A glorious sunny day in the East Midlands saw Derby’s first real test of the new season, play off finalists Sheffield United were the opponents at Pride Park and sadly they showed up severe frailties in the new look Derby County.
First half saw United dominate the game, they hurried Derby all over the pitch not allowing them to pass the ball about the way Nigel Clough wants them too. Chances were few and far between, Stephen Pearson had Derby’s only real chance, a beautiful floated cross from Paul Green found Pearson unmarked on the run towards the back post. As the ball sailed over the centre half Pearson appeared to be caught in two minds as to either head or volley the ball goalwards. His decision was to volley and his effort sailed over the bar, bad decision. Otherwise Derby huffed and puffed with no real creativity, the 4-5-1/4-3-3 formation wasn’t working because Hulse was isolated up front on his own with Chris Morgan and Matt Killgallon taking it in turns to put him in their pockets. Derby’s midfield worked hard but just couldn’t provide support or the right delivery to allow Hulse to show what a good striker he is. United had the ball in the net in the first half, Jamie Ward breaking away down the centre and after his shot was parried by Bywater Henderson calmly put the ball in the back of the net, but the goal was disallowed for offside on Henderson although replays show that it was probably a harsh decision. So half time arrived with Derby having been lacklustre and the manager clearly frustrated. Surely the second could only get better?
It did, but not by a lot. Derby created a few more opportunities but there were no real shots for Bunn in the United goal to save. Teale occasionally looked dangerous down the left but his fullback was just as quick and this made it hard for the Scot to get past his man and deliver a telling ball. One of Teale’s few crosses nearly gave Derby a surprise lead as it dropped onto the crossbar, sadly Croft was not able to put the ball back into the box. The second 45 minutes drifted by in a midfield battle with no real shots and this would’ve continued had Shaun Barker not needlessly tumbled over Stephen Quinn near the corner flag with 10 minutes to go. Up came the big men and Matt Killgallon made enough of a nuisance of himself to put the ball into the net via a slight deflection. In effect that was game over; Derby tried to create something but didn’t get close enough to actually test the United defence. Jamie Ward had the last chance of the game but Stephen Bywater made a great save in the very last minute.
So a victory for the visitors in what was a poor game, sadly from a Derby point of view they deserved to get something from the game and to be honest Derby didn’t. The first real test is one that hasn’t been passed, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to press the panic button. Obviously fans will be frustrated by the lack of goalmouth action in a home game and so they should be, but we must remember that Sheffield United are a decent team in this league who will finish in the top 6, these are not the games we must win but games where points are an added bonus. Nigel Clough will get it right but we need to be patient, something that all football fans struggle with at times. This game wasn’t great and showed some possible naivety in Nigel Clough’s tactics but everyone will learn from this and hopefully the match against Barnsley on Tuesday will be better as that is a game we have to win.
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