Fan’s View 23/24 – No.27: Derby at home

Article by Paul Beasley Sunday, December 31st, 2023  


There’s a strong argument that Derby are the biggest club in League One this season. Their average home gate of 26,356 is by far the best in the division. They were in the Premier League in 2007/08. A 21 point deduction for breaching the EFL’s Profitability and Sustainability rules and going into administration saw them relegated from the Championship at the end of the 2021/22 campaign to their current level.

Clubs their size invariably rise again at some stage and it would appear they are currently on the way back but this is no easy division to get promoted from.

Prior to their visit to Minchery Farm they’d won seven and drawn one of their previous eight league matches. They sat third in the table on the same league points as us but with a better goal difference and a game in hand.

Not to be forgotten that we won 2-1 at Pride Park in our second away game of the season when Mark Harris scored twice.

The enormity of this clash is there for all to see.


Never before can I recall thinking my team are not going to hang on for a point when they’re 2-1 up. I most certainly thought that here. Oh ye of little faith you may cry, but the evidence before me was shouting loud and clear.

Yes we have a major injury crisis but the gulf in class between us and our visitors was immense. We’ve kidded ourselves if we’d ever believed that we now have real strength in depth. Look what we brought off the bench.

Some of our players whom I’ve on occasions waxed lyrical about were bang average here or downright dreadful. Could it be that when they face the sternest of tests and the highest calibre of opposition they’ve not got what it takes?

Referee Will Finnie indicated a minimum of two minutes to be added to the first 45. The word many fans choose to ignore here is “minimum.” The two were up but he allowed, as most officials do, a corner to be taken. Goal.

Defending high balls into our box was again a glaring weakness. There were 13 players in or within touching distance of the six yard box. Our keeper plus seven outfield players and six white shirts. The corner was bent into the congestion. Kane Wilson stood in front of James Beadle. It doesn’t take much to pin our keeper in. Unlike most other teams our stopper didn’t have a teammate come to his assistance to try and manoeuvre the irritant away. James Collins headed on and Craig Forsyth was unmarked at the far post to easily side foot home with Stan Mills just letting him go. Very poor defending all round.

Some have claimed that this was the turning point. Derby now obviously went in with their tails up and Oxford more deflated than if our goal had not been breached. Truthfully though on balance of play a two goal lead would have been flattering. If that had been maintained would the second half have been a different affair? I’m not so sure.

At not only one nil down but also two nil Derby still very much believed that they had the ability to win. Their fans believed too. They remained behind them throughout this temporary setback and only once, on 37 minutes, was there a slight murmur of discontent when a backward pass was played although a forward more attacking one was clearly on.

I suspect that if Derby had still needed to score the three necessary to turn around the deficit in the second half they might still have done it.

Some have said that we played well during the whole of the first half except that last minute. I’m not so sure. We certainly weren’t bad and started like a house on fire but as the half wore on it became more and more Derby.

The final stats indicate their dominance and superiority as well as providing a surprise or two.

They had 66% possession and made 527 passes to our 299. They only made 49 long passes whereas we made 67. This suggests we weren’t able to keep the ball, were unable to play out from the back and must have knocked it long out of desperation a lot of the time because we have not got the armoury to do damage with such tactics over 90 minutes.

Their passing accuracy was 81% to our 68%. In the opposition half theirs was 64% and ours 52%.

We won two corners all game. They had 19. In the other 11 league games we’ve played at home this season the average number of corners our opponents have had is 3.2. Hapless Burton didn’t even get to take one.

We made 41 clearances to Derby’s 11. Their tackle success rate was 65% ours was 44%.

They committed 17 fouls to our four. Do we need to be dirtier and more cynical and just do what it takes to be winners?

And this one blew my mind: crosses us just 6; they made FIFTY THREE. Can this be true? And they were more accurate in doing so than we were – 32% to 17%.

The number of shots taken figure was not unexpected. We had 9 they had 21. We had more on target than they did though – six to five. That means we let in 60% of their accurate attempts that were not blocked.

You’ve probably gathered by now that I thought the writing was on the wall long before the score line was recording a Derby lead. We’d been on the ropes for what seemed like an eternity without going down so some credit due there. It was though a miracle that we hung on to the lead until the 81st minute.

When Tyler Goodrham didn’t reappear for the second period my pessimism only increased. As has been said many times James Henry has been a great servant to our football club and has to be commended for now having made over 600 first team appearances for football league clubs but this wasn’t a game for him. He’s not the player he was. The pace of this was way too fast for him. “Walking footballer” I heard someone murmur.

Goodrham being injured is a massive pisser and the same has to be said about Stan Mills. With his removal we had no pace whatsoever.

In the 70th minute it became even more a given that we were not going to get out of our own half for much more than a few seconds at a time when Mark Harris was withdrawn and Jordan Thorniley entered the fray.

I have huge sympathy for Des Buckingham because he had nothing to work with but did he really think we could go even more defensive and keep the marauding Rams at bay? Dilemma though because we were never going to be able to hold the ball up front and take the game to them and get them on the back foot. Plan A was never going to work. Nor plan B or any other plan for that matter.

Having held out for so long we crumbled again five minutes later. Our response was to bring Gatlin O’Donkor on for Marcus McGuane. About as much chance of that bringing about an equaliser as Auld Lang Syne not being sung as the clock strikes the beginning of 2024.

For all this negativity it would be unfair to gloss over how well we started. We went at them from the first whistle which is a departure from our usual considered approach. Getting the ball forward quicker brings risks but rewards. More likely to lose it but also more likely that opponents will make mistakes and we’ll benefit. This probably took Derby by surprise.

With not even a minute gone Harris had been clattered by keeper Joe Wildsmith. Our number 9 had knocked the ball past him and was probably not going to catch it before it went out of play. Wildsmith didn’t complain and accepted his booking before being sent the wrong way as Cameron Brannagan coolly slotted home from the spot.

In the 13th minute Brannagan doubled his tally to become our outright leading scorer in the league so far this season. Between these two goals though it should be noted that Derby had really come at us and had already started to notch up their corner count. A sign of things to come.

We though were looking good on the break and Mills, who had temporarily moved over to the left, brought the ball back across the edge of the area and went to ground. It looked a bit soft to me. A free kick was given and Brannagan put it away with aplomb. It was interesting to watch Harris’s behaviour in all this. As Wildsmith was attempting to line his wall up Harris was walking directly between him and that defensive set up to block his line of sight. When done Harris joined the edge of the wall. Probably a bit unnerving and confusing. Nice innovation. I’ve never spotted that before.

In the second half we may have given the impression of a lower league team hanging on for dear life against a side a few divisions above but there were two moments when we could have extended our lead. That we didn’t was down to us being rather crap when push came to shove.

In the 78th minute we took possession in our half and played the ball around well. For the first time Derby looked exposed.  McGuane ended up with the ball on the right just inside the Derby half with Sonny Bradley, who had only just come on, going across to try and stop him. Ruben Rodrigues had got clear of any marker and was well on side as he moved through the centre circle. He should have ended up through on goal. MM’s pass was shocking so nothing came of it.

It was encouraging though. A minute further on we looked potentially threatening again. More passing, a good run down the line and ball in from Joe Bennett. Henry got it completely wrong. He should have hit it with his right foot. Instead he just took a touch with that foot then just dinked it into Wildsmith’s arms with his left as two defenders slid in. At least keep the bloody shot low.

That didn’t go well and three minutes later it got worse then worse again.

The goal that made it 2-2 looked so easy. A poor Oxford clearance ended up only midway in our half at the feet of Conor Hourihane who had no yellow shirt within 20 yards of him.  Eiran Cashin (I hope his nickname is “the Attic”) whom he fed had nearly as much space himself. He clipped the ball in and Liam Thompson, who had only been brought on a minute before, went between Ciaron Brown and Bennett to head in from point blank range.

Eiran certainly did for the winner. Fin Stevens needlessly gave away a free kick out on the touch line. That’s a lack of discipline. In came another high ball which we didn’t defend. Cashin put this one in with his foot. It appears hours and hours of training ground work is needed in this regard and possibly much else too.

It’s hard to argue that Brannagan wasn’t a hero here with his two goals and whole hearted efforts. He’s one of those who you can term a “winner” even when he’s not. He’s got that mentality when he plays. Probably the same can be said about Brown. Those two get stuck in. I can’t really fault Elliott Moore and Harris for work rate either but some of the others never seemed to get tuned in to the requirements of a game like this. McGuane had his worst game for a long time. One description I heard was “dreadful”. For all his silky skills Rodrigues gets caught dawdling too often against the top sides. McEachran was nowhere near as effective as he had been against Cambridge. Derby and Cambridge. Chalk and cheese.

With none of the injured players, other than possibly Billy Bodin, back for the trip to the Valley and that list possibly having the names of Goodrham and Mills added to it I find it difficult to travel there in an optimistic frame of mind.


This entry was posted on Sunday, December 31st, 2023 at 10:39 pm and appears under Export, News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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