Hoofball Mick Won’t Win The League - Notes for Derby
Friday, 9th Jan 2015 12:21 by HarryFromBath
HarryfromBath assesses the mood in the opposition camp ahead of Saturday’s game by delving into their forum.
“We have a top Championship side, but I’m pretty sure we will be in a relegation battle if we go up”, “We are one-dimensional, but very good in that one dimension”, “We have not hit form. We have been inconsistent but we sit three points off the top. It’s not a bad first half to the season.”
“Where are we all sitting at Wembley?” Some Rams have doubts about their team’s ability to achieve a top-two finish, despite coming into Saturday’s game in third place and on the back of three straight wins.
Nine changes were made for the team which earned a laboured 1-0 FA Cup win over non-league Southport on Saturday. Routine wins over Leeds and at Birmingham prior to this Cup win heralded the end of poor run which included a home draw with Norwich and a defeat at Middlesbrough.
“The truth of the matter is that our first XI is very good at dispatching limited opposition but generally pretty poor at beating anyone decent, or indeed anyone who sets up to negate our Plan A”, “In many ways we are flat-track bullies.”
“The Championship is so tight this season that it will mainly be decided by managerial skills. McClaren has those skills”, “He has taken a talented but under-performing squad and injected a large shot of positivity and forward play. This time round we are in great shape heading for the run-in.”
“It’s a shame this speculation has hit right before the Ipswich game.” Rams were anxious when the former Middlesbrough boss was recently linked with the vacant position at Newcastle. “McClaren is home here. This is the perfect job for him and he knows it. He is going nowhere.”
“He has done wonders for the club in a very short time. He took us to within a minute of promotion, the biggest win in any of our lifetimes against Forest and the best football we have seen since he was assistant to Jim Smith”, “It’s the best news for years that he’s staying”, “I think we’re all happy gain.”
“He has to stop sending out the same team in the same formation and show initiative.” Much as he is admired, the team’s lack of a Plan B is starting to cause anxiety. “Steve, you have been sussed out tactically, mate. If you don’t have a Plan B you might as well be Nigel Clough. Get it sorted!”
Derby 2-0 Leeds
“We need to up the tempo. We’re too tippy-tappy again”, “We’re as threatening as Michael Foot at the moment”, “Trying to win it at 70% speed. One or two players need a rocket”, “It was a lacklustre first half, but we murdered them in the second half”, “I’m not sure I’ve seen such a one-sided 2-0.”
The Rams beat Leeds and gained revenge for their November loss at Elland Road courtesy of an own goal and set-piece header. It was a comfortable win once they hit their stride. “It was a good win and we pretty much dominated the whole match. We never seemed in any danger of conceding.”
“Leeds looked like a team without hope”, “It was a solid workmanlike victory today”, “Some of the space we were given was amazing”, “I worry that we’ll find chances harder to come by against Ipswich. We couldn’t unpick Leeds at least once. Our goals came from a set-piece and an own goal.”
Birmingham 0 - 4 Derby
“I thought we played some of our best football of the season today”, “The best build up play I have seen from us this season”, “Today was beyond comfortable, a really excellent performance against a poor team who were on a good run”, “All great goals – well done Derby.”
City stood off the Rams, allowing them time and space to build though the centre and attack down the flanks with pace. Derby also closed Birmingham down well, turning the ball over in threatening areas. “We looked like we could score at will at times.”
Derby 2 – 2 Norwich
“I think we have been found out. Teams know how to stop us creating and how to force us into mistakes”, “Once again the opposition is closing us down constantly and we’re not getting into it”, “Take a shot! Stop trying to walk the ball into the net”, “We look like we are the away side.”
This game is worth including, as Derby “were poor against a team which pressed high up the pitch”. “The defence couldn’t successfully clear the ball under pressure. We lost the battle for possession and could never build any momentum”, “We could not link up, find space or beat players.”
“Our full-backs kept getting drawn in-field, leaving Norwich’s wide players too much space to run into”, “As soon as we scored our second, we sat too deep”, “We didn’t put enough tackles in and the midfielders didn’t dare to run with the ball”, “We let Norwich play – big mistake.”
“We were completely dominated”, “I was concerned with our central midfield. They seem to have forgotten how to run”, “We couldn’t get into any rhythm”, “They were headless chickens at times. They needed to calm down and do the basics, like passing to a team-mate.”
The 4-3-3 Pivot Formation
“Football is easier when you have the ball.” Derby’s Plan A is still based on the system which was born at half-time in last season’s epic 4-4 away draw. There is an emphasis on keeping possession, quick passing and pressing opponents high up the pitch. Here is the starting XI for the Leeds game:
The central holding midfielder and striker act as pivots, giving the other central and wide midfielders the freedom to run at defenders and cut inside. The striker plays with his back to goal, linking with whichever player is bursting through. Space is also created for the full-backs to bomb forward.
To give an idea of their wider squad, here is the team which started last weekend against Southport, showing the nine changes from that which beat the Whites:
This system has come unstuck in recent games when the team has lost tempo. “Our build-up play can be too slow”, “We can get bogged down, in which case the ball spends a lot of time being passed around the back four”, “Our biggest problem is pace. We do everything too slowly.”
“We played with pace and Birmingham never really got near us”, “Possession football is good if played with a purpose, but Southport were able to regroup, sticking 10 men behind the ball”, “We break slowly and the opposition look organised. We do not have a way of injecting pace.”
“If you want good passing football, it has to start from the back”, “I love the way Derby build up play from the back, passing it across the back four and then through the team. It keeps possession and prevents the opposition scoring”, “We will sometimes be caught playing out from the back.”
Their defence acts as a springboard for their build-up play but the Norwich game showed that it can struggle under pressure. “We just kept giving them the ball outside our area with these rubbish clearances”, “Our full-backs will be exposed big time if we sit back like we did against Norwich.”
“Lee Grant is generally dominant and a calming influence in games. He always comes up with fantastic saves”, “I thought we were fortunate to not concede at Birmingham but in Grant we have a superb keeper”, “I can’t remember him having a poor game since Eric Steele came in as coach.”
The 31-year-old former Burnley keeper “has put in some top performances after coming back from a foot injury. If it wasn’t for his saves at Boro, it could have been a much heavier defeat”, “He passes and throws to full-backs, but his difficult kicks under pressure can put the full-backs in difficulties.”
“Cyrus Christie was standing with his hand in the air for offside when his man scored [the first Norwich goal]. The ball was played almost from the goal-line. Mark your man!” The 22-year-old ex-Coventry right-back “is good when foraying forward but a bit suspect when attacked”.
“Christie is one of the biggest culprits at passing backwards and playing into the hands of on-rushing players”, “He took too many touches early on against Leeds, but his energy was unbelievable against Birmingham”, “He was awesome. No one got past him and he was good at taking people on.”
“Craig Forsyth is a bloody good second-tier left-back. Nobody beats him with pace. Even the fastest lads find that he guides them to where he can hold them up. He is underrated in the air and nobody pushes him over.” The 25-year-old former Watford player is regularly praised for his defending.
Things are more problematic when he has the ball. “Forsyth cannot pass when he has an opponent hassling him”, “His blind hoofs down the line cost the team, creating work for him and others”, “At times he has to be a good defender because he creates his work with poor on the ball decisions.”
“Ryan Shotton will cost us a goal at some point. He chooses some awkward times to do some unorthodox defending. That’s for sure.” The 26-year-old ex-Stoke man “is steady, good in the air and comfortable on the ball. His positioning is good, but he plays too slowly and puts us in trouble.”
“Shotton is a versatile option at centre-back”, “He is reliable at right-back but not as exciting as Christie. He offers little going forward”, “He could complete a game with 100% pass completion and never lose a tackle, but we would struggle to get out of our half because of his playing style.”
“Richard Keogh is a leader on the pitch. I disagree that his odd errors cost us much”, “It is essential in our system for the centre-back to have the courage and ability to bring the ball out from the back when our midfield is closed down. Keogh is very good at this”, “He can pass his way out of trouble.”
“Lots of the good and the odd horrific.” The 28-year-old former Coventry defender and one-time Town academy schoolboy and ballboy “ends up diving into tackles because he doesn’t think enough or have awareness of what’s happening around him”, “Keogh is one sided, prone to sloppy passes and errors while he only plays with his right foot.”
“If anyone deserves a goal, it’s Bucko”, “Jake Buxton is a football genius”, “He grabbed his chance and should start against Ipswich.” The 29-year-old ex-Burton Albion man “reads the game well and steals the ball rather than diving into tackles. He moves it forward knowing what he will do next.”
Rams were delighted when he scored against Leeds. “He is a rock in defence. His long passes are good and he took a great goal.” His lack of pace has been flagged up. “He’s slow and can be turned but he reads the game well”, “We will need his physical presence against Ipswich.”
“Our inability to break up play meant that Norwich were coming at us virtually non-stop all game.” The Rams have not adequately replaced George Thorne. He played on loan from West Brom last season and joined permanently this summer, only to pick up a serious knee injury in pre-season.
“Omar Mascarell was bloody awful as a defensive midfielder. He lost pretty much every physical challenge and was second best to nearly all 50/50’s. He played a few neat passes but offered no protection to the back four at all. It was a good job that Southport were a non-league team.”
The 21-year-old Spaniard, a loan signing from Real Madrid, “makes errors and isn’t quite the enforcer he should be. He works hard and has a range of other skills”, “He needs to cut out those uber-passes that barely come off”, “He was anonymous in the second half against Norwich.”
“Away at Ipswich we will see Eustace the first name on the teamsheet”, “I would play him in every away game until Thorne returns”, “We need a ball-winner”, “I wonder what would ensue if we lost a game with Eustace playing. The forum would go into complete meltdown.”
The 35-year-old former Watford player returned for the Birmingham and Leeds victories and balanced the midfield, adding a physical presence and freeing up the creative players. “He gives us backbone and we are much less vulnerable to counter-attacks when we have him on the pitch.”
“Eustace helps the full-backs by offering a short passing option and helping with the defending”, “He bullied Leeds, broke their play up and ensured they rarely reached our defence let alone trouble them”, “They barely won any second balls because Eustace was winning possession from the first.”
Attacking Central Midfielders
“There are times when the midfield loses tempo and that’s not our strong point. We play best when we play with zip and use our pace. Keeping possession gives us the opportunity to create gaps”, “The pace of our build-up play from midfield is too pedestrian at times.”
“Craig Bryson runs a lot, sometimes with the ball, sometimes without.” The “lively” 28-year-old former Kilmarnock man “doesn’t quite manage to win the ball with his lack of strength.” He was dropped after the draw with the Canaries. “He ran around a lot as ever, fading near the end.”
While Bryson has struggled to impose himself on recent games, 22-year-old Jeff Hendrick “has played much better with Eustace back in the side”, “He looked back to his best against Birmingham with great footwork and solid engine-room work in the middle”, “He worked his socks off.”
“Hendrick was good against Leeds, shoving their physical play up their sorry asses and giving them a taste of their own medicine”, “We play more direct and surrender some of our possession based style with him on.” The youth product “was never in the Norwich game, hardly touching the ball.”
“Will Hughes has to start. He keeps everything moving. He’s the best passer and the best reader of the game in the team”, “Birmingham left Hughes on his own to run the game which he duly did”, “We need his creativity and flair”, “We play a more fluid passing game when playing him.”
The 19-year-old youth product “is the perfect Championship playmaker”, “The game is a lot more boring without Hughes in it”, “is always available to pass to, getting himself open”, “The pressure he created against Leeds was key. He works hard and creates chances with his brilliant running.”
Most Rams agree that he is the best player at raising the tempo of their attacking play. “The guy is ridiculously good. He was under pressure for our second Leeds goal. He had two simple lay-offs, but took two players out with a twist of his hips and bombed forward to set the goal up.”
“Simon Dawkins is not doing anything to force his way into the team.” The 27-year-old former Spurs player “seems to want to do a 360 degree turn every time he gets the ball”, “I don’t think I have ever seen a player so unwilling to pass the ball. He is so slow to take decisions.”
“The ball sticks to Dawkins’s feet like glue”, “That’s the problem. No one can get the ball off him. He’s too slow to move the ball on or move with the ball”, “It was odd playing him in the middle against Norwich”, “We were soft-centred. We needed to man the fort with whatever steel we had.”
“Johnny Russell makes good runs, causes problems and always wants the ball”, “His work-ethic and movement have always been good but his confidence is right up at the minute.” The 24-year-old former Dundee United right-winger “is brilliant and so darn likeable”.
“Russell’s recent goalscoring run is brilliant. He has added a real end product to his hard-working game”, “He has had speed and hustle. Now he’s adding flair and goals.” He was widely praised for his late strike against Birmingham. “Nice goal from our stand-out player over the last month or two.”
“Ibe. All on his own. Class, I tell you. Class.” The 19-year-old left-winger is on a season long loan from Liverpool and scored a terrific solo opening goal against Birmingham. “Their right-back will have recurring nightmares about Boxing Day”, “It was his best game in a Derby shirt.”
Jordan Ibe (R) with Richard Keogh
“Jordan is lively in spells but doesn’t always take the right options”, “He’s like Forrest Gump at times. He runs and runs and runs. Generally until he has nowhere left to run and either runs out of play or has a shot”, “More often than not the defence will let him run because it comes with no threat.”
“He had the Leeds right-back on toast. He needs more of the ball”, “He can do a lot of good things but can also make awful decisions”, “It was nice to see Forsyth constantly talking to him, directing and praising him. He seemed to manage him which is what Ibe needs as he does not lack skill.”
“We are too predictable. Everything goes through Chris Martin who is invariably flicking the ball to the side or back rather than forward”, “We have to change. The best teams have worked us out”, “Our one-way approach is being negated by the better teams.”
“We are fantastic at patient build-up play, but you have got to be more direct on the break and we’re not good at that.” Most Rams are hopeful that the arrival of former Ipswich and England striker Darren Bent this week will give them some much-needed variety in their attacking play.
“Chris Martin gives us more than goals which is why we rave about him. Many consider his best performance to be the 5-0 win over Wolves when he didn’t score”, “Uwe Rosler was asked what his plan was when we played Wigan and he said ‘Simple, stop Martin”, “The best striker in the league.”
“He has feet like glue, accurate passing, goals and plays the pivot role to perfection”, “His first reaction is to lay the ball off to a midfielder”, “He wins a good few headers and soft freekicks”, “He hinders us when it comes to breaking as his instructions are usually to involve the midfielders.”
Some Rams believe that the 26-year-old former Canary plays primarily for himself. “Martin gets a bit mardy if he isn’t passed to. It’s great that he wants the ball all of the time but not when it takes away a shooting opportunity”, “He just doesn’t look interested in playing in a strike pair.”
The Darren Bent Conundrum
“Do we now have a Plan B with Bent coming in?” The arrival of the 30-year-old on loan from Villa has prompted a debate around how he will fit in. “There’s the option of playing him in a wide position and of course the 4-4-2 Plan B option”, “All of our wide players play through the middle at times.”
“We’ll not change anything. He will get more game time, but his challenge is to replace Martin”, “Does Bent have the hold-up play that Martin has? We would have to adjust our approach even if Martin is dropped”, “I can see him playing off Martin, with Martin dropping deeper to play him in.”
“Martin plays with his back to goal, holding the ball up and bringing the team into play. Defenders counter this by getting tight. Bent faces the goal, storming past defenders who are terrified of his pace. Defenders try to counter this by dropping off. Having both on the field will cause a dilemma.”
“Bent will make defences worry about the space behind them, something Martin doesn’t do”, “He’s a great improvement on the [now departed] Leon Best”, “I’m not sure he will do the same defensive work Martin does”, “Bent will bag a brace against his old club on his debut. It’s written in the stars.”
Rams’ Views on ITFC and the Game
“This is a massive game. I just feel that both Bournemouth and Ipswich are completely in the groove right now and I still fear we have a bit of a soft under belly. I would be delighted with a draw but I fear it's a 2-0 loss”, “Ipswich is rarely a good hunting ground for the Rams folk.”
While many Rams say they are anxious about Saturday’s game, 40% of them have predicted an away win in forecast threads against 34% expecting us to win. A solitary romantic Darren Bent winner is the most popular away winning score, against a 3-1 home win and a 1-1 draw.
“A valiant defensive effort after Bent scores a 80th minute goal for Derby - 0-1 to the Rams it is then”, “I hope we can bury the Ipswich hoodoo and come away with a hard fought 1-0 win”, “I predict a 2-1 Rams win with Mr Bent scoring a late winner. Who says fairytales can't happen?”
“I think we'll lose. I think tactically McCarthy might have the edge”, “A point but that wouldn't be a bad result here. I've been dreading this game for a while.” “I just remember poor performances and feeling very cold at Ipswich”, “The weather will be really windy. It won’t help the long ball game.”
“Lose and it's likely the play-offs”, “Losing this game is not an option as it sends out the message we are weak against battling sides.” However hopeful Rams are of winning, they all agree that this is a ‘must not lose’ game.
“I’m not hopeful of any points if we play our usual 4-3-3 against Ipswich's 4-4-2. We'll need more than one striker against the meanest defence in the division”, “McClaren will go 4-3-3 and then switch to 4-2-4 when we go behind in the second half.”
“I'm still undecided whether Ipswich are a flash in the pan or a really good side. An example of this was earlier in the season at home. We looked like we might destroy them in the first half but in the second they had us on the ropes as only a few teams have this season.”
“Tippy-tappy football won’t beat Ipswich”, “Ipswich are the kind of team we don't tend to do well against”, “The way to beat them may well be with pace on counter-attacks”, “If we can defend set-pieces, we will draw or win. If we can't, we will lose. They score loads from freekicks and corners.”
“I don't rate Ipswich at all and our quality will find them out.” Many Rams are quick to dismiss our style of play. “Mick McCarthy has one tactic and it is Jack Charlton's from 1989. A real quality team would take them to the cleaners”, “No surprises, long-ball, strong on set-pieces, strong in the air.”
One Ram had this interesting slant on our dramatic home win last season. “I really hope we **** them up. I don't like Mick McCarthy or Ipswich and I thought the way they celebrated after their late winner last season at Portman Road was tacky in the extreme.
“It was like they had won the league. McCarthy got into the ref's ear at half-time, resulting in some bloody interesting decisions in the second half.”
I summarised an interesting Ramstalk discussion thread about us from last week on our forum on Wednesday evening and this can be found here.
Photo: Action Images
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