GAMES: The Rams kicked off 2011/2 in fine style by defeating relegated Birmingham City 2-1 at Pride Park, in front of 27,210. Debutant and captain Jason Shackell equalised Curtis Davies’ opener against the run of play, before Steve Davies thrashed in a bullet winner. It looked like it must have been deflected, but in fact just swerved sharply, leaving ‘keeper Myhill standing desolate.
After that, Brum played the ball through the lines neatly, but looked pretty toothless in front of goal as the Rams held firm – we were even able to indulge in a spot of corner keepball as injury time ticked away, much to the rage of Chris Burke.
Then, disaster. Derby approached their home Carling Cup Round 1 game against Shrewsbury with all the intensity and passion they had shown in losing pre-season friendlies to Crewe and Exeter. As a result, the limited but game visitors robbed a farcically easy goal from a corner, then scored two more in quick succession as dimwitted Derby stood watching them.
In the second half, the Rams managed to pull a couple back, including a debut goal for Chris Maguire almost straight from the kick-off, but in truth never deserved extra time, which, given the extent of our injury crisis, we didn’t really want anyway. The man of the match was former Derby trainee Lionel Ainsworth, who gave Kevin Kilbane a torrid time and was a constant threat.
The annual league cup humiliation out of the way, Derby took their 17 ‘fit’ players (including youth products Hendrick and O’Brien) to Vicarage Road. Unexpectedly, they ground out a 1-0 win, thanks to another Steve Davies wonder goal. Other than Davies’ moment of inspiration, we barely threatened, but Watford’s huff and puff could not blow our defensive house down.
The back four all played well. Frank Fielding got plaudits for his form, but I didn’t see him make anything other than routine saves, the best being a sharp near post block from Eustace’s header. Goalkeepers should never be beaten at the near stick, but nevertheless, it was perfect positioning from the England U’21 man.
In fairness, most fans would have taken six points and out of the cup at the start of the week if offered, but it does grate on the nerves that we have lost to fourth division opposition for the third consecutive season.
On the plus side, it was the first time we’ve secured back-to-back league wins at the start of the season since 1973, under Brian Clough. If we can also beat Blackpool on Wednesday, it will be the first time we have won the first three league games since 1948…
INJURIES: It would be quicker and easier to list the players who are actually fit (those in brackets have already played with knocks / been rested / forcibly subbed).
The fit players are Fielding, Legzdins, Brayford, (Shackell), O’Brien, (Roberts), Kilbane, Hendrick, (Bryson), Maguire, Croft, Ben Davies, (Steve Davies), Cywka, Robinson, Ball.
TRANSFER RUMOURS: All quiet on the Western front this week. Colin Gibson asked Clough the question re a loan move for Steve Howard, receiving a non-committal response.
Tabloids suggested we would be loaning Newcastle misfit Nile Ranger, who is unwanted on Tyneside due to his habit of continually turning up late for training. However, the question marks over Ranger’s character didn’t dissuade Blackpool boss Ian Holloway from bidding “big money” for the former England U’19 striker. That Ranger refused to even consider moving to Bloomfield Road makes him seem like an unlikely signing for Derby.
Steve Davies 2
Jason Shackell 1
Chris Maguire 1
Theo Robinson 1
Ben Davies 2
Craig Bryson 1
Tomasz Cywka 1
Lee Croft 1
LEAGUE POSITION: 8th
LEAGUE FORM: WW
ODDS TO BEAT NEXT WEEK’S OPPONENTS:
Blackpool (A) 17/5