Aiming to end winless streak heading into international break
This is highly likely to be the final game of Rob Edwards’ brief caretaker reign. While we have perhaps sensibly not rushed into a decision on the new manager, the season continues to rumble on while we make our deliberations and at this point, we are desperate for a win having failed to taste victory in any of our last six fixtures. Walter Zenga was sacked so that the season could be salvaged and we could press on with our aims to at minimum, seriously challenge for the top six; at present we stand seven points (plus a healthy margin of goal difference) behind Bristol City. It’s the kind of gap which can easily grow into an insurmountable one if results continue to splutter along in far from top six standard and it is imperative that we are at least in touch with the playoff places as we hit Christmas and New Year if we are to attract the calibre of mid-season signings we desire; players eager to play in the Premier League are markedly less likely to join a club that is almost certainly condemned to a minimum of a further 18 months’ purgatory in the Championship. So, for about the fourth week in a row, we could really do with winning this one.
Last week’s unconvincing display at Blackburn – a very poor advert for Edwards even getting a prolonged spell as interim boss, if indeed this was ever a possibility – was enlivened by the final 25 minutes when all of Helder Costa, Joao Teixeira and Ivan Cavaleiro were on the pitch. The clear boost in creativity that we have when the trio are playing together should make it a given that they appear from the start in home games where we need to set the attacking agenda, even if there would be a reticence to go with the three in tougher away trips. As a team with a relative abundance of attacking talent (yet lack of recent goals), the onus is on us to start games on the front foot and have the opposition worrying about what we can do to them, rather than beginning in passive fashion and, as so often has been the case this season, conceding early and ending up chasing the game.
In addition, the variant of 4-3-3 that we’ve played for much of the season really isn’t working for us at the moment. Jon Dadi Bodvarsson – who badly needs a goal himself, having not found the net since the end of August at Birmingham – is way too isolated and feeding off extremely poor service for the most part. When we get the ball in wide areas, the opposite wide forward and midfielders are more often than not failing to break into the box so it means that the frequent eye catching work of Helder Costa in particular is producing no reward for us. A change of shape is needed to get the best out of the players we have and to freshen up an approach which has made us increasingly predictable and easy to contain.
Edwards stated after the Blackburn game that he had asked his full backs in Cameron Borthwick-Jackson and Matt Doherty to become more involved in general build up play, including in conventional midfield areas, and above all to get forward more. While we definitely do need the latter aspect – it was puzzling how Zenga became more and more fixated with not allowing them to overlap – the first priority of full back play should always be to make sure the defensive elements are right. Doherty has regressed back to the depths of his pre-February 2016 form where he ambles rather than chases after his opposite number, fails to stop anything coming into the box and constantly allows the winger to cut inside and get a shot away if they wish. As such, he should not be in the team until he has demonstrated that he can concentrate on actually defending again, though I will concede it is unlikely he’ll be dropped this weekend.
Elsewhere, Danny Batth seriously needs to shake himself out of his month-long rut of slack marking and basic errors – when your game is entirely based on getting the fundamentals of defending right in a no-frills way, it isn’t a good look to be at personal fault for multiple goals – and Romain Saiss must improve on a strangely subdued showing at Ewood Park. Carl Ikeme misses out this week with the side strain he picked up in the last game so Andy Lonergan will deputise. At 33, Lonergan’s game is set in stone; he will make the occasional outstanding save, but he is highly suspect on crosses and prone to comedy errors (as already shown in the Checkatrade Trophy game at Crewe last month). He represents no kind of serious alternative to Ikeme so this is an area where we must look to improve during one of the next two transfer windows.
Silvio – Danny Batth – Kortney Hause – Cameron Borthwick-Jackson
Dave Edwards – Romain Saiss
Helder Costa – Joao Teixeira – Ivan Cavaleiro
Jon Dadi Bodvarsson
Subs: Jon Flatt, Dominic Iorfa, Richard Stearman, Conor Coady, Jack Price, Prince Oniangue, Nouha Dicko.
Nigel Pearson has been heavily linked in some quarters with our own managerial vacancy following his acrimonious departure from Pride Park. Arriving after a year’s sabbatical following another, you guessed it, acrimonious departure from Leicester, Pearson came with the reputation of a manager skilled in building successful teams at this level and with a point to prove. Unfortunately for Derby fans, all that he proved was his serial ability to fall out with people. Key striker and fans’ favourite Chris Martin – 52 league goals in the last three seasons for the Rams – was marginalised in the early stages of the season in favour of the embodiment of sloth, Darren Bent, and subsequently loaned out to Fulham. Such an unpopular decision was exacerbated by Pearson’s team’s failure to find the net – just three goals scored in nine league games before he had a training ground argument with owner Mel Morris and was subsequently suspended and dismissed. While it is easy to see why Derby would have been seduced by his on field record, it’s apparent that any future employers of the ex-Middlesbrough centre half will have to do serious due diligence on his character before being convinced he will be able to work at their club.
Steve McClaren has since returned to the East Midlands after a disastrous spell at Newcastle last season and his original tenure at Derby ending with a run of just 2 wins in 13 games; a sequence which led to a team topping the league at the end of February completely missing the playoffs. It would be fair to say that this would represent a final chance for the former England manager to resurrect his career. McClaren has switched to his familiar 4-3-3 shape in contrast to Pearson’s preference to play two out and out strikers, a move which does appear to have helped them defensively at least as they have conceded just one goal in his opening four games in charge. On paper, a midfield three of Will Hughes, Bradley Johnson and Jacob Butterfield is one of the very best engine rooms in the Championship while Johnny Russell and Tom Ince have proven themselves in the past to be excellent operators out wide. Major summer signing Matej Vydra has thus far continued his pattern of underwhelming when playing for English clubs other than Watford and it may be that he will struggle to fit the brief required by McClaren from his main striker.
Last line-up (vs Sheff Wed, W 2-0, 29.10.16): Carson; Christie, Keogh, Pearce, Olsson; Johnson, Hanson, Butterfield; Russell, Bent, Ince.
Top scorers: Matej Vydra (2), seven players with 1 goal
Top assists: Will Hughes (2), Tom Ince (1), Ikechi Anya (1)
Saturday 27 February 2016: Wolves 2-1 Derby
Coming off the back of a seven game winless run and just one goal scored in four games, spirits going into this one were far from high, although Derby were in a state of relative flux themselves having recently sacked Paul Clement for reasons that remain unclear. The mood was brightened by a quick start and George Saville’s first goal for Wolves in the opening 15 minutes, a calm finish from the edge of the box. Derby came back into the game and equalised on the stroke of half time with a Chris Martin free kick, aided by some questionable positioning from Carl Ikeme. However, the second half was one where Wolves largely had the upper hand and that was rewarded five minutes from time as Saville struck once more, a fine header from a Matt Doherty cross which gave Scott Carson no chance. This was a rare afternoon of pleasure in the latter half of 2015/16, a performance of fight and endeavour rather than particularly eye catching football, but pleasing all the same.
Team: Ikeme; Iorfa, Batth, Ebanks-Landell, Doherty; Coady, McDonald, Saville; Byrne (Mason 76), Sigurdarson, Helan. Unused subs: Martinez, Hause, Rowe, Price, Hunte, Le Fondre.
2015/16: W 2-1 (H), L 2-4 (A)
2014/15: W 2-0 (H), L 0-5 (A)
2012/13: D 1-1 (H), D 0-0 (A)
2008/9: W 3-0 (H), W 3-2 (A)
2006/7: L 0-1 (H), W 2-0 (A)
2005/6: D 1-1 (H), W 3-0 (A)
2004/5: W 2-0 (H), D 3-3 (A)
2002/3: D 1-1 (H), W 4-2 (A)
1995/6: W 3-0 (H), D 0-0 (A)
1994/5: L 0-2 (H), D 3-3 (A)
1993/4: D 2-2 (H), W 4-0 (A)
Wolves 1-1 Derby (Teixeira)
While a win is much-needed, an improving Derby who appear to be settling back into a pattern of play which brought them prolonged good results for 18 months will be a strong test and there are too many issues with our play at present to be confident of picking up all three points.