All the way back in the Autumn of 2013, Derby County sacked manager Nigel Clough after four and a half years at the helm. It was an unusual feeling for the Rams as the winds of change swept through the club, on and off the pitch.
However, those winds were turned into a hurricane of chaos as the Rams were recently looking for a permanent manager for the fourth time since Clough Jr was removed, having parted company with Nigel Pearson – after just 5 months – following a suspicious internal investigation lasting just under two weeks.
Many questions were asked – without answer – and many rumours created over the last few years, with the club coming tantalisingly close to promotion on three separate occasions, only to end each season – ultimately – as failures. Despite the various managers overseeing these campaigns, the one constant that has always failed is the playing staff.
Criticism of the squad at Derby is nothing new; the club’s large fanbase has created a small, but vocal, group that has always criticised the playing staff. It’s part of the expectation that comes with playing for a club with a big fanbase, some players can deal with this, others can’t. When things are going well at the iPro, there’s no better place to play. The atmosphere is rocking, the attendances are higher than that of many Premier League sides and the players receive unconditional support. However, such support seems to be easily broken at Derby.
Once fortunes turn, the atmosphere becomes more poisonous, even though the large attendances remain high, something which becomes a negative factor once the unconditional support becomes more critical and less patient. An atmosphere like this hardly breeds creativity, but as footballers many should be able to deal with it. Unfortunately for the Rams, it appears a large chunk of the squad doesn’t have what it takes to deal with this criticism and steer the club back to the good times.
This seems evident by the almost sheer terror that surrounds the players when on the ball. All the passes are safe as nobody wants to endure the wrath of the crowd should they lose the ball. This creates a slow game and eventually disappointing results, only angering the impatient minority even further.
Interestingly, it seems to be the recent multi-million pound players that are most susceptible to such play, lacking the desire to fight and graft for the benefit of the team, leading many to question their commitment to the team overall. Many Rams fans have now been alienated by these players, choosing to believe that they are here for an easy mega pay cheque and not to fight to the Ram on their chest.
Whether or not this is true, there certainly seems to be an odd correlation between those on higher wages and those who appear less willing to battle away during a match. Players such as Tom Ince, Jason Shackell and formerly Ryan Shotton have all endured turbulent relationships with the fans whilst also reportedly commanding large wages from the club, though that is far from confirmed.
It is these same players who have seemed the least motivated on the pitch when things aren’t going well, looking the least likely to get everyone going and drag themselves out of the mud. Whether this is because of large wages and a comfortable life whilst employed at the club is true, it’s certainly telling when compared to players such as Jake Buxton (now at Wigan) and youngsters Jamie Hanson and Max Lowe, who were/are on considerably lower wages (again, simply general consensus) given they fight tooth and nail for the shirt and for the club, rarely looking out of motivation when the going gets tough.
This theory does tend to only resonate with recent signings, with the ‘old guard’ (players signed by Nigel Clough/Steve McClaren who played in the 2014 play off campaign) mostly avoiding this particular criticism. However, the recent signings will have had their influence on the squad and its entirely plausible that negative mentalities are now rife in the East Midlands.
Whilst it may seem an overstatement to claim that the clubs fortunes could’ve changed so drastically just on this basis, it’s entirely possible they could’ve at the very least led to increased player power. The Sun reported that there was a group of seven unnamed players who went to chairman Mel Morris to demand the sacking of Nigel Pearson following public and private criticism after a home defeat to Blackburn.
How true this is will probably never be known, but if it is, it does suggest there is a worrying degree of player power at the club, which would explain why some players look less than interested in fighting for a result when things are going against them. It leaves one wondering whether previous managers have been sacked on the same basis – the odd sacking of Paul Clement for ‘non-football reasons’ during a poor run of form springs to mind.
Alternatively, it could all be more innocent than that. Many of the players, not just recent signings, many not have the mental ability to deal with the weight of expectation coming from the fans, leaving them almost paralysed with fear. A large chunk of the squad have come from classically smaller clubs (with no disrespect intended), with the exception of maybe Bradley Johnson from Norwich, leaving them previously unexposed to such a large and vocal fanbase. This can be a hard thing to deal with particularly if you’re under pressure to perform in a bad run of form. Few managers can change such a mentality, which may unfortunately mean Derby need an overhaul before once again challenging for promotion.
Derby maybe the perfect example of a club with excellent individual players but who cannot play as a team. Whatever is the real problem behind the scenes, it is the squad that is the familiar fixture of the last few years of failure, three permanent managers and two caretakers have failed to handle them properly, suggesting it really isn’t the management that is the problem, but the players themselves. All will become clear if Steve McClaren again fails to deliver success, following his re-appointment. It’s up to the players to prove the nay sayers wrong.
Manchester United 2–0 Derby County: Three talking points from Old Trafford
Two goals inside the last ten minutes from Jesse Lingard and Romelu Lukaku helped Manchester United secure a routine victory over Derby County in their FA Cup third-round tie on Friday night.
Jose Mourinho put out a strong side for the home clash with their Championship opposition and there was a clear gulf in class from the word go, with the hosts laying siege to Scott Carson’s goal.
Marcus Rashford missed two glorious chances to give his side the lead before the break, blazing over the crossbar when well set inside the area before guiding a header on to the post from just a number of yards out, and Paul Pogba fired wide twice as United started to turn the screw on Derby.
The visitors did come close twice in quick succession through Marcus Olsson and Alex Pearce but Mourinho’s side re-asserted control just before half-time when Carson pushed two free-kicks away.
And United started the second as they did the first, coming out fast and continuously testing Carson’s resolve in the Derby goal.
Pogba, Lingard and half-time substitute Lukaku all had shots palmed and parried away by the ex-England number one whilst Rashford – without a goal in seven – saw a dipping shot strike the post.
But just when it seemed that Derby might cling on for a priceless replay it was Lingard who produced yet another stunning 20-yard effort into the top corner to break away hearts, before the returning Lukaku played a neat one-two with Anthony Martial in injury-time to tuck home and secure passage.
United ensure lightning doesn’t strike twice
After being well and truly humbled by Bristol City just a few weeks ago in their last meeting with Championship opposition, Jose Mourinho ensured lightning didn’t strike twice against Derby County.
And whilst they may have left it late on Friday, the result was never really in doubt.
Manchester United have an extremely good pedigree in the FA Cup, losing just one of their past 36 games with lower-ranked opposition prior to kick-off at Old Trafford, and you could understand why.
Mourinho named a similarly strong starting eleven to that which played at Ashton Gate last month but this time around their play was much more dynamic, zipping the ball around quickly and allowing Paul Pogba to work his magic in the middle of the park.
Both he and Jesse Lingard continued their excellent form of late and, backed up by Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford – who could have had a hat-trick – their intricate passing moves proved too much.
Had it not been for an inspired Scott Carson between the sticks and for the woodwork than the score-line could have been much more flattering, but Mourinho has reason to be quietly pleased with his side’s work.
Lingard and Pogba steal the show again
As mentioned above, two players at the heart of everything good about Manchester United’s play once again were the charismatic duo of Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard.
Pogba in particular impressed and, although there are those that will say it was ‘only’ against a Championship side, the way he glided across the pitch and linked defence with attack was superb.
In the absence of Nemanja Matic – being rested after a busy festive schedule – Pogba played the role of an ultimate box-to-box midfielder, and after a slow start since returning from injury this Christmas he carried on from where he left off against Everton with a display full of power and flair.
Within ten minutes he had already sent two long-range efforts flying narrowly past Carson’s goal and it was from that moment that you could sense he was in the mood, and if it hadn’t been for a string of excellent stops from the Derby goalkeeper – one free-kick in particular springs to mind – then the Frenchman would have deservedly got himself on the scoresheet.
As it was, it was left to the red-hot youngster Lingard to settle the home supporter’s nerves in the 84th minute with yet another trademark long-range strike, this time rifling high into the top corner.
It was the 25-year-old’s fifth goal in his last six games and he’s really starting to outshine his fellow United midfielders this season – which can only be a good thing as United strive for a top-four finish.
Tougher tests will undoubtedly surface with the Premier League and Champions League set to gain traction over the next month, and the FA Cup could turn out to be an unwanted distraction from their main ambitions for this season, but the form of Pogba and Lingard is a huge positive for United.
Eye-opening experience for promotion-chasing Derby
With no loss in seven heading into their third-round trip to Old Trafford, and with the knowledge that Bristol City humbled United last month, Derby would have had high hopes ahead of the game.
The Rams’ impressive run of form over the festive period has seen them rise to second in the Championship table, two points ahead of their nearest challengers Cardiff City, and now there’s a real growing feeling that this could be the year that sees them return to the Premier League.
Yet if they do make it to the pinnacle of English football once again then they will have to get accustomed to playing the likes of Manchester United week-in, week-out, and on Friday’s showing there’s still a lot of work to be done before their squad is prepared for that.
To their credit they gave it a go in the opening 45 minutes, looking sharp on the counter-attack and committing numbers forward to try and get at a weakened defence containing Victor Lindelof at right-back and Daley Blind in the middle.
But despite holding the hosts for all of 84 minutes – coming within touching distance of an unlikely replay – they were indebted to both Carson and their own woodwork for keeping them in the game for so long.
The main aim for manager Gary Rowett will undoubtedly be to secure top-flight football for next season for the first time in ten years, but they’ll look back at Friday’s defeat as an eye-opening experience that offered a glimpse of what the 2018-19 campaign could have in store.
Three things we learnt from Sunderland opening day draw with Derby County
Sunderland started their first season in the Championship since the 2006-7 campaign against a well-organised Derby County side.
This was a good test for the Wearside outfit as they came up against a team with a lot of second tier experience.
Although they didn’t win the match, they did manage to take a point and the performance gives them something to build on over the coming weeks.
The away side were solid, but they lacked pace and dynamism in attack.
Here are three things that we learnt from Friday night’s match…
There were signs of encouragement for Sunderland
After their convincing defeat to Celtic in pre-season, there were a lot of people that thought Sunderland would be easily beaten at the Stadium of Light, but that wasn’t the case. They gave a good showing of themselves and had the better of the match for long periods.
The defence remained a weakness and they gave up a goal without much of a fight, but Simon Grayson will be able to improve their organisation during the coming weeks.
Lee Cattermole looked back to his best and delivered an all-action performance in the middle of the park. There was evidence that Lewis Grabban and James Vaughan could develop into a good strike partnership at this level.
The latter may not have got on the scoresheet, but his work rate is exactly what Sunderland need. They haven’t had many players that give everything on the pitch, but Vaughan certainly fits that description.
Grayson will want a couple more signings before the window closes, with a creative central midfielder needed. If he gets them, the Black Cats could surprise a few this season.
Derby need to replace Tom Ince
The concern going into the match was that Derby County hadn’t sufficiently replaced Tom Ince and their attacking performance provided indisputable proof of that.
Sunderland’s defenders were full of nerves when they were forced to defend in their own box, but the Rams didn’t put them on the back foot enough. They lacked a quick attacker that could run at defenders and get them to commit themselves to a challenge. Their build-up play was too one-paced and that prevented them from creating many clear-cut chances.
Gary Rowett has managed to get Derby well organised and they will be a team that competes in the top half of the division, but they need more quality in the final third to push on for the top six.
There was a report from the Derby Telegraph that stated the club have an interest in Preston North End winger Callum Robinson. Although he may not have the star quality of Ince, he would provide pace and directness to the attack.
If they don’t replace last season’s top scorer, a top six place will be beyond them, based on this match.
The Sunderland fans need to stay with the club
It seems churlish to compare Sunderland to Newcastle last season, as there aren’t many similarities between the two relegations, but the Black Cats could learn from their local rivals when it comes to supporting the team.
The attendance at the Stadium of Light was less than 30,000 and it made for a sorry sight on the television.
Supporters will rightfully talk about the decline of their football club, which has caused the loss of support. However, this is the time to get behind the players and do their bit in helping their club get back to the Premier League.
The players won’t benefit from playing in a half-empty stadium, while the image of the club will be damaged. Grayson will be hoping that he can win the fans over and this performance would have helped in that as the players did work extremely hard, which can’t be said about a lot of recent Sunderland teams.
A drop to the Championship may be a step back, but they will win more games and it will be more fun to be a supporter. Given their history and size as a club, they can be a real force at this level.
To become that, they need the fans to be behind them. Attendances have to improve.
How Twitter reacted to Sunderland’s return to Championship football against Derby
Sunderland made their return to the second tier for the first time in 11 years and did so in disappointing fashion as Derby County held them to a 1-1 draw. Roy Keane’s side romped the division on that occasion but that seems unlikely after a summer full of sales with few arrivals.
Bradley Johnson opened the scoring just ten minutes in as some sloppy defending allowed him to run in at the far post to stab the ball home to give the Rams the lead in the worst possible start for the home side.
The Black Cats had dominated the early stages and everntually got back into the game as Lewis Grabban pulled one back from the penalty spot on his debut at the Stadium of Light. Jacob Butterfield was controversially adjudged to have handled inside the box and Grabban ensured that he paid the price.
The second period saw an even affair with Sunderland once again going closest, hitting the post and forcing Scott Carson into several good saves to keep his side in the game. Derby looked comfortable, if under pressure at times, and a point seemed a fair result for both sides.
After a disastrous 2016/17 campaign in the Premier League, the Championship may be kinder to the club. Now under Simon Grayson’s command, the fans were clearly not impressed and voiced their frustration at the final whistle. They may have to adjust their expectations to what may be another difficult season ahead, regardless of the stature of their club.
Here’s how Twitter reacted to the result:
Unfortunately for fans, there was no sign of improvement on the pitch…
Sunderland go 1-0 down in their first game of the Championship season, proving that they are actually just shite no matter who they play.
— ODDSbible (@ODDSbible) August 4, 2017
Are Sunderland advertising for players during tonight's game? pic.twitter.com/iX5uTKjbyy
— Football Fours (@Football_Fours) August 4, 2017
But it wasn’t the players’ fault…
Seven years, of course, since Sunderland won a league game in August (and that was on 29th). Stupid month.
— Jonathan Wilson (@jonawils) August 4, 2017
Not everyone was impressed…
— Sunderland AFC ?? (@SunderlandAFC) August 4, 2017
There were a lot of comments on the sparse attendance…
— NUFC Banter (@NUFC_Banter) August 4, 2017
We had 52,000 fans at our first home game in the Championship last season, meanwhile at Sunderland… pic.twitter.com/Pq9PdGytRz
— Adam. (@SimplyMitro) August 4, 2017
Attendance at first home game of Championship season:
— The Toon Network (@TheToonNetwork) August 4, 2017
At least rival fans enjoyed it…
— Lurking ( ?° ?? ?°) (@ChaturbateGM) August 4, 2017
There were some reasons for positivity…
Pleasantly surprised by the pace, effort and drive from the #Sunderland lads.. keeper is ropey, but great have Catts back in the midfield
— Jon Lambert (@lambo_82) August 4, 2017
Honestly thought Sunderland played well, hitting the post and cattermole being denied by a very good save. Looked like the better team imo?
— Finlay McLean (@Fin_McLean) August 4, 2017
— Alex (@ACTaylor96) August 4, 2017
But some things matter more than football…
— Sunderland AFC ?? (@SunderlandAFC) August 4, 2017
— Matt Ramsey (@RamseyMatt87) August 4, 2017
Class to see the Sunderland & Derby fans applauding & paying their respects to Bradley Lowery at the Stadium of Light!??? pic.twitter.com/iSab2NtXZ7
— Footy Accumulators (@FootyAccums) August 4, 2017
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