. There was little in the way of productive combination play between Martin and Nugent, although Wardrobe held the ball and linked in with the wide forwards, as well as winning his free kicks. The back five, which lacked Carson,Wisdom and Davies, was tested intermittently and looked basically competent, with Hanson demonstrating his versatility yet again and Forsyth quietly getting through his first 90 since the injury. Rowett may not persist with a midfield two, but Butterfield did show better quality on the ball than he had at Macclesfield. Weimann and Bennett’s fitness levels were impressive…
All in all, despite their failure to win the match, there were more positives than negatives to take for this half of the squad.