Three years of ‘what could of been’ have finally taken their toll on a beleaguered Derby County squad, with manager Nigel Pearson taking the brave decision to begin breaking up the team that had been so near, yet so far, on three occasions.
When the former Leicester man was hired, Foxes fans warned Rams fans that Pearson was not afraid to make big changes, cutting fan favourites and popular players from the team and replacing them with players that were a better fit for his model and style of play. Some of this foresight was written off by those of a black and white persuasion, but now it seems to be bang on the money with Pearson certainly going about making his mark on a long suffering and slowly declining squad.
Upon Nigel Pearson’s hiring in the early summer, many speculated over how he may go around changing – or rather fixing – the large squad at the iPro. Early press conferences suggested that no heavy recruitment nor notable leavers were to be expected, with a quiet summer ahead for Derby in regards to the transfer market.
The first to leave the East Midlands were various fringe players, almost all on free transfers, mostly consisting of u21 players who had failed to make the grade after their time in the academy had come to an end. The most notable outgoings were Conor Sammon and Stephen Warnock, who headed to Hearts and Wigan Athletic respectively, few tears were shed for the pair, though wishes of good luck followed them on their new journeys.
Next came the first fees of the summer, Ryan Shotton and Raul Albentosa headed out – as expected – for a combined total of roughly £2m, good business from a Rams point of view for two players who were not expected to get anywhere near the first team. Then followed a period of quiet, the new Rams staff began their pre-season preparations and got to grips with the remaining players.
Upon returning from a pre-season tour in Portugal, Pearson made one of his most notable decisions – at that point – and gave Derby icon and folklore personality Jake Buxton a free transfer and the chance to follow Stephen Warnock to Wigan. A brave decision given his rapport with the fans, but many saw it as the correct move, given Buxton was unlikely to knock Jason Shackell or Richard Keogh out of the centre back spots. Buxton went with everyone’s best wishes and fond memories, but it was time to move on.
There then followed another period of quiet, with rumours abound and some fans getting restless about the lack of incomings into Derby’s still large squad. It took until late August for anymore notable transfer business, with the Rams signing Manchester Utd forward James Wilson on loan for the season, much to the delight of a Derby side who had started the season bereft of goals.
Things then started to heat up as the window drew closer, with the long awaited Pearson effect finally coming to the fore. After three previous attempts, academy product and long serving Jeff Hendrick was sold to Burnley for a club record £10m. The Rams then used this money to fund an £8m purchase of Matej Vydra from Watford, adding further pace to the club’s front line, just as fans had been crying out for.
However, it was on deadline day that Derby were at their most active, sending Lee Grant on loan to Stoke City, buying Ikechi Anya from Watford for £4m, sending 60+ goalscorer Chris Martin in a controversial loan-to-buy move to Fulham, and – perhaps the oddest deal of the window – taking on veteran goalkeeper Chris Weale to serve as 3rd choice behind Scott Carson and Jonathan Mitchell. A flurry of late business, but business that could transform Derby’s fortunes.
For the past few years, Derby heavily relied on variants of 4-3-3 largely centring around Chris Martin, with two wingers playing either side of him. This seemed to work well under Steve McClaren who had got the team playing fast, flowing football and tearing sides apart quickly. However, this soon went stagnant as teams became used to stopping this system and Derby lost the pace and tenacity they had shown in those honeymoon days during McClaren’s first reign.
Pearson seems determined to change that, lining up with 4-4-1-1 and 4-4-2 during pre-season and into the first few games of the regular season, switching between Darren Bent and Chris Martin on how the situation called for it. However, neither managed to find the net and this seems to have been the point where Pearson gave up trying to change the squad’s suspected losing mentality and instead opted for new blood to fit the new system.
The signings of Anya, Wilson and Vydra clearly suggest Derby will be going for pace and drive in the new system, aiming to turn defences and force them to play deeper to counter the threat of Vydra and Wilson, thus leaving Derby’s midfield more space to dictate the play as they did in the first days of the McClaren era.
The Rams still possess a star studded midfield, despite having sold Hendrick – who, incidentally, was considered by many fans to be little more than 2nd choice at best – with Craig Bryson, Bradley Johnson, Will Hughes, Jacob Butterfield, Jamie Hanson and the soon to return George Thorne competing for the spots in centre midfield.
Add Anya, Tom Ince, Nick Blackman, Johnny Russell, Abdoul Camara and Max Lowe to the wide options and you have a fearsome base to build an attack on. Many of the above have been out of form recently, but a change of personalities and a bit of luck could get them all firing, meaning Vydra, Bent and Wilson could get the service they need to get the goals flowing again in the East Midlands.
Derby’s problem in recent years has been getting too flustered when the opposition press them high up the pitch, forcing the Rams to resort to playing keep ball and waiting for an opening, sometimes looking too scared to simply force the opening themselves.
This is always shown in high pressure games – such as against rivals Nottingham Forest or in matches against promotion rivals, notably Burnley and Middlesbrough – with the Rams often looking a shadow of themselves when faced with teams who will fight and scrap for every ball.
The pace injected into Derby’s attack should relieve some of this pressure, given teams will have to be wary of pressing too high in case they get caught on the counter attack, allowing the defence and particularly midfield to finally have a turn pressing the opposition, instead of either constantly chasing the game or desperately trying to keep the ball in their own half – something which so infuriated home crowds at the iPro.
The effect a bit of pace can have on Derby’s side has been evident this season. Abdoul Camara – somewhat absent since his move from Angers SC in January – tore Preston’s left-back to shreds during his substitute appearance at Deepdale during the Ram’s only victory of the season so far, Camara having a hand in the only and winning goal in the 87th minute.
It so impressed the travelling support that Camara almost instantly became a fan favourite, with many exclaiming that if he could be so impressive without being fully fit – he was still recovering from a groin injury – then he could be lethal once fully fit later in the season.
Pearson’s teams always seem to rely on pace and drive, the exact attributes that have deserted the Rams over recent campaigns. Hopefully for the Derby faithful, these signings will deliver such requirements to help this promotion push finally succeed and get the Rams back into the Premier League.
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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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