Nigel Clough opted to start with an attack minded and flexible line-up, with the attacking trio of Jamie Ward, Conor Sammon and new loan signing Chris Martin all starting. The line-up did suggest it could be a 4-3-3 formation but, instead, Sammon and Martin began as the two strikers and Ward operated from the left wing. John Brayford went back to his usual position at right-back as the hosts welcomed back both Jake Buxton and Gareth Roberts to the starting eleven.
The Rams were quick out the blocks, starting the game on the front foot and seeing a couple of slight chances miss the target. The Eagles also got in a couple of early chances prior to their 13th minute goal. Yannick Bolasie was first to latch on to a loose ball, beating Derby defender Richard Keogh for pace, and taking the ball around goalkeeper Adam Legzdins to put the visitors in the lead. The ex-Burton man perhaps should have done better in being more decisive to come to grab the ball straight away, some will argue. His hesitation probably cost us that goal, is it time for Frank Fielding to return? I think so.
A move shortly after saw the Eagles go mightily close, with Mile Jedinak smashing the ball against the crossbar. Despite all this it was Derby who were the dominant side, with Palace remaining a threat on the break with their incredible pace in the likes of England international Wilfried Zaha, who had an effort miss the goal completely and go out for a Derby throw-in! (Have Manchester United wasted their money?!)
A few minutes prior to half-time the home side suffered a huge blow when top goalscorer Jamie Ward was substituted for what seemed like a hamstring injury. That certainly is a massive problem for the Rams, Ward has been the main goal threat since his injury return. He’ll now be assessed in the next 24/48 hours and could be out of action for a couple of weeks.
Nigel Clough’s side continued to press right up until the half-time whistle, former Eagles striker Chris Martin saw his effort saved and full-back John Brayford drove his ball into the woodwork. In the final stages Bolasie beat Legzdins again but this time midfielder Craig Bryson came to the rescue and cleared the goal-bound ball away from the net.
As the half-time whistle blew Derby went into the break not deserving to be 1-0 down, while Ian Holloway’s side could find themselves very lucky to head back into the changing rooms with their lead intact. DCFC could also be unhappy about some decisions by referee Andrew Madley – shouts for a couple of penalties were waved away, leaving some support furious – particularly when Chris Martin appeared to be brought down wrongly.
The Rams were the quickest side out the blocks in the second half, attacking in front of the home faithful in the North Stand. Substitute Michael Jacobs used his strength to outwit the Palace defence and passed the ball to striker Conor Sammon, who couldn’t capitalize and squandered his chance – with goalkeeper Julian Speroni picking up the pieces for the away side.
Crystal Palace sub Jonathan Williams saw his shot denied, in what was quite a rare attack for the Eagles. At this point Derby were seeing much more of the ball, getting it forward and doing all the right things, controlling the automatic promotion-chasing opposition.
DCFC continued to pile on the pressure, testing the organised defence of the visitors. Michael Jacobs saw his free-kick agonisedly miss the Rams’ attack and trickle wide, the former Northampton winger also saw his volley go the wrong side of the post. John Brayford also had an effort saved. Shortly after, manager Nigel Clough brought on Mason Bennett and Ben Davies, in replace of Chris Martin and Paul Coutts, in a bid to find an equalising goal.
Within only a few minutes of taking his place on the field, Davies was brought down inside Crystal Palace’s box – leaving the referee to point to the spot, presenting Derby with a fantastic chance to bring the score-line level on 87 minutes. Conor Sammon stepped up to take the penalty, usual spot kick taker Jamie Ward had been substituted, with many of the home crowd fearing the worst with a player without a goal since the 5-0 win over Tranmere Rovers in early January. The penalty was fired down the middle, Speroni saved it onto the crossbar to keep the score at 1-0 to the travelling team.
After the Eagles managed to clear a couple of late crosses from the desperate Derby the whistle blew, much to thee relief of Ian Holloway and his team, ending 1-0 to Palace.
There’s no question that it was an undeserving victory and that the Rams should have, at the very least, got a point out of it. There are positives again, Derby controlled and dominated one of the best sides in the league but, ultimately, it’s the result that counts. Everything was there but the finishing, which must be improved.
The defeat also means that the supporters can probably wave good bye to any slim hopes of finishing inside the play-offs, the Rams are 8 points off both the top 6 and bottom 3 (before matches on Saturday 2nd March).
One debate that all DCFC fans have an opinion in is the Conor Sammon saga. I think he works tirelessly for the team and helps create opportunities for others but he isn’t a good finisher at all, Derby are crying out for a good finisher at this time. Perhaps with more fans off his back and more behind him he’ll have better confidence, which is seemingly what he is lacking now. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s heading that way, more supporters are getting fed up and his penalty miss wouldn’t have helped his case.
The game was my first chance to watch new loan signing Chris Martin in the black and white of Derby and I was very impressed. He worked hard for the team, got himself in some good positions and can provide the rest of the players with the extra spark in the forward line. I certainly hope his loan is extended beyond a month, particularly with Theo Robinson and Nathan Tyson both out on loan elsewhere in the Championship.
John Brayford was back to his usual self at right-back, getting forward and developing some attacks. I was also impressed with Michael Jacobs, who came on as a substitute, he proved quite effective from the left hand side. With Ward’s new injury absence I hope that Jacobs gets the nod to come in and replace him. However, Nigel Clough hasn’t ruled out another loan signing.
Derby now face a trip to the league leaders Cardiff City on Tuesday night. Cardiff hasn’t proved to be a place for results for the Rams in recent times, let’s hope that can change. Put this game behind us, which positives can still be taken from, and get behind the Rams for the remainder of the season!