Like elephants, football fans don’t forget, so I’ve had great distaste for Derby since the shameful scenes at the Baseball Ground in 1983. The football authorities abrogation of their responsibilities afterwards compounded the injustice and have left me having no time for The Rams ever since. I, therefore, found myself in the curious position of cheering them on last Sunday as they took on our rivals at the top Bournemouth…
Derby’s surprise victory kept us top but left them still rooted at the bottom following their mammoth points deduction for various financial misdemeanours. In light of 1983, my sympathy for them is limited but my respect for Wayne Rooney in his first management role has been increasing. He hasn’t jumped ship but instead has moulded a team that has been competitive this term when it would be all too easy to give up hope. His reputation on the sidelines is therefore growing and given the difficulties at Old Trafford, it’s not out of the question he could end up in charge there one day. With Fulham old boy Liam Roseniorassisting him and a decent lineup on the pitch this then was not going to be a standard top v bottom fixture.
Having said all that there was no reason for us to approach the game with any trepidation. Seven successive victories are great for confidence but it’s been the manner of performances that have given most satisfaction. With the exception of the Peterborough game where we had to grind out a gritty win the level of control we’ve had in games make positive results almost a given; especially now we’re taking a higher percentage of our chances.
Any unbridled optimism was tempered by the announcement of the team and the absence of Rodak, Cairney and Mitrovic from the lineup. By the time you read this, the reason may have become clear but hopefully, it is short-term rather than anything serious. A long Championship season is sure to test the depth of the squad and with decent cover these days it wasn’t exactly a disaster. Gazzaniga doesn’t have the same reassuring presence as Rodak but did all that was asked of him on the night in returning a clean sheet. Seri slotted in seamlessly for Cairney in midfield and was very unlucky his first half pile driver rattled the upright rather than bulged the net. Silva had one call of his own to make in central defence and although Hector hasn’t done much wrong it was hard to argue about Tosin’s return. He had a solid game alongside Tim Ream and apart from a couple of close shaves in the first half Derby rarely threatened as an attacking force.
This left the other change up front with Rodrigo Muniz finally getting the chance to start in Mitro’sabsence. It would be a tough ask for anyone to fill the pyrotechnic Serb’s shoes such is the form he’s in; especially as our young Brazilian was up against two of the most experienced defenders in the game. Curtis Davies and Phil Jagielka were probably repelling attackers while Muniz was still in nappies so it was a tough test for our young starlet. A couple of poor touches early on couldn’t have helped his confidence and his movement unsurprisingly lacked the cunning of Mitrovic. However, perseverance is a quality he doesn’t lack and he grew into the game as it went on and gave his all. He was distinctly unfortunate to see his acrobatic bicycle kick skim over towards the end which would probably have been just rewards for his efforts. It wasn’t to be his or our night in front of goal though. The ball didn’t quite bounce our way at times but credit must be given to Derby’s organisation and game plan. Rooney and his staff had done their homework and snuffed out the supply line to Kebano and Wilson on the flanks. It meant we had to try and find our way through a crowded middle. Fabio Carvalho looked the most likely prospect for much of the evening with some delightful touches but even he couldn’t quite thread the Derby needle; although he too was unlucky to hit the woodwork in the second half.
As frustrating as the night was I’ve seen us lose any number of games like that being caught by a sucker punch and with Bournemouth and West Brom drawing their midweek fixtures the status quo has been maintained and we remain top of the table. It wasn’t the result we wanted but we’ve suffered far worse fates. Let’s hope our absentees soon recover with a tight turn round before Preston on Saturday and that game with Bournemouth on Friday week. Times at the Cottage are about to get even more interesting.