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Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby 15:30 - Aug 22 with 1836 viewsHarryfromBath

The rise of podcasts in the last few years has been an interesting phenomenon to observe. Ranging from the knowledgeable and well-informed to the downright weird, it was hard to know what to make of them at first but over time they have definitely emerged as the verbal fanzines of our era.

Anyone listening to the BBC’s wretched radio coverage of the Friday night Reading v Derby game which kicked off the Championship campaign three weeks ago will have immediately understood why they have grown in popularity. “Frank has gone through a roller-coaster of emotions. He had his head in his hands when Reading scored but he was jumping for joy when they equalized.”

The FiveLive coverage got worse. “Frank was hugging the rest of the substitutes and training staff” when they took the lead, and “was cool and calm, classy and collected as ever at full time”. “Frank Lampard will take home three points.” If this wasn’t enough, they finished – horror of horrors – with the news that, “we are covering the Aberdeen v Steven Gerrard’s Rangers game on Sunday”.

With coverage as dismal as this – and the most galling thing is that they are being well paid to put this bilge out – is it any wonder that people are now turning to programmes put together by fellow fans who only want to discuss the game having given it some thought? I was vexed initially by the “Frank Lampard’s Derby” drivel, but realise that it summarises our status in the eyes of the media.

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We had the same circus with ‘Roy Keane’s Ipswich’ and it became pretty tedious once the gilt had worn off and we realised that he was taking us collectively into the house of Slytherin. Frankie in contrast seems to be a bouncy and chipper character, but he has little time to play with given the money Derby have spent and a fan base whose expectations have been proportionately raised.

A 'tinkering' theme has grown with Lampard’s early team rotations, but this may have been his trying to land on the right balance from his inflated squad. The inclusion of George Evans in a holding role, along with Craig Forsyth at left-back and Mason Bennett on the right wing all made sense. They were all operating in their correct positions and all three had played well in recent games.

We don’t have quite so many options, so it was a question of who could cover on our left-wing. Grant Ward playing in front of Jonas Knudsen was a blast from the last few seasons, in contrast with new boys Janoi Donacien and Gwion Edwards pairing up on our right side. It was a mild evening with the sun setting behind our stadium view as the game kicked off, a perfect evening for a football match.

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“Paul Hurst’s barmy army!” The opening 15 minutes were to reflect the wider pattern of the game. Two sides, neither of whom were physically dominant, were trying to play neat passing football on the deck but were also incapable of doing so. Passes were being under or overhit, runs weren’t being read and momentary lapses in concentration would lead to disrupting turnovers in possession.

“Oh, Bobby Zamora!”, “You’ll never go up!”, “You’re just a **** Nottingham Forest!” With little to entertain us on the pitch, the two sets of fans played a benign game of song-tennis to keep us all amused. One thing which was quickly apparent was our lack of high pressing in the early exchanges. We would occasionally try to close down an individual player but these were usually isolated.

Trevoh Chalobah was the deepest of our three midfielders and he found the going here a lot tougher than at Exeter. One momentary early slip set Mason Mount off but Derby were unable to capitalise on his error. He kept his fellow Chelsea loanee well shackled and was positionally comfortable but with less time, he was less threatening and he also struggled to influence the pattern of our play.

Gwion Edwards was as lively as ever but he also found the going tougher against a wily experienced left-back in Craig Forsyth. He got free on a couple of occasions but the Scotsman used his strength and occasional ruggedness to keep him quiet. Derby were not malicious, but they were streetwise, with Edwards and Jon Nolan being targeted with softeners in less threatening areas of the pitch.

They weren’t afraid to take yellow cards for the team. Craig Bryson and Richard Keogh cynically took Grant Ward out when we had 2-v-1 counter-attacks beckoning. Ward was alert and more energetic than in his Exeter showing and his set-pieces often were of a decent standard but his industry, like that of all of our midfielders, still lacked a focus and a purpose. Our attackers were all playing alone.

We used Ellis Harrison’s heading ability as a focal point from goal-kicks and deeper free-kicks, much as we did with Joe Garner last season. Everybody has referenced his isolation in post-match thoughts because this is true. Our wide attackers and central midfielders are not getting forward to support him. He would be twice the threat he is if his team-mates could get 10 yards further up the pitch.

If Harrison was struggling with his isolation, Jon Nolan found this game even more problematic. He seemed to pick up a knock early on which he ran off, but at no point did he look like dictating the tempo although he combined well with Knudsen. A couple of weak shots summed up his attacking threat and my friend’s comment about him needing to bulk up physically struck a chord with me.

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The scoreless first half was an accurate reflection of both the balance of the game and the fact that neither side looked capable of scoring. Chatting in the concourse at the interval, there was little to say about the game. It wasn’t quite pre-season as both teams were trying, but nothing happened. We were happy with what we were trying to do but I sensed an increasing impatience from the Rams.

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“Why do we always seem to get yellow cards as an afterthought?” Skuse’s early caution after the break heralded his departure. He had tried to push forward before the interval, harassing Carson at one point, but supporting a playmaker is not his natural role and more central creativity might have improved our balance. The feisty Flynn Downes replaced him but didn’t add greatly to our creativity.

We could have dealt more assertively with the corner-kick which fell to Joe Ledley for the opening goal, but one over-riding issue was Derby getting their shots on target when in dangerous areas whereas we were hitting and hoping or failing to connect when truly threatening moments arose. As well as supporting our lone striker from midfield, we have to be more ruthless with our finishing.

Watching Aristote Nsiala I often think of Tyrone Mings. Our new centre-back isn’t as cultured on the ball and often plays his passes half-a-Weetabix too heavy, but he is positionally good and solid in the tackle. His foul on Tom Lawrence which led to their second goal had more to do with the pace of the moment rather than any malice, but it brought back one comment Mings made at a fans’ meet-up.

“There are two big differences between playing at Chippenham level and at Championship level. The pace of Championship football is far quicker, and if you make a mistake, you will be punished.” It’s not just Nsiala who is on this learning curve – he just happened to be the player caught out last night - but it is a risk we will run with all our new recruits as they grow accustomed to playing at this level.

Derby fans had criticised Lawrence for being their archetypal circus act, scoring great set-pieces or goals of momentary individual brilliance but doing little else. This was true last night, and it was in no small part to Donacien’s shackling of him. Our new right-back could possibly have pushed forward to help Edwards, but he kept Lawrence properly under wraps with some superb running and tackling.

Kayden Jackson’s introduction for Harrison meant that we had a different type of striker but with the same underlying lack of support. Jackson was using pace, but one late break saw him drive towards the box with five Derby players covering and three Town team mates getting there too late. Nobody deserves individual criticism but collectively we are too weak and disparate as an attacking unit.

“Frankie, Frankie give us a wave!”, “Hurrah!”, “Super Frankie Lampard!” I smiled when the home fans cried out to acclaim their manager with the game petering out. About an hour earlier they had been murmuring the frustration and discontent I had picked up on over the weekend on their forum. The Rams will tolerate this circus but only for as long at it gets them results.

You could see the obvious disappointment on the players’ faces at full time but it was heartening to see the positive response from the away fans. As I said after the Exeter game, there are times when this feels like a terrifying gamble, but this inexperienced team need to know we have their backs. It was reassuring to see us bolstering their confidence last night as they will definitely need this.

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The walk back with a fellow Blue to our cars with took place in reflective silence, apart from one consoling comment from a passing Ram of “two mid-table teams, one of whom got lucky with a couple of goals”. I’m not so sure about that. There were elements of our display which had echoes of Barnsley’s performance at Portman Road on the night overshadowed by Mick’s theatrical departure.

I have always felt that our fate this season will hang on how we crack the final third of the pitch. The soft set-piece goals are a proper irritation, but they only turn one point gained into none. The issue of turning one point into three is a far more pressing concern, and right now it looks as though this is where we should be turning our gaze both on the training ground and in any transfer dealings.

We need defensive cover, but we have to crack the problem of moving the midfield up the pitch and narrowing the distance to our striker, along with working the keeper more with our finishing. I came away from last night praying for the safe return of Emyr Huws. Our midfield would have had a much better creative balance last night if we had a player of his ilk instead of Skuse or Chalobah.

The issue of fatigue within the squad came to mind as well as I sat in the car waiting for the queues to clear. The squad may not have pressed Derby so much due to the physical exertions of Saturday’s Villa game, but I was also mindful that there is a risk of mental tiredness with so many games coming on top of each other and so many new players getting to grips with playing at this new higher level.

Mick always used to say that Marcus Evans was very even whether we won or lost games. This will be a huge strength if we continue to stutter in these opening games, but if I was in Evans’s shoes my thoughts would revolve around the support Hurst was getting. This is a huge ask for him and an area of risk. It’s not just the players who are making a huge leap from lower-leagues to the Championship.

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I am glad we didn’t appoint Frank Lampard and I was relieved to get away from the circus at Derby. They may have won last night but their lack of patience with managers have left them with a bloated and unbalanced squad of high-earning misfits who they can’t offload. Relegation may not be a worry right now but Wigan were ultimately undone this way. This is a gamble which could really backfire.

As for us, well, it’s true that relegated teams usually have more than one thing wrong with them and this is where we are right now. I got back to Bath at 2am and the same hopes and fears were there heading down a quiet M5 as had been there heading up the same road from Exeter seven days earlier.

We can see what needs addressing. Some fixes will be on the training ground, some on the pitch and some through reinforcements, while the importance of maintaining the squad's confidence is huge right now. I am no less terrified than a week ago but I can see how our pathway is starting to emerge. As the great Hobbit once said, "There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something."


[Post edited 22 Aug 2018 15:43]

That's a fair pile of assumptions you've jumped to there.....
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Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 15:45 - Aug 22 with 1727 viewsMullet

I sympathise a little with Derby fans when it comes to the circus stuff. We went through it with Roy, but they seemed to have rejected it or at least not bought in to it as much.

Pretty atrocious atmosphere until they scored, which said a lot about their collective belief I guess.

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Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 15:52 - Aug 22 with 1696 viewsSteve_M

One thing that struck me watching Derby knock the ball about comfortably was how some of those you had quoted in the preview were panicking very early. The grumbling from the stands was becoming evident via the TV so it was a shame we didn't hold out a bit longer.
The nature of the modern fan I suppose.

I think Villa did take a lot out of us in the second half, we were a lot sharper in our thought-process as much as our play on Saturday and also in the first half yesterday. That doesn't change the fact that we've faded badly in four out of five matches so far.

Marcus Evans really needs to back Hurst in the loan market, we are clearly lacking an experienced forward who can hold the ball up and a central defender. Trying to do this on the cheap will sell Hurst, err, short.

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Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 16:03 - Aug 22 with 1656 viewsnshearman1

Thanks again Harry for this. I feel we desperately need Huws to help glue this side together. My fundamental concern is the lack of quality, particularly in the forward positions. Ward is not really good enough - and not in that position - Sears would have been better IMHO, but we need another. Not convinced by either of the strikers yet, or Roberts. Edwards is a real plus, but what we saw at Derby was that a competent Championship side has already spotted him and nailed him, stifling our forward thrusts.
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Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 16:45 - Aug 22 with 1573 viewsBlueNomad

The difference between us and Derby:

They don’t go up and it will be near disaster.

They don’t make the play offs and it will be total disaster, with the possibility they have to put a new team together.

We finish lower mid table and it will be part of our work in progress.
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Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 18:49 - Aug 22 with 1419 viewsRadlett_blue

Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 15:52 - Aug 22 by Steve_M

One thing that struck me watching Derby knock the ball about comfortably was how some of those you had quoted in the preview were panicking very early. The grumbling from the stands was becoming evident via the TV so it was a shame we didn't hold out a bit longer.
The nature of the modern fan I suppose.

I think Villa did take a lot out of us in the second half, we were a lot sharper in our thought-process as much as our play on Saturday and also in the first half yesterday. That doesn't change the fact that we've faded badly in four out of five matches so far.

Marcus Evans really needs to back Hurst in the loan market, we are clearly lacking an experienced forward who can hold the ball up and a central defender. Trying to do this on the cheap will sell Hurst, err, short.


is our "fading" as games go on a reflection of running out of ideas, rather than energy?
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Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 19:27 - Aug 22 with 1351 viewsSteve_M

Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 18:49 - Aug 22 by Radlett_blue

is our "fading" as games go on a reflection of running out of ideas, rather than energy?


It's definitely energy, but I think it remains to be seen on ideas as well. The subs, Edun in particular, helped against Blackburn and Roberts and Jackson added a bit last night. Rotherham we definitively lost any belief we might score as the second half went on.

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Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 19:46 - Aug 22 with 1305 viewsmrshallisfit

Nights at the Circus – Late Reflections on Last Night’s Game at Derby on 16:45 - Aug 22 by BlueNomad

The difference between us and Derby:

They don’t go up and it will be near disaster.

They don’t make the play offs and it will be total disaster, with the possibility they have to put a new team together.

We finish lower mid table and it will be part of our work in progress.


True. But without further additions to the squad we are not going to finish lower mid. We will be in the mix right at the bottom of the league.
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