Derby County were defeated yesterday in their final pre-season friendly at Pride Park. West Bromwich Albion were 2-0 winners, courtesy of a sweet strike from Graham Dorrans from 25 yards out and a close range effort from Markus Rosenberg.
The Rams were priorly unbeaten in pre-season but had faced lower league oppositions so the West Midlands side provided a tougher test ahead of the new season. Paul Coutts and Mason Bennett were absent from the squad, Coutts is expected to be fit for next week’s curtain raiser and Bennett has a rib injury. The home side were by no means played off the park and the scoreline doesn’t quite reflect their performance.
In the heat at Pride Park, Derby showed impressive signs – the team’s build-up play through the midfield was there but they struggled with the final touch into the box and shots, testament to the organised away defensive play. Play through the midfield was sharp and encouraging at times. Will Hughes was Nigel Clough’s best in midfield, he kept possession well and was also quick to find a pass. As ever, Craig Bryson’s energy and commitment was there for show. However Jamie Ward didn’t have a good game, little of the play went though him.
At times it was clear which side were the Premier League side. West Brom’s slickness on the ball and organisation was good. I was particularly impressed with Nicolas Anelka, a one-time Champions League winner and new signing, who’s positioning, constant movement and quick passes were effective. Albion gave the Rams’ back four a good test today.
It was Kieron Freeman that filled the right-back void following John Brayford’s departure. There was certainly less of him going forward, he didn’t have the ball at his feet much but, when he did, I don’t think he was at his best – maybe unsettled by circulating reports that the Rams are soon to announce a loan deal for a Premier League right-back.
As much as the Rams were a threat, Steve Clarke’s team were slightly more of a threat going forward – the added quality of their position in the football hierarchy was clear.
Lee Grant again shone for me. He wasn’t producing top corner finger-tip saves but his sharpness was clear, he was quick off his line and alert – making a couple of comfortable saves. The former Owl is a superb acquisition, he’s the steady number one that was certainly required after last season’s ‘two number ones’.
Jeff Hendrick spent a large part of the game out on the right wing in a midfield four as Nigel Clough opted to settle with the 4-4-2 formation after an experimental 45 minutes with 4-3-3 at the Pirelli Stadium on Tuesday. Will Hughes also drifted over to the right. As Paul Coutts is expected to be fit for the Blackburn match then he’s certainly a lead contender for that position – leaving the problem of which one of Bryson, Hendrick and Hughes you drop (assuming Ward’s on the left in a 4-4-2). The Irishman clearly wasn’t at home in right midfield.
The strikers were alert but goals did unfortunately elude them. New signing Johnny Russell was quick and problematic but he had little chances on goal. Chris Martin showed his strength and awareness, but not to the good extent he did on Tuesday – largely down to the tougher opposition. The ex-Norwich frontman still looks much better than he did in his loan spell, a real menace for opponents. Substitute Conor Sammon was bright when he came on. He’s often a good man to bring on at a late stage, as a defence tires down Sammon can make them work right until the bitter end.
So not a dazzling pre-season friendly, apart from Wets Brom’s first goal. Positive signs were there but not in a huge abundance. The who should play where for the midfield needs to be resolved. Elsewhere, next week’s opposition, Blackburn, were defeated 3-1 by Everton.