To my confusion and delight, Derby County made a mockery of my doom-laden prediction and toughed their way to a massively important 2-1 victory over Swansea City on Saturday.
At a point when any realistic hopes of a recovery had gone and relegation was starting to look like a very serious threat, Ashley Williams and Dorus de Vries lost the plot under pressure and scored the best own goal at Pride Park since Andy King’s last season.
Derby don’t do things the easy way and although Steve Davies doubled the advantage with a deflected header from Conor Doyle’s corner, there were serious fears that the Rams might buckle once Darren Pratley made it 2-1. However, although Williams and Stephen Dobbie both hit the bar and Scott Sinclair somehow failed to slide in Dobbie’s centre, ultimately Derby did what they have failed to do on too many occasions this season – held out for the points.
I was delighted by Nigel Clough’s decision to recall Alberto Bueno. I feared that there would be no meaningful changes made to the side that lost at Middlesbrough, other than the recall of Robbie Savage, but the fulcrum Bueno was restored, playing behind the promising Steve Davies.
However, a glance at the sub’s bench brought a major surprise – the omission of Ben Davies and Chris Porter from the matchday 18, at the expense of the academy duo Callum Ball and Jeff Hendrick, both of whom have reportedly impressed Clough in training.
Porter has been in and out of the team throughout another injury-ravaged season and with his contract due to expire in summer, this latest development is not a good sign for the striker. It’s starting to look increasingly likely that he will be playing his football elsewhere next season.
Porter made an extremely promising start to his Derby County career, scoring three goals in his first three starts. Sadly, injuries intervened and he has made a total of just 19 starts in the past two-and-a-half seasons. At 26 years old, he can’t be regarded as a prospect in the same way that the 23-year old Steve Davies can and Clough’s first signing, barring an incredible last-ditch flurry of goals before the end of the season, has to be chalked into Nigel’s ‘Flop’ column, along with the excommunicated Huddersfield reject Lee Croft.
A player signed by Clough in January, Ben Davies has failed to make any impression on the Derby fans, or the team’s fortunes, thus far. Even allowing for the fact that it’s difficult to look good in a struggling team, Davies does not seem to be the sort of player who can make a difference at Championship level. He is ponderously slow and seems to have no obvious natural position. Much depends therefore upon his set pieces, but seemingly weighed down by the pressure of his ‘dead ball specialist’ tag, he has struggled to get any consistency on his corners or free kicks for Derby to date.
Even worse, it was his 89th minute mistake which cost the Rams a share of the points at Middlesbrough on Tuesday and whilst Clough refrained from giving him a public tongue-lashing, the action of omitting him from the matchday squad for Swansea is a more extreme, albeit less visceral, decision. Cutting Ben Davies and Porter from the squad surely refutes the accusations of those anti-Clough commentators who accuse the manager of favouring “special” players.
Perhaps leaving Ben Davies out of the 18 was meant to be a kick up the backside for a player who might well be wondering why the hell he went through the hassle of leaving Paul Ince’s Notts County. Incidentally, a world where a footballer receives death threats for joining a second division club from a third division club, as Ben Davies claims to have done, is a world gone mad.
There has been no word of any injuries affecting either Porter or Ben Davies and it will be interesting to see whether the duo are restored to the bench for the Palace game.
RELEGATION WATCH – Coventry City have hit the panic button and ejected Aidy Boothroyd from his managerial hotseat. The Sky Blues, whose Ricoh Arena is notably only for its ‘here, there, every f***ing where’ empty seats these days, have hit the skids as thoroughly as Derby this season, after an early season run which saw them challenging amongst the upper echelons.
Boothroyd’s short tenure at Coventry will probably be remembered “best” for his controversial decision to hand Marlon King a contract, after the literally-minded striker’s release from prison for sexual assault and causing actual bodily harm to a young woman in a nightclub. Coventry languish in 19th place, two points behind Derby, ahead of their match at Burnley tomorrow and a vital trip to rock-bottom Preston North End on Saturday.
Coventry have totalled just eight points from their last 16 Championship games, compared to Derby’s slightly less dreadful 13.