I had a bad feeling about the Peterborough United game and unfortunately, my gut instinct – that trouble was brewing, that the injury problems were finally starting to really bite (again) – proved to be accurate. In the most depressing way possible.
It started well enough. The Rams buzzed around with plenty of confidence, bossing proceedings early doors, before Peterborough started to force their way back into the game. They got most of their joy on the left, where the callow Conor Doyle and the out-of-position Jake Buxton were repeatedly exposed. The moment after about 20 minutes, when Doyle received a routine pass from Buxton, only to stumble over his own feet and concede possession in a very dangerous area, was quite extraordinary.
Overall, the American’s performance showed why he has failed to force his way into the first-team reckoning with any regularity during his time at the club and he was subbed early in the second half. The gritty Ben Davies might have been better-equipped to help Buxton on the right-hand side, but with so few strikers available, Nigel Clough felt he needed to deploy Ward at centre forward, forcing Davies to move over to the left and leaving a gap in right midfield.
I have to confess that despite his appearances for Eire U’21 and USA U’23, Doyle is a player I simply don’t get. I have no idea what his best position is, or what exactly it is that makes him a promising player. Here’s hoping that he proves me wrong before the season is out.
Anyhoo, Theo Robinson exploited Posh’s naive defending to bag a quick-fire brace and become Derby’s top scorer for the season. And that should have been that. New season, new squad, new start. The frailties of previous campaigns, when Derby would contrive to throw points away from winning positions like confetti, were behind us, weren’t they?
Not so. The experienced likes of Shackell, Roberts, Bryson and Ben Davies are good pros, but they need a bit more help than they’re getting. And after Robinson missed a glorious chance to complete the first league hat-trick by a Derby player since 1847, Derby capitulated.
Passive defending allowed the first Peterborough goal, then Shackell, of all people, made a quite incomprehensible error to gift away the equaliser just after the break. And with that, any semblance of control Derby had was swept away. Posh, desperate for the three points, played at a breathless tempo and attacked their patently rattled visitors in remorseless waves. But still, Derby were able to withstand the pressure until deep into injury time.
Then, with the job seemingly done, a free kick (awarded apparently for nothing) on halfway was dumped into the box, cleared to the edge of the box and screamed into the back of the net from 25 yards by an unmarked Grant McCann. By that point, two schoolboy substitutes had increased the number of teenagers on the pitch for Derby to five.
I have no wish to criticise the youth products, but when you end the game with that many kids in the team, it’s obvious that the balance has shifted too much. Youth requires the guidance of experience and experience benefits from the energy of youth. And the aggravating fact is, even something approximating the Rams’ first choice XI would have easily beaten a Peterborough side whose defensive fallibility is palpable.
In the aftermath of the Posh collapse, reports surfaced that Derby had finally agreed a fee with Mansfield Town for the defender Tom Naylor, who duly signed on an initial loan ahead of the Hull game. Naylor trialled with the Rams a month ago, but the Stags were so cross with Derby’s initial offer that they took the unusual step of declaring on their official site that they were not about to be ‘messed around’ over the player, who also trialled with Fulham and Burnley.
Naylor can reportedly play right back or centre back and reports from those who’ve seen him play locally – whether for Mansfield or Belper Town, where he spent a long loan spell – are good.
Other transfer possibilites arose, in the shape of the 22-year old former Celtic and Northern Ireland U’21 left back Daniel Lafferty, who came over the sea on trial from Derry City – and there was even a dash of the exotic, with a Dutch/Ghanaian left winger, Edwin Gyasi, training at Moor Farm. From the Youtube videos posted by one Raymond Gyasi, the player has skill and pace, both of which would be very welcome. However, he is clearly also young and raw, with no discernible desire to use his right foot.
An attacking signing with a bit of flair could be just the tonic to lift the squad, who now have just three wins in the past 12 League games. However, Gyasi reportedly failed to impress in the Reserve team fixture against Sheffield United and it seems unlikely that he will join permanently.
On the plus side, Paul Green, Shaun Barker and Chris Riggott all played a part against the Blades’ ressies – and those three players returning will make a massive difference to our chances this season. None are likely to start against Hull City, but Barker and / or Green could be included in the 16.
Those who chunter about the lack of cover at full back will probably be cross to note that Clough again mentioned Green as a potential fill-in right back in his pre-Hull interview with Rams Player. Clough and the PR man, Matt McCann, were ambivalent about Green’s longer-term future, only insisting that his expiring contract would not be a distraction to the player, as he seeks to force his way back into the Republic of Ireland reckoning ahead of Euro 2012.
For what it’s worth, I doubt that Green sign an extension, simply because the cost-cutting measure that have been forced upon the club since the Paul Jewell-era mean that wages are not as generous. A good player like Green might well be able to find a club able to match or better his current terms, which Derby might struggle to do at present. A sale for a modest fee in January is probably the most likely outcome.
LEAGUE POSITION: 8th
LEAGUE FORM: LLWLDD
ODDS TO BEAT NEXT OPPONENTS: Hull City (H) – 7/4
There is now only one win in the last eight matches and although that run includes three draws, the second back-to-back defeats of the season make this a mini-slump that needs arresting, urgently.
The next opponents, Hull, come to Pride Park with a mixed bag of form, but generally, they have been tight at the back. If they can continue that trend, suffocate and frustrate Derby to the point where the fans start to get agitated, it might turn into another of those bitter Pride Park afternoons, when defeat starts to seem as inevitable as the next morning’s hangover.
However, their manager Nigel Pearson has just been lured back to moneybags Leicester and Derby might have a couple of the injury victims back. So let’s hope for a return to form.
Theo Robinson 6
Steve Davies 5
Craig Bryson 3
Jeff Hendrick 2
Chris Maguire 2
Jamie Ward 2
Tomasz Cywka 1
Ben Davies 1
Kevin Kilbane 1
Jason Shackell 1
Ben Davies 9
Craig Bryson 2
Lee Croft 2
Theo Robinson 2
Jamie Ward 2
Tomasz Cywka 1
Steve Davies 1
Jeff Hendrick 1
Mark O’Brien 1
Gareth Roberts 1
Jason Shackell 1