The Kids are Alright
By Ash Peters
A sunny engagement with an in-form Derby side looked an appetising way
to spend a day off. A further test for our promising side, away from
the pressure of expected wins at home but a more useful yardstick for
progress than the visits to mid-table clubs had presented.
However, as we entered the ground, eyes blinking in adjustment to the Bank
Holiday sunshine, the gloom of the concrete concourse was not the only
shock to the system that greeted us. We peered in surprise as across
the nastily-ubiquitous Sky Sports formatting of Derby’s television
channel scrolled an unfamiliar Watford line-up: no Mahon, Henderson or
Devlin. Weekend isolation from sources of up-to-date news meant we had
no explanation of these absences, and betting slips were swiftly cast
aside. How could we be returning to the midfield so easily by-passed by
Charlton, Preston and Plymouth?
Regardless of the minor knocks explaining these omissions, we started the match with a
line-up similar to that we’d looked to be heading for over the summer,
and I for one feared for our fortunes under the Pride Park microscope.
Early omens were not good as what was no-doubt intended to be a
4-3-3, with Bangura, Blizzard and Spring in the centre, stuck fast as
4-5-1, and an embattled one at that. Derby took a few minutes to settle
down then swept the ball across the pitch to Kenna, who with half the
right flank to himself, and those in the middle rushing to cover, found
Adam Bolder to finish easily.
Things didn’t get better quickly, Carlisle’s lazy pass forward – a very rare lapse for the experienced
captain, it has to be said – was picked off and Mackay had to come across to cover Rasiak’s run and shepherd him out of play. Foster sliced a clearance horribly, to immense cheers as the home fans sensed
a kill was imminent. Tommy Smith, making few contributions for a Watford pantomime villain, swept in a cross that Carlisle cleared.
We had a share of possession but little time to use it and even less idea how to. The patient build-up was forgotten as numerous long balls flew over the lone striker King and returned with far more class, the home side finding room and using it stylishly. Young showed well, beating his full back but putting the cross out of play, and King held the ball up well as ever but to no good purpose.
Luckily, despite the away side being all at sea, Derby never turned their superiority into
real scoring chances; the much lauded Rasiak and Idiakez were respectively peripheral and off-form.
So it was that around the half hour mark we came into the game, no more convincingly coherent in our play but far more threatening, and more effective in cutting off the home side’s neat passing.
Lee Camp came out well to catch a Carlisle cross, McNamee ran well on our right but found King offside when all around us were screaming for a crossfield pass that would have given us a big overlap, and King himself went wide to cross wickedly and low for McNamee to bundle in on the keeper unsuccessfully. The assembled Watford fans began to match the Derby voices for noise, and whilst there was still little play of quality, they had a game on their hands.
Our midfield remained ineffective, though, as typified by Spring, who continued to overhit aerial passes and picked up a booking for a foul on the theatrical Idiakez. From over our right shoulders came a concerted effort at a Blizzard song, something about being better than Mahon it seemed, but on today of all days it was met with particular scorn.
Whilst I cling to the belief that he does unseen work to genuinely benefit the side, few bar the coaching staff agree, and certainly here he was well off the pace. The last time my mates so
disagreed with me over a player’s potential, Jon-Dahl Tomasson eventually turned up at Milan… we’ll see!
Smith made another fruitless run, missing a clear overlap on their right wing, and Doyley pulled off a decent low shot from the edge of the box. McNamee ended the half for us by rounding the keeper right on
the touchline to fire in a shot that rebounded to safety off an unknowing defender’s head.
At halftime it was clear there was a way back into the game for us, against a largely under-performing Derby side, but less clear how we could take it. As fans we had to do what we could to reverse the team’s fortunes, and hence Sant and I moved down the stand to sit with our other, even prettier, group of mates, and made sure to be standing right up until the whistle began the second half.
Honestly, I don’t know what the players would do without us.
Boothroyd promisingly re-jigged things, going back to 4-4-2 with Stewart coming on for Blizzard, freeing Chambers on the right wing and allowing Young his roaming role up front. The benefits in attack were clear, but more curiously this sparked our midfield into far more effective play, despite their depleted numbers. We continued to be caught offside far too often, but from this point only one side was going to win the game.
McNamee came to the fore; this was a tremendous second half performance from the winger, frequently emerging from a cluster of Derby players with the kind of whirl of limbs that always produces the
involuntary giggle of the spectator at something they like, but cant fully explain (fans of Chris Morris’s seminal radio programme Blue Jam may be familiar with this). Young was again excellent, and Carlisle possibly his best yet, organising the defence as ever and helping out up front to decisive effect; Chambers once more provided an excellent outlet going forward.
After a couple more near misses, the flag for offside interrupting far more inventive attacks than those foiled in the first half, McNamee slid through a pass for Chambers, timing his run well and through on goal, only to be dumped on the floor by Jackson as the wide player dithered over placement. To us it looked a clear foul, unarguably failing to get the ball whilst challenging from behind. The sense of injustice from the Derby fans, less inclined to see it that way, was heightened by a clumsy challenge by Young in the build-up that could easily itself have been penalised; the striker somewhat tarnished another fine performance with late petulance of this kind, even stooping to lightning-fast injury recovery.
Either way, Jackson had to be red-carded and King was the only choice to take the penalty. Perhaps distracted by the delay caused by referee Penton’s strict enforcement of the encroachment rules, he bounced a none-more-languid effort onto the right hand post even as Camp dived the other way. Simply deafening roars greeted the miss as the ball spun back across goal to safety, and the atmosphere cranked up another couple of notches as despite their ten-man team’s lack of attacking threat, the Derby fans sensed a justice to be served.
It was simply not to be. We now flowed forward, Bangura making his presence felt as a disruptive and constructive influence, and Doyley, whilst not having his best game, as ever gamely supporting the attacks at every turn. The ineffective Smith was sacrificed as Phil Brown reorganised his depleted team, yet none of them could handle McNamee, and within ten minutes he found King inside the box, to square simply for Spring to choose his spot, confidently, if maybe a little too calmly for some, picking the top corner.
Hameur Bouazza came on for Chambers, giving McNamee his favourite left flank to work from, and almost immediately touched into the net a King pass that may well have gone in itself; shame it wasn’t allowed
to, as once more the linesman signalled offside. Idiakez, rousing himself for set-pieces and the adulation the home fans gave him each time he trotted over to take one, swept across a free kick that the un-marked Johnson found too low to steer on target, and Foster made a good late save from Bolder, but these were temporary lapses.
Irrepressibly, McNamee curled a delicate 25 yard strike just under Camp’s crossbar, but the young keeper was equal to it, tipping over. Familiar to any set of fans, as the game slips away from your team is the burning sense of injustice that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as each refereeing decision in favour of the opposition ratchets up the sense of bias. We’ve done it enough times at Vicarage Road, and how Derby fans did it here, as a succession of unarguable bookings (Bisgaard’s challenge on Stewart being particularly savage) were greeted with ever more anguished howls. ‘How fair is that?’ asked numerous advertising hoardings, sarcastically.
Even so there was some sympathy around the winner, as the challenge on Doyley looked a fair
tackle, on the left corner of his own box - Seth Johnson's booking for dissent rubbing salt into the wound. Once more McNamee took the free kick, curling in a supreme effort that Carlisle flicked on and in at the far post. It must be said that the linesman had, very briefly, raised his flag, without apparent justification; truly asking for it in this cauldron of noise, but nonetheless this was a fair goal and a fine move between our two best players on the day.
As the ball hit the net, Carlisle tore across the pitch with a red arrowhead of players in his wake and leapt into Boothroyd’s arms. The significance of the unity shown was unmistakeable, and in an early
season crammed with warm and fuzzy, photo-album moments, this was the warmest and fuzziest of all: like a Furby in the microwave. There is some real team spirit here, despite the short time this side has been assembled, and I’d better learn not to fear for them too often with this kind of collective feeling.
Even the late substitution of Peschisolido, master of the sickening last minute match-changing intervention, could not hold us back, and Derby had only one decent if never threatening Idaikez free kick to show for their late charge. What a fine win this was, for even if we were undoubtedly fortunate to catch a useful County side on an off-day, once we got ourselves together we simply refused to be held back. This performance was achieved despite what looked like a critical lack of experience in midfield, and the victory was thoroughly deserved if controversially acquired. Too little has yet happened and too much could yet happen to draw firm conclusions as to the wisdom of off-field
decisions, but now more than ever this team simply demands our support, and deserves nothing less. See them while you can.