Nottingham Forest 1 Derby County 0

RIP Mark Hollis

By the 70th minute, the game was as good as dead. Derby could do nothing to remotely affect Forest, who sat smug on the free gift they’d been handed in the second minute, like Smaug the dragon snoozing on his hoard of gold. We knew exactly how Martin O’Neill wanted to play, we fucked up straight from the kick-off and that is basically all she wrote.

To concede so early and then go on to muster two shots by half-time, just six shots by the final whistle, was shameful in a game of this magnitude. There was no rally, no real fight, no threat, nothing. Basically, there was nothing. I can take a defeat, but making it so easy for them in a loss this toothless, on top of a similarly toothless loss in the week, on top of a dreadful performance at bottom-of-the-league Ipswich, on top of a dreadful performance at Preston… Let’s just say that the honeymoon is well and truly over for Frank Lampard now, as he tries to work out how to get his squad out of their deepening rut.

It was surprising that, other than a different starting formation and Andy King replacing the injured Craig Bryson, Lampard didn’t see fit to make changes from the side which put in such an inadequate performance against Millwall. It was unsurprising when, just like against Millwall, Derby let their opponents control the game without the ball, shutting off spaces and ceding possession quite happily, challenging Derby to do something with it. What worries me is that Lampard said after these two 1-0 defeats that Derby ‘controlled the ball for long spells’. Yes, we did, but surely he must know that was a specific tactic the opposition were deploying. They let us have it, they were disciplined and organised and that is basically all it takes to beat Derby at the minute. As a bonus to their defensive wall of steel, Forest had Joe Lolley, who was brilliant in giving the defence a breather by carrying the ball up the pitch, often without any support at all.

Despite their lack of attacking ambition, Forest could easily have scored two or three on the night. We haven’t scored or even really looked like scoring for nigh-on 270 minutes of league football now and you look around wondering where the next chance is going to come from, let alone the next win. Aston Villa may be mid-table and floundering, with an abysmal defensive record, but they will have been watching this game and licking their lips. Any opposition scout would have been.

Jack Marriott never had a shot. Harry Wilson started on the left, where he had no impact whatsoever, then was moved into central midfield, where he had no impact whatsoever, then was subbed for Mason Bennett, who had no impact whatsoever. By the time a free kick came along in ‘Wilson territory’, the Welshman was already off the field. Martyn Waghorn took it instead, lobbing the ball to Costel Pantilimon with all the force of an underarm throw – a futile act which doubled Derby’s shots on target for the evening.

Ashley Cole must be wondering what on earth he has let himself in for. He is still a class act and in dealing with Lolley, was really the only bright spot in an otherwise pitiful team performance.

Hooking Tom Huddlestone at half-time was a reaction to the fact that, just like at Millwall, Derby had been too slow and spent too much time passing the ball in front of Forest and almost no time playing anywhere near their goal. Losing Andy King to injury shortly after that was unfortunate, but I didn’t feel like King would have made a difference to the result in any case.

Bradley Johnson came on and did what he does – won the odd challenge and interception, clipped the odd nice-looking pass to the wing, blazed a shot over the bar, gave the ball away in midfield with mind-numbingly dreadful passes on two or three occasions. But Derby look so hopeless at the minute that I’m starting to think that he actually has a chance of starting at Villa.

I had no idea what team Lampard would pick before this game and after it was announced, I still wasn’t sure how he would line them up. Such is our lot, at the moment. Forest, on the other hand, looked comfortable in their skins and had a simple, solid gameplan, as negative as it was. You can’t complain or seek to inhabit the moral high ground when you play into the opponents’ hands and their tactics work as comprehensively as this.

So where do we go from here? Well, Villa Park, in the short term – where we haven’t won in thirty years – before a spell of home games against teams from the bottom half of the division. In theory, that March Pride Park residency is a huge opportunity to power back into the top six, but on the basis of their last few performances, Derby don’t look like a side who are capable of stringing enough wins together to do it.

I said at the start of the last BlogCast that the Rams’ season was ‘at a crossroads’. That was before Millwall. Zero points since then says that we have lurched a good distance down the wrong path entirely and while it’s by no means terminal at this stage, Lampard and the players have to somehow stop this rot as soon as possible, before they lose touch with the top six altogether

Points in last five league games

Norwich 12
Leeds 10
Sheffield U 13
WBA 10
Boro 10
Bristol C 12
DERBY 5
Forest 8
Birmingham 8
PNE 11

The turmoil of recent years has resulted in a mish-mash of a squad, with players signed by half-a-dozen or so managers still on the books, some of whom (Bryson and Nugent, for example) are clearly past their best. As Chris pointed out on the pod, what kills you is that there are surplus players in Chris Martin, Ikechi Anya and poor George Thorne who still have a year left before they can be released. But Lampard did make plenty of signings last summer and most of them (with the exception of George Evans) are featuring now. The front five who started at Forest and who looked, in the words of Jay of Blades Analytics ‘like they didn’t know each other’, all joined last summer.

The squad will look radically different before the first game of next season – which could still, in theory, be in the Premier League, although that prospect is rapidly receding by the game. Lampard pointed out after this loss that everybody had been talking about a ‘transitional’ season before a ball was kicked, rather than a promotion push and that gives you a pretty broad clue as to where his head is at.

There’s a lot of chat at the moment about the many players who are out of contract at the end of the season and the opportunity for renewal that brings. When you take out the loan signings as well, plus the retiring Cole, then the need for a big overhaul is huge. We will come back to that a bit nearer the time (as soon as promotion is ruled out, in fact).

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