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03/04: Reports:

Nationwide Division One, 16/03/04, 7.45pm
Derby County
Remote control
By Matt Rowson

Our TV remote got all moody this morning.

Alarm bells should have rung when the batteries died without the customary "low signal" warning from the Sky box. Replacement of batteries subsequently seemed to yield only marginal success, even replacement with batteries bought new from a shop rather than chased around and retrieved from The Kitchen Drawer. Sky box responds, television doesn't. Not enormously useful.

Resorted to the Sky manual, as you do. Found step-by-step idiot-proof guide to reprogramming the remote. Followed steps. No success. Followed steps several times further, augmented intermittently by calling the remote, the TV or the Sky box a "f***ing b***ard". Still no joy. Stamped around room angrily.

Found steps 7-9 on the reverse of the page that I'd been looking at. And now everything works fine.

The point being that the screwing up of something vitally important that has, by-and-large, been taken for granted for the most part can cause a level of distress and agitation that rather clouds one's judgment and restricts the capacity for rational thought (the issue of the rather disproportionate significance of the TV remote Chez Rowson is perhaps a separate issue for another time...).

Take football. Watford, say. Division One survival, specifically. Not something that many might have expected to be at risk at the start of the season, certainly not something we've had to worry about for a few years, and as recently as a fortnight ago something that didn't look like being an issue for at least another year or so either. An emotive subject round these parts. So here are some observations made in a rare moment of calm...

(And before the sanctimonious bit - which is coming - I should perhaps concede that this rare oasis of calm was nestled in between furious post-Stoke/Bradford/Sheffield sulks and some quite energetic swearing at WML contributions which provoked my wife to appear in concern before departing in mild disgust. Nor was this capacity for rational thought evident at around twenty past four on Saturday when I made the decision to tell one red-faced, rather agitated critic of Fitzgerald's substitution what I thought of his opinions. Frankly, he was never going to change his mind, nor thank me for my input...)

So. Rational thing number one. We didn't play very well against Sheffield United. But they weren't a lot of cop either. And they're fourth. There was really a five minute defensive panic between the sides. Which doesn't alter the fact that we lost, but does rather suggest that all is not as done and dusted as some seem to have concluded.

Rational thing number two. Ray Lewington doesn't really have a lot of cards to play. That doesn't mean that he's incapable of making mistakes, but rather that he has rather less scope for getting away with them than some of his predecessors. Nor is every mishap a direct consequence of the latest substitution or team selection. For me, he's made far less bad decisions than good ones.

Rational thing number three. Whatever our limitations, we're not the only ones in trouble. Look at the League table. Seven teams playing musical chairs separated by three points. The fact remains that we don't need to be great, we just need to be less rubbish than three other sides.

And Derby County remain fairly strong candidates for this unwanted accolade. This is notwithstanding their ability to sign experienced players despite a 34 million debt. If Neil Warnock's comments are to be believed (and, yes, I'm aware that the credence being offered to Colin's outpourings may appear rather selective), Peschisolido's recent transfer was oiled, apart from purely geographical domestic considerations, by Derby offering the Canadian a two year contract on three times what United could afford to pay him. How does that work? (See the latest WSC for a more informed and less whingey discussion of this general point.)

Derby remain a poor side. They have won fewer games on their travels this season than Franchise - which is saying something - with the upshot that Derby messageboards seem to be focused on next weekend's no-doubt heated encounter with local rivals Forest at Pride Park as a more likely source of points than Tuesday's game. Nor has George Burley entirely convinced with what has appeared quite random and desperate chopping and changing.

Hemel-born Lee Grant is likely to be in goal, with regular keeper Andy Oakes on his way back from a long-term wrist injury and probably still on the bench. Oakes' return to training has prompted Burley to allow previous backup Lee Camp to depart on loan to Southend.

At the back, a lack of height and organisation in the centre appears to have been a problem. Jeff Kenna is more likely to be able to help with the latter than the former; he moved from fullback to centreback during his debut on Saturday as Michael Johnson departed with a back injury. Johnson's injury might provoke a recall from loan at Stockport for Dave Walton; the former Crewe defender's Derby career has itself been hampered by injury thus far. Youl Mawene seems certain to start; the Frenchman, who has diplomatically stalled discussions on a contract renewal until the end of the season, is a decent defender but prone to the odd lapse of concentration, which sounds familiar. Pablo Mills, another youngster and probably the only Derby player to emerge from this fixture last year with much credit, seems to be out of favour.

Occupancy of the fullback positions seems likely to depend on the fitness of on-loan Villa man Rob Edwards and Jamie Vincent, both back in training following bronchitis and a hamstring problem respectively - neither featured at the weekend. The defensive but competent Richard Jackson can play on either side whilst previously loaned-out Paul Boertien can come in on the left. Kenna, however, is likely to adopt a fullback berth if the hole at centreback can be plugged.

In the midfield, Ian Taylor is captain and leading scorer; he's more comfortable in a central role despite being started on the flank at the weekend - and scored a belter in Derby's rather fortunate win over us at Pride Park in September. He should be partnered by seventeen year-old Tom Huddlestone, who has the build of a heavyweight boxer.

Leon Osman should play on the right - he's provided a spark and a couple of goals since his loan arrival from Everton. The Crewe game saw the disappointing Portuguese loanee Candido Costa start on the left... sixteen year-old Lee Holmes, who was pivotal as a sub in September's game, would be a more popular choice.

Other midfield options include young Peruvian Gianfranco Labarthe Tome, in decent form for the successful reserve side, and serial substitute Adam Bolder. However German Marco Reich is out with a hamstring problem, and Simo Valakari and Lee Morris have departed to Dallas Burn and Leicester City respectively.

Up front, the little Canadian charmer and favourite of the Vicarage Road crowd since getting Paul Furlong unfairly dismissed more than ten years ago is likely to feature despite an attack of cramp late in the game on Saturday. He will probably partner Marcus Tudgay to form a partnership slightly lacking in inches - which didn't prevent high balls being lumped into them for much of Saturday's encounter. Tudgay appears to have won over the Derby support, although his enthusiasm hasn't been matched by a prolific run in front of goal. With Spanish forward Manel suspended and Junior still out with knee ligament damage, Noel Whelan appears to be the only alternative... he's not been enormously impressive since arriving from Millwall two months ago.

This is virtually a cup tie, quite obviously, but a win - which we're perfectly capable of securing - might make the table look a whole lot friendlier again. Rational thing number four. We're not relegated yet. Not unless we give up.