The Forest game was a clear marker for where we are at the moment. For all their best efforts, our players simply didn’t look quick, sharp or confident enough to create enough chances against one of the most expensively-assembled squads in the division. The most glaring differences – and the ones which ultimately swung the game in the enemy’s favour – were pace and squad depth. Their goal was created by the raw speed of Nathan Tyson and finished off by a striker who must have been one of the most expensive subs on any Championship bench last weekend, Robert Earnshaw. Whilst Derby were forced to rely upon their one “fit” striker, Chris Porter, the Red Dogs were able to send on Earnshaw and the hulking Dele Adebola from the bench.
90 minutes of plodding effort were enough to explain why Nigel Clough is attempting to loan Leicester’s Martyn Waghorn, a player who would add energy to a frustratingly pedestrian attack. The new signing Ben Davies, an attacking midfielder, is no whippet and neither are Alberto Bueno or Kris Commons. With Stephen Pearson, Tomasz Cywka and Paul Green left out, there was simply not enough tenacity or drive in the attacking quartet.
Speed in the forward line gives a team so much more potency. Without any, we were left hoping for a moment of magic from Commons or Bueno. or maybe a goal from a set piece. In fact, the nearest we came was when Miles Addison shook off the shackles of his defensive midfield role to outmuscle Forest’s defensive kingpin Wes Morgan, commit the Derby-born goalkeeper Lee Camp and set up a tap-in for the ponderous Porter, who somehow contrived not to score.
The crowd got onto Porter, who needs a flurry of goals to get them back onside and earn a contract extension; at the moment, I’d guess that 90% of supporters would hope he is released in summer. His stay at Pride Park has been ruined by his hip injuries and whilst he has scored a few goals, he simply hasn’t been able to play enough games to justify his place in the squad. His touch and passing against Forest were largely dreadful and as he toiled fruitlessly up front, he became an easy target for the fans’ dissatisfaction.
Another problem is that at the moment, Clough doesn’t seem to know his best team. The continental 4-2-3-1 system, which took opponents by surprise at the start of the season, has now been thoroughly scouted and largely counteracted by other teams. The goals have dried up and there is apparently no plan B. It is revealing to note that a Derby substitute has scored only once this season – Shefki Kuqi, against Watford at home. It’s also interesting that the name of Kuqi is still on Derby fans’ lips even weeks after he left. Certainly, there is an opportunity for a striker to make himself a hero at Derby, because the fans need a talisman up-front.
Promotion was never on the cards this season – the squad was blatantly never big or strong enough for that – but what chafes is that our season is already essentially over, unless our form slumps to the extent that we are dragged into the relegation fight. The fans have precious little to look forward to, except for games against Leicester (for some – I’ve never been interested) and Leeds United.
Commons seems less and less likely to stay and a move to Glasgow Rangers would come as no surprise. I’d be shocked if he suddenly turned round and signed a new deal, as such a development simply wouldn’t fit in with the current pattern – which is for highly-paid players left over from the days of the parachute payments to leave at the end of a transfer window. At least, however, some good young players are being nurtured as their long-term replacements and could form the nucleus of a good squad in the future.
But that’s the future. For now, I can only foresee dwindling attendances, as disillusioned fairweather fans stay away. Only the excitement of good new players coming in and the improvement in results that would bring can put bums back on seats, but that won’t happen until summer at the earliest. Clough effectively wrote off the season in his post-Forest interview on the club website, saying that it was now about winning enough games to stay out of trouble and getting more experience into the likes of John Brayford and James Bailey, so they can help to take us forward next season. For that to be the case in late January hurts.
At least we have a future captain in the ranks in Addison. An academy product, his strength and desire to win have made him a huge hit with the supporters. Some of his thunderous tackles in the first half could and should have decisively shifed the game in our favour against Forest, but alas, he couldn’t do it all on his own.
We have good players at the club, but at the moment, we can’t seem to put a convincing eleven out and there doesn’t seem to be anything Clough can do to change it from the bench. Surely the board must see that action to strengthen the squad and inject some vitality into a flagging club is necessary. The fans have probably swallowed as much PR spiel from chief executive Tom Glick as they can stomach – and any more talk of sensible book-balancing and prudent belt-tightening will only lead them to start wishing they could tighten their own belts around the smooth-tongued American’s neck*.
(* With thanks to Bill Hicks for the belt-tightening gag)