Watford 2 Derby County 3 (19/10/2013) 20/10/2013Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
1- I’m in a play in two weeks’ time. A Whodunnit, kinda. I know amdram isn’t for everyone – either watching or participating – but I’m having a whale of a time… the cast learned our lines early, which helped, and now rehearsals are a joy, we’re flying. The characters, so long just names on a script, have come to life.
Ahhhh, so many opportunities for a cheap metaphor – where to start? Well how’s about with the fact that when you rehearse a certain scene again after having concentrated on other things for a while it tends to be a bit… rusty and deliberate. People remembering quite where they were supposed to be standing; vacant, absent expressions as lines are dragged from the recesses of memory. And so it was here, an impression perhaps exacerbated by Gianfranco Zola’s preference for fielding players not involved in recent internationals after a break (albeit this position was enforced in part by a few knocks picked up by those in question). The result is a team who’ve not been playing competitively for at least a fortnight and it looked rusty and sloppy, as if the cast knew the general idea, knew what they were trying to do but couldn’t quite make it click. Unlike the play there’s no mystery to how we ended up losing this one… far too careless with possession, far too many opportunities ceded to a team with enough attacking nous to take advantage.
All of which has to be assessed in the context of a cruel injury situation that deprived us of a number of key players… critically perhaps, our two most dependable outlets in Deeney and Anya and the genius of Abdi who so often creates an outlet where noone else saw one. For a side that scores so many goals we have surprisingly few stock moves… Lewis McGugan’s set pieces perhaps, but there’s certainly no “Ardley dumps the ball far post, Heidar throws himself at it” goals in this team. Coping with those absences in that context was always going to be challenging.
Anya’s absence was exacerbated by Davide Faraoni’s suspension, meaning that Marco Cassetti was restored to a wing-back position having apparently settled into the back three. It didn’t work… Cassetti’s intelligence and masterful delivery are no longer enough to compensate for his limited mobility. Ikechi Anya might have given Craig Forsyth, who had a couple of “rabbit in headlights” moments without Anya’s help, a tougher game,one suspects.
2- The best aspect of this season thus far from our point of view has been the entertainment value. Twelve league games in, plus three in the League Cup… how many have been anything less than gripping? (Even if, admittedly, some of that excitement has been our own doing in situations where you’d prefer dull defensive competence). The opening fifteen minutes or so here were suitably mundane… Derby’s notorious vulnerability at corners was manifest and Essaid Belkalem ghosted in (or as close as a monstrous Algerian can get to “ghosting”) at the far post. He should have scored. Two minutes later and Jamie Ward, half Belkalem’s size and with what looked a tougher heading chance, outjumped his marker to put the Rams ahead from Bryson’s brilliant cross. Another five minutes and Fernando’s levelled it again with a gorgeous dink. Same old, same old. From thereon both sides’ limitations were exposed – both keen on attacking with defending a tedious half-hearted chore performed with the attentiveness with which one might clean out the oven prior to, not your parents or in-laws visiting but perhaps a fleeting visit from an old school mate.
3- In the context of which Derby’s pressing game, in which John Eustace again belied the “his legs have gone” bollocks, always looked like it had potential. Funny how effective a player can look once he’s given a few games. As it was it was Iriney who was caught flat footed just before the break as the visitors capitalized efficiently. This capped a disappointing first half for the Brazilian, who had been perhaps harshly booked for handball early on by referee James Linington when he appeared to control the ball with his chest. Iriney proceeded to exercise no restraint whatsoever for the remainder of the half, not so much pushing his luck as giving it a right good kicking and making a pitch for joining the catalogue of ex-players in bloke-behind-you japery (Danny Shittu one popular option) who might be employed to flatten what’s left of the Main Stand. For every challenge in which Iriney roared in and won the ball there was another where the opponent’s leg came first; perhaps perceiving that he’d unduly penalised the midfielder early on Linington let a couple ride that might normally have earned a second yellow.
Contrast Iriney’s performance with that of Eustace.. all controlled aggression, a driving force. Not that Zola was necessarily wrong to conclude that Eustace’s time on the playing staff was up – a separate discussion. But beyond dispute that his influence hasn’t been replaced, and in particular his on-pitch leadership. In the absence of Deeney, the de facto outfield spokesman for the side, it wasn’t until Almunia confronted the officials at half time that anyone had more than a whinge in the referee’s ear. Eustace, not County’s skipper, was on Linington’s shoulder throughout, although fat lot of help that can have been, admittedly, if the official’s hearing was on the par with the rest of his faculties.
4- The second half was far more positive; Forestieri and Fabbrini never looked like a terribly… varied forward line – even our twists and turns had understudies, gloriously intricate icing but no cake – but such failings as there were were largely not of their own doing. Whilst the strength of the squad is manifest, whether our first eleven is as strong as last year’s is very much open to question; without Vydra’s pace OR Deeney’s presence we’re undoubtedly more limited. Diego and Fernando both put a shift in though, and if Fabbrini in particular still needs to toughen up this was a more robust performance than we’ve been used to.
But ultimately it was the removal of Iriney and the introduction of Murray that heaved the game back in our favour. Impish, mobile, assertive and imaginative, Murray was the injection of life that our midfield sorely needed. McGugan hadn’t been having the best game either so McEachran was fetching and carrying nobody’s water… now, Murray grabbed hold and started to make things happen. We looked confident, suddenly, swinging Derby backwards and forwards. Two last ditch challenges on the edge of the box yielded free kicks, each given too much elevation by McGugan to catcalls from the away end, mindful of his Forest history. Lewis, as we’ve said, has played much better… but it says an awful lot for him that he can be playing badly, shunt two free kicks into the stand, and then pull out something as perfect as the second equaliser. Quality like that in the absence of a performance will win us points, even if it didn’t today.
5- And then… yes, we blew it. Again. I’d been thinking that we looked in control, that we were chasing a win with the point safe when Sammon was allowed to break away but was hesitant on his weaker side and Almunia rescued the situation. Five minutes later, with less time to think at the end of a similar break with it’s foundation in, yes, our sloppiness in possession he made no mistake. Our heads dropped, and for the remainder of the game we misfired as badly as the machine-gunning tannoy.
Gutting and demoralising. Despite which, care should be taken to assess the result in the context of the players missing. Difficult circumstances today, this wasn’t merely a disappointing performance. We need to defend an awful lot better… but that bad defending is less of an issue if you’ve got a target to hit or a winger whose pace and stamina makes an opponent wary of pressing too high up the pitch. Attention will be paid to whatever information we get on the injury list over the next week, then. Things will look an awful lot more positive if the senior cast return before the curtain goes up at Brighton a week Monday.