GAMES: After the two-week international break, Derby restarted their Championship campaign with a deeply disappointing 0-2 defeat to a poor, vulnerable Coventry City.
In the absence of the injured James Bailey, the Rams changed shape, from the modern 4-2-3-1 to a more traditional 4-4-2. Ben Davies was deployed as a makeshift left midfielder, with Lee Croft playing in a familiar position on the right.
The first half was relatively uneventful, but Derby had the two best chances. First, Zinedine Kilbane got a free run and close-range header from a well-struck Ben Davies corner, only to send it over the bar when it looked easier to score.
The big Coventry number nine Lukas Jutkiewicz then eluded Kilbane at the other end to head a Clingan corner tamely back to Fielding, before Clingan was caught in possession by Jamie Ward, who was put clean through on goal by Steve Davies' pass. Goalkeeper Joe Murphy raced to the edge of his box to get in a block, but having done the hard part, Ward should have finished easily. He remains without a goal this campaign.
A misdirected cross from left back Hussey was nearest Coventry managed to a shot at Frank Fielding's goal before the break.
At half-time, both teams were doubtless told in no uncertain terms to get the first goal, because the game opened up straight from the restart. Brayford stung the palms of substitute 'keeper Dunn almost instantly, after good build-up play by Ward, but in truth, Brayford's poor first touch meant that he had to snatch at the shot and a good opportunity was lost.
Jutkiewicz then missed a genuine sitter for Coventry. Bell outmuscled Bryson, who was naive in trying to usher the ball out of play for a goal kick, before setting up Jutkiewicz. The striker completely missed his kick before passing a lame second attempt straight to Kilbane on the goalline.
Within seconds, Ward missed his kick with the goal gaping. Then Derby stood and watched a Coventry passing move, granting right back Cyrus Christie the freedom to line up a cross for Jutkiewicz, who somehow slid the ball wide from inside the six-yard box.
The game then completely changed when Coventry were incorrectly awarded a penalty by Chris Foy, who had been making odd decisions either way all game, before finally committing probably the worst refereeing error to go against Derby since Stuart Attwell in 2008.
After a corner was half-cleared, Jason Shackell put in a foot to win the ball ahead of Richard Keogh, whose pathetic dive showed all the practised artifice of the ex-Stoke and Carlisle centre back he is. Incomprehensibly, Foy bought it. The reaction of the Derby players - hands on heads in shock to a man - told you all you needed to know. It was a truly dismal decision and the referee will be embarrassed with himself after reviewing the video.
Jutkiewicz scored and sadly, Derby's attacking response after that was almost non-existent. We continued to mount occasional, cruising sallies through the midfield, which invariably foundered as wide players continued to fuss and over-elaborate, rather than look for a cross into the box.
This could have been to do with our lack of presence in the 18-yard area. Ward is very slight and Steve Davies tends to drop into pockets of space, rather than maraud into the box. He also lacks pace, which means that when he gets involved in the build-up play, as he often does to good effect, it's difficult for him to get into the danger area for the next phase.
Theo Robinson was brought on, but when we were crying out for some pace and directness through the middle, he was deployed on the right wing, a position which in no way suits his qualities.
An emphatically finished second goal from Carl Baker put the game to bed and that was that. A bog-average team with a half-empty stadium - and extremely disgruntled fans, who would have turned, if we could have just scored the first goal - were too good for us.
At some point, we were going to be disappointing and lose. But to beat Coventry, we wouldn't even have had to been half as good as we were at Blackpool. What irritates me the most, however, is the total lack of any offensive response after the penalty went in. We cannot allow one thing going against us to knock us out of the game, especially against such limited and edgy opposition.
INJURIES: Squad members Anderson, Doyle and Martin all recovered from injury to feature in a 6-1 reserve team victory over Walsall. Anderson then made the bench for the Coventry game. Nathan Tyson has returned to training and is pencilled in for a seat on the bench at the City Ground on Saturday.
The script is written, Nathan.
Unfortunately, James Bailey, who has not looked quite right all season anyway, suffered an ankle injury in training before the Coventry game. Bailey's unavailability leaves us seriously short in central midfield, with only Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendrick left to play there.
TRANSFERS: Mansfield Town centre back Tom Naylor was given a trial in the reserve game against Walsall, before heading on to train with an unidentified Premier League club - Fulham could well be that club.
The loan window is open, but not many Championship sides have made moves as yet. Glick this week repeated the list of players we signed during the last window and stated that the club would not be rushing into the loan market.
However much Clough wants more players, especially in midfield, the decision is not his to make. The moneymen decree that the wage bill is high enough already and unless our league form takes a serious nosedive, a reject is farmed out on loan, or another midfielder gets crocked, I don't expect any arrivals in the near future.
LEAGUE POSITION: 5th
LEAGUE FORM: WWWWLL
Steve Davies 3
Theo Robinson 2
Craig Bryson 1
Ben Davies 1
Kevin Kilbane 1
Chris Maguire 1
Ben Davies 4
Craig Bryson 2
Lee Croft 2
Tomasz Cywka 1
Steve Davies 1
ODDS TO BEAT NEXT OPPONENTS: (Nottingham Forest, A) 11/5
Oh yeah. Them.
On the face of it, Forest's form is a cause for optimism. Only one win in six league games - a 1-0 at bottom club Doncaster - a manager under fire repeating the sins of his predecessors by publicly challenging the board over their transfer policy, supporters ready to turn at the first sign of trouble.
On the other hand, it's worth remembering that Forest have already had to play three of the promotion candidates - Leicester, West Ham and Southampton (Saints seem to be very formidable) - whereas Derby are yet to face any club currently in the top six, home or away.
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