Brothers and sisters, that was immense.
It started to flow in the second half of a game which could have got away from Derby, who were not punished for a lacklustre first 45 – too slow, wanting too many touches and too much time, losing possession too often in dangerous areas. The answer – and this goes contrary to my instincts – was to counter Leeds’ aggressively high line by being less precise and more direct, to turn them and force them to retreat into their own third. Leeds’ left back was a winger, Stuart Dallas – this seemed an obvious avenue to exploit, though in the first half, Derby’s full backs’ unwillingness to get forward and stretch Leeds limited our opportunities to create chances.
The home side got off to a fast start through the classic tactic of squeezing very high and hard – Huddlestone was caught on the ball and will get the criticism for the Leeds goal, but the situation initially arose from a poor touch by Forsyth, who allowed the ball to escape his control. There were many such moments of sloppiness in the first half, but fortunately, Leeds lacked the quality to fully exploit them and kill the game off. 1-0 at half time felt about right and so it was over to Gary Rowett to direct the team to turn around what had been a very disappointing display.
I was prescribing substitutions – my thoughts were maybe Thorne on for Huddlestone and at some point, Vydra, probably for Lawrence, who had been peripheral – but the manager persevered with his starting XI for more than an hour – in fact, he didn’t even use his third substitute to eat up time, as the Rams saw it out in relative comfort, a rising drive from the edge of the box in the last minute aside. That half-chance came from nothing, just a long ball and a nod-down – it flashed over.
The luck is with the Rams at the moment, but they are rolling with it and hoovering up the points, leaving opposition managers and supporters to howl at the injustice of it all. It is the opposite of what “the Derby Way” had become – and it is brilliant.
Even at the hour mark, it wasn’t obvious that the Rams were going to get back into it, but it was plain to see that Leeds had very few attacking ideas. Isolated counter-attacking opportunities were presented to them by our mistakes, but they were unable to take advantage. Derby were starting to control possession as the Leeds pressing game naturally faded and the longer it stayed at 1-0, the more the feeling that there was something in it for Derby grew.
Huddlestone, who had struggled badly with the pace of the game in the first half, gradually became more influential and the pressure started to build. Leeds were forced back and began to make errors of their own. Corner after corner was flighted in and, in the end, they cracked. It was the kind of quality pass you expect from Huddlestone, the perfect low cross on the run from Forsyth, an emphatic, net-busting finish from Winnall and it goes down as one of my favourite moments watching the Rams in recent times. I think back to Ben Davies v Leeds at Pride Park, Johnny Russell v Forest in the 5-0, Thorne at Huddersfield and against Brighton in the play-offs – this one was up there with those magic moments.
At the moment, Winnall for Butterfield is looking like one of the cannier deals Derby have done in recent years, shifting out a midfield misfit in return for a striking option totally different to what we had at the club. Winnall is a goals man – another one of those late-blooming strikers who erupts from the lower leagues – and he could be a big asset for the rest of the season. Having proved his Championship worth at Barnsley, joining Wednesday as an understudy to bigger names was an unfortunate career move, which cost him valuable time. Now, his desperation to play, impress and snaffle goals is obvious and he had the balls to step up and convert the crucial penalty, as well. I don’t see how he can possibly be dropped for the Reading game now and so Rowett has some interesting decisions to make ahead of Saturday.
So to sum it up, Leeds charged out of the blocks, worked extremely hard to stifle Derby for an hour, ran out of gas and ultimately – and actually rather tamely – lost, to a team which showed that bit more quality in the final third. If a team is ultimately as good as its strikers, then Derby are very good at this level – and the good times could continue for a while yet.
Leeds can whinge all they like about the penalty award, but the fact is that their defender was rumbled and tried to get cute by committing a professional foul marginally outside of the box. And it backfired on them – tough. My instinct in real time was that it was a penalty and I can absolutely see why it was given.
While Norwich can justifiably say that they were unlucky not to get at least a point out of their defeat to us last weekend, I don’t think Leeds – who mustered only one shot on target out of a grand total of eight – can have any complaints. On that showing, I’m comfortable in predicting that they will finish well outside of the top six this season.
Beating Forest and Leeds within the spaces of a couple of weeks is brilliant – and Gary Rowett is surely October’s Championship manager of the month – but now it’s time to capitalise on Saturday, with a more prosaic, but equally important home game against Jaap Stam’s Reading. It’s too early to start getting carried away, but at least we can talk about one ‘p’ word – positivity – which is undeniably flowing through the club again.