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04/05: Reports:

Football League Division Two, 06/11/04, 3.00pm
Derby County
Itchy and scratchy
By Matt Rowson

It's an irritation. An itch that needs to be scratched. I know that it doesn't really matter but the orderly, mathematical side of my brain gets unduly wound up by it.

It's like when I came in from the Crewe game and Tsega said, "You lost three-love, what happened?" I know that my foul mood was a consequence of our performance on that occasion but it bugs me anyway. "It's not f***ing tennis, we lost three-NIL, not three-LOVE, for goodness' sake...."

And this is the same. An itch that needs to be scratched. In the same way that I know that it doesn't matter that Eastenders is on at 8pm on a Monday evening. And has been for years. It just bugs me... Eastenders is supposed to be on at 7.30, why f*** about with it?

This is the same. Unnecessary. Unimportant, but irritating. And you know what I'm going to say before I bloody say it whether you're a Watford fan killing five minutes or a Derby fan in search of enlightenment. Why the bloody hell are the two sides meeting again three weeks after the game at Pride Park?

It's not as if it's complicated to sort a fixture list without this annoying quirk. The Bundesliga, with stereotype-fulfilling orderliness, publishes a rigid seventeen-strong list of fixtures which is reversed after the winter break. So it can be done. And any arguments about the potential mathematical awkwardness of twenty-four teams are dispelled by the fact that Saturday's Division Two fixture list is the perfect reverse of that played three weeks ago. So there's nothing stopping anyone picking up one of the two weekends and plonking it in February or something where it belongs. Every fixture in between gets shoved a week forward, we no longer have to get to Reading for 11am on Boxing Day and everyone's happy.

The most severe facet of the fact that we play Derby again so soon is that I've got to think of something different or potentially useful to say about a side that was reviewed less than a month ago (or I could just go on a rant and fill up some space... oh look!). In the interim, Derby have lost away at Wolves and beaten Burnley and Rotherham. This sets up on Wednesday evening, courtesy of a home tie with Brighton, the opportunity for the Rams to record three wins on the hop for the first time in six years.

George Burley has continued to fiddle with formations, and although 4-5-1 appears to be a favourite away from home, messageboard consensus seems to favour 4-4-2 on Saturday.

Lee Camp should be in goal again, having been dismissed (at Wolves) and served a ban since we last met. Lee Grant, one of two Hemel-born players in the Derby squad, was considered unlucky not to have retained his place after a flawless display as deputy at Turf Moor.

At the back, Derby's lack of aerial presence sees them continue to be extremely vulnerable from set pieces, as we witnessed at Pride Park and was demonstrated still more conclusively by the Rams being the first side this season to cede a two goal deficit to Rotherham. Mo Konjic is seen as the critical missing piece here, but he's still out with a knee problem.

So Michael Johnson should again feature at the back and could captain the side with Ian Taylor's poor form finally seeing him slip to the bench. Tom Huddlestone, who played in midfield three weeks ago, may well partner him; his distribution from the back is excellent although doubts appear to linger concerning his defensive instincts (or lack thereof). Pablo Mills also lost his place amidst continuing speculation linking him with a move to Franchise, whilst an attempt to sign Isaac Okoronkwo was confounded by work permit problems.

Jeff Kenna and Jamie Vincent retain the fullback positions, the latter's winning goal on Saturday masking a disappointing display with some reports suggesting a vulnerability down Derby's right flank. Richard Jackson appears to be a popular alternative on either side, whilst Paul Boertien's recovery from ligament damage should see him in the reserves next week.

In midfield, Iniago Iniakez has recovered from the hamstring injury that kept him out at Pride Park and will play. Adam Bolder's energy is preferred next to him with Ian Taylor dropping to the bench; Morten Bisgaard is over his hip injury but hurt his foot at the weekend and is rated doubtful for Wednesday night's game with Brighton. Marco Reich, impressive at Pride Park, continues to win votes wide on the left, whilst Tommy Smith could return from a hamstring problem to play wide on the right in Bisgaard's stead. Youngsters Nathan Doyle and Lee Holmes have both made the bench over the last few games.

Up front, Grzegorz Rasiak continues to impress in the air and holding the ball up although the usefulness of his shooting has been questioned. The ever popular Paul Peschisolido (who "didn't come to Derby to sit in the reserves" according to a rather sulky official site interview) came off the bench to good effect at the weekend and may have played himself into a start at the expense of Marcus Tudgay. One-footed wonder Junior is on loan at Rotherham, but didn't play against his employers at the weekend.

It's more than ten years since Derby beat us at Vicarage Road; their approach away from home appears to be more conservative than at Pride Park with the eight away games featuring fourteen goals as compared to thirty in the eight at home. The mad Iceman's form at the moment may be a disincentive to any side intending to sit deep however, and we should be looking to put a better gloss on our home record this weekend.