Derby started the week with an extremely hard-earned point against the league leaders Southampton, a side with equal measures of strength and technique, capable of enviable football and seemingly bound at least for the play-offs this season.
Derby started really brightly and Theo Robinson went some way to silencing his Twitter critics by pouncing on the rebound from a parried Ben Davies drive. However, Southampton gradually turned the screw, imposing their superior passing and fluid attacking movement on the home side. At times, Derby were powerless to do much about Southampton’s ominous passing, except get bodies in the way and hang on grimly.
A first-half equaliser would have totally changed the dynamic of the game, so it’s to the Rams’ credit that they toughed it out until the break, surviving scares when Fonte’s header was cleared off the line and Chaplow’s rising drive rose fractionally too much. The best moment from a Derby player came when Frank Fielding made a tremendous save from Guly Do Prado’s curling right-footer. It was a good job for us that Adam Lallana was missing injured for the Saints, but even without him, they were still very potent going forward.
In the second half, Rickie Lambert scored the equaliser that Southampton deserved, but Derby more than played their part and worked extremely hard to stick with their opponents. The Rams deserve huge credit for weathering the storm and landing a few metaphorical punches of their own, most notably a cross from Gareth Roberts which caused chaos in the Southampton box before Ben Davies’ first-time drive was charged down.
Pleasingly, late in the game and even into stoppage time, Derby continued to attack, forcing numerous corners and free kicks which could have led to a winner. This says something about the stamina of the players, who covered a lot of hard yards pressurising, hassling, tackling and blocking throughout the 97 minutes. There was only one Derby substitution – and that was when poor Steve Davies suffered a fractured skull.
It remains to be seen whether his three-month lay-off will be covered by a loan signing, or by handing an opportunity to the academy graduate, Callum Ball. Ball has certainly scored his fair share of goals for the youth and reserve teams in the last couple of seasons and if he is good enough, at 19, he is certainly old enough.
The good thing about the current side is that they are showing the resolve to scrap for a result, even when the odds are against them. Previous Derby teams would have wilted in the face of Southampton’s onslaught, or shipped a ‘late sickener’ against Reading after losing the lead twice, but Clough’s current charges have a bit more determination than that.
Finally, Clough is in a position where he is able to field his own team. And look at the league table.
It’s been a tough couple of years, but finally, most of the overpaid underachievers are off the wage bill, the first-team players can all be relied upon to put in a shift and we are even starting to generate saleable assets, like Hendrick, O’Brien, Ball and Mason Bennett.
I know ‘saleable assets’ is not a nice way to describe youth products, but financial reality dictates that if one of the big clubs takes a real shine to one of our young professionals, they will be able to prize him away from us.
Or they could just nip in and child-snatch him before he turns 17. Because the Football League this week reluctantly voted through changes to the way the game is governed, which mean the end of the old transfer tribunal system.
Under the new rules established by the Elite Player Performance Plan, a selling club gets £3,000 per year for each year they developed the player from the ages of nine to 11, then an additional, slightly higher fee for each year from 12 to 16.
Academies are graded, from one to four. Assuming that Derby’s academy is graded as category one, we would receive the highest rate of compensation – £40,000 per year*.
So, assuming we’re category one and assuming he’s been at the club since the age of 12, a 16-year-old Bennett could leave Derby to go to Liverpool, say, for an up-front fee of £200,000. If Derby end up rated as a category two academy, we would get even less, for a prospect who was an England U’17 international by the age of 15.
If, by some miracle, a 16-year-old pinched by Chelsea does end up in their first team, there will be ‘bolt-on’ payments to add to the original pittance Abramovich was obliged to cough up.
As Clough told Rams Player this week, the best we can do, under the new rules, is make the very valid point to youngsters like Bennett (and their families) that a glamorous move to one of the big boys might actually stunt his development, leaving him kicking their heels in the youth or reserve team before heading out on loan to the Football League, when he could have been playing regularly for us the whole time instead, before moving on in his late teens with good experience under his belt.
The BBC’s Paul Fletcher puts it this way: “It will be worth a top-flight club buying several young players [for the new low up-front fees] on the basis they can afford for several to fall by the wayside – as long as some succeed.”
At least it’s too late for Hendrick or O’Brien to be stolen away in such a fashion. An interesting quote from a report this week had Jeff Hendrick’s agent talking to Clough ‘as if he had played 90 games, not nine’. This, in conjunction with reports linking Wolves and West Brom with the player, suggest that the teenager has been made well aware of his worth. So, let’s see what happens regarding his contract over the coming weeks.
LEAGUE POSITION: 4th
LEAGUE FORM: WWDLDD
Steve Davies 5
Theo Robinson 4
Craig Bryson 2
Jeff Hendrick 2
Tomasz Cywka 1
Ben Davies 1
Kevin Kilbane 1
Chris Maguire 1
Jason Shackell 1
Jamie Ward 1
Ben Davies 9
Craig Bryson 2
Lee Croft 2
Tomasz Cywka 1
Steve Davies 1
Gareth Roberts 1
Jason Shackell 1
Jamie Ward 1
* Figures re EPPP system sourced from Paul Fletcher, BBC