Post-Burnley, pre-Forest…

Pavement – Rattled by the Rush

The attendance for the home win against Charlton Athletic was 20,063 – Derby County’s lowest home league gate since March 2004, when 19,861 endured a 0-0 draw with Crewe Alexandra in the old Football League Division One.

Chief executive in-waiting Sam Rush was among a crowd of 21,347 for the unlucky home defeat against Burnley and one of his jobs will be to try to get the crowds coming back in again.  As I’ve previously pointed out, attendances have been dropping gradually ever since our relegation from the Premier League, so it’s a trend that needs reversing, somehow.

It’s worth saying that it’s not just Derby who have seen a fall in their gates this season.  A recent Birmingham Mail article wondered ‘where are the Bluenose fans?’, as it reported on Birmingham City’s lowest home league gate in 15 years – 14,693.  On Saturday, they lost 5-0 against Barnsley in front of just 13,893 at St Andrew’s.

Leicester City averaged just over 23,000 at home last season – so far this term, they’re seeing gates of about 20,500.  Hull’s average gate has dropped by 3,500 – and so it goes on.

FALL IN CHAMPIONSHIP CLUBS AVERAGE ATTENDANCE (from end of 2011/2 – current average in 2012/3)

Birmingham City -21% (4,035)
Hull City -19% (3,506)
DERBY COUNTY -14% (3,657)
Peterborough United -14% (1,277)
Leicester City -11% (2,583)
Millwall -8.5% (966)
Watford -7% (897)
Crystal Palace -6% (954)
Ipswich Town -4.5% (995)
Nottingham Forest -3% (617)
Burnley -3% (449)
Leeds United -1% (234)
Bristol City -1% (97)
Cardiff City +188
Barnsley + 1,144

There will doubtless be more and more initiatives along the lines of the Digonex ‘Deal of the Week’ and the marketing of six-game plans for those who don’t have season tickets.  I’m sure Rush will have a few commercial ideas of his own, but the simplest, surest way to bring back the fans is by scoring goals, winning football matches and challenging at the top of the table.

Clough was unusually exuberant in his post-Charlton interviews and the central message he put out was along these lines – “We are going to attack, we are going to go forward, we’re going to try to entertain.”  After seasons and seasons of grim slog, Clough finally seems to have a first XI that allows him to play the way he has presumably always wanted to play – keeping the ball, building momentum, carrying the game to opponents, carving out opportunities – the kind of stuff his dad would have liked, in short.

I went to the Huddersfield game with some Town fans, one of whom reported a crick in her neck at full-time, from watching the game being played in the home side’s half for the entire second half.  To lose was unbelieavly frustrating, given the amount of possession we had, but I couldn’t help coming away encouraged regardless.  The best bits of our performance that day displayed the sort of football I want to see Derby play – on the ground, fluent, running at defenders, overlaps, one-twos.

The young maestro Will Hughes doesn’t half help and eventually, he will have to be accommodated in central midfield, where he belongs – unless of course, heartbreaking reality sets in and a Premier League club whisk him away.

Andy Appleby, Clough and Andy Garner have all alluded to Premier League interest in Hughes recently, with the Derby Telegraph reporting this week that “a host of Premier League clubs are fully aware of his ability.”  All this can’t help but make you wonder if contact has already been made.

However, it would be nice to think that the player is grounded enough to realise that he is in the right place for now, establishing himself as a first-team player in one of Europe’s most competitive and well-supported divisions.  A ‘move up’ at this point in time would probably only lead to under-21 team football, the league cup, the bench and likely enough a loan move back to the Championship – in other words, a step backwards which Hughes doesn’t need to take.

When Huddersfield Town sold Jordan Rhodes, they were able to extract £8m + add-ons from the loony bin that is Venky’s @ Blackburn Rovers.  A fraction of that fee will have been paid to Ipswich Town, but nevertheless, with money in the bank, there is no reason why Town can’t bolster their squad sufficiently to have a crack at this season’s play-offs.

Transfer deals will fall under Sam Rush’s jurisdiction at Derby, which may well ultimately make us glad of his experience leading one of the world’s largest football agencies – especially in cases where the buying club isn’t run by blithering idiots.

If we’d nailed the Conor Sammon deal in winter 2011 – when Tom Glick quibbled over a relatively piffling difference in the two clubs’ valuations and Wigan Athletic gazumped us – we would have saved something like £600,000 and also had a stronger team, in a season when Clough was seriously struggling, with Rob Hulse and Kris Commons leaving and a fan protest outside Pride Park after a supine home defeat at the hands of Leicester City.  As it was, we ended up paying over the odds for Sammon, who suffered from not playing regularly at Wigan.

You would like to think that a man with Rush’s CV would prevent similar gaffes from happening in the future.

Dan Roan of the BBC has made the point that for a mid-table second division club to take a top executive from an agency of Wassermann’s stature is a big deal.  Rush’s agency, Wassermann, represent players like Steven Gerrard, Scott Parker and Michael Owen, among around 400 others from around the world.  I wonder if Scotty is available on a half-season loan…?

But seriously, to have a man on staff who is acutely aware of the machinations of contract negotiations, as well as being very well connected, can’t harm anything – and it’s surely no coincidence that Rush’s tenure at Derby commences on 1 January, the beginning of the next transfer window.

Direct Goal Involvement

1. Jamie Ward .529
2. Paul Coutts .235
= Michael Jacobs .235
4. Jake Buxton .176
= Jeff Hendrick .176

Tommo was on at me recently that Ward should go back to the left wing and Theo Robinson should play up front instead.  Tommo would then drop Craig Bryson or Jeff Hendrick to accommodate Hughes in midfield.

There are lies, damned lies and statistics, but this stat is a good one.  Last season, when he mostly played on the wing, Ward scored four goals and made six assists.  This season, in seven appearances, he has already grabbed four goals and five assists (if you count him winning the penalty against Charlton, which I do.)

Ward has been directly involved in more than half of our goals in all competitions this season – not bad, considering he didn’t play against Scunthorpe United, when we hit five.  If you just count league goals, Ward has either scored or assisted 75% of them.

In a 4-4-2 formation, the left and right midfielders inevitably have to trudge back to help out their full backs – the time-honoured concept of tracking back.  Far better to free Ward from that responsibility and keep him upfield, where he can do more damage.

Ideally, Clough would want our DGI top five to be Ward and Sammon (gobbling up chances, setting each other up), Coutts (delivery from set pieces and crosses), Bryson (arriving from midfield to get on the end of through-balls and low crosses) and then maybe Buxton or Keogh (scoring from set pieces).

Sammon’s all-round play is good and he causes defenders problems with his physicality, a dimension our team has lacked since Hulse was sold.  However, his unsuccessful sojourn to Wigan has set him back and it seems it’s going to take him a while to get back into goalscoring form.  That said, there’s been very little wrong with his contribution to the team so far this season – on the evidence so far, he looks like a good signing to me.

Talking to friends and Derby fans on Twitter, the recurring theme of late has been the amount of chances we’ve missed, but it’s worth pointing out that only five teams have scored more league goals than us.  Had we been able to stop the regular flow of goals conceded, maybe there wouldn’t be such pressure on the forwards to convert every chance we create.

As it stands, we seemingly need to score three goals in a game to guarantee winning it.  This has got past the point of being easily explained away and it’s to be hoped that Sunday’s game against Nottingham Forest, who have invested heavily in proper centre forwards, doesn’t bring the matter to a head….

 

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