Yesterday Derby County opened their 2013/14 campaign with a 1-1 draw at Pride Park against Blackburn Rovers.
Jamie Ward’s deep free-kick from the far side was met by Alex Marrow’s hand, referee Stuart Attwell (he sounds familiar, doesn’t he?) pointed to the spot. Johnny Russell converted the penalty just a few minutes prior to the interval. Rovers hit back with substitute and Nottingham man Leon Best scoring an exquisite volley moments before full-time.
The first-half was quite even. Blackburn were quick and did have a string of ultimately unsuccessful corners but as the influential Ruben Rochina was carried off injured the Rams stamped more control onto the game. The Lancashire side’s summer signing Alan Judge was particularly impressive, it’s thought that Derby have watched the former Notts County midfielder in the past. Chris Martin’s left-footed effort was expertly saved by Jake Kean.
Rovers were quick out the blocks in the second 45, clearly worrying Rams boss Nigel Clough. Derby sat back too soon and it didn’t pay off, something that’s proved costly in matches last season. Johnny Russell was perhaps taken off to soon, it made Derby’s intentions to sit back clear. However Clough said “We did not intend to sit back, it is just that Blackburn played very well on the day. We had enough chances in the second half to get the second goal but overall a draw was probably fair.”
Craig Bryson stood off Chris Taylor, who provided the cross for Best’s goal, too much – allowing Taylor to pick his spot in the box. Lee Grant, largely impressive again, couldn’t do anything about the volley.
Strikers Johnny Russell and Chris Martin were both impressive. Russell’s penalty was calmly struck, his movement and liveliness made him a nuisance for Blackburn at times. Martin’s strength and ability to aid Russell and bring others into play was on show at times, the ex-Norwich forward continues to impress.
Jamie Ward also deserves a mention as playing well. I thought he was pretty poor in the friendly against West Brom but yesterday he showed his class on the ball as a constant in the Rams’ attacks.
The defence were, on the whole, pretty solid. Going forward, Richard Keogh did have a second-half goal rightly disallowed for offside. They were always going to have their hands full with £8 million striker Jordan Rhodes on the pitch and then substitute Leon Best. Rhodes was kept quiet, credit to Derby’s defence – still perhaps a position that needs its centre bolstering.
The squad depth and flexibility was good to see yesterday. I was disappointed that Hendrick started wide right as he, like Bryson and Hughes, always seem out of place there – nevertheless it was adapted with his team mates to suit the different situations the match provoked. Bringing quality, such as Paul Coutts and John Eustace, off from the bench is an excellent attribute that Derby couldn’t boast last season.
The Rams ultimately didn’t have a big enough sponge to soak up all of Rovers’ pressure. Having said that, it was a fair result and it wasn’t a bad start to the season. It’s also worth mentioning that the Rams fans behind the South Stand goal made a difference to the atmosphere – it’s new this season to supporters. They even managed to provoke some away fans into seemingly attempting to charge into the home end.
Next up is a trip to Oldham Athletic tomorrow in the first round of the League Cup. The Latics are in League One and enter the game full of confidence following a 4-3 opening day win at Stevenage. They’ve also had an extra day to prepare for the match and recover from the previous one due to Derby’s televised slot on Sunday.
Jose Baxter is the one to watch for the home side. The attacking midfield used to play for Everton and has represented England at under-17 level. He bagged a brace on Saturday in his side’s victory.
Oldham boss Lee Johnson is preparing for his first League Cup match as a manager. He was appointed back in March and is quite a youngster, aged 32, in the sometimes crazy world of football management. Johnson spent a loan spell at Derby under Clough back in 2010. This season he’ll be looking to emulate the success of his father Gary, who achieved promotion with Yeovil last season.
Derby are looking to break their horrible run of form in the competition. Four consecutive first round defeats in the League Cup, all to lower league oppositions, have been extremely frustrating. Last season’s defeat was a nightmare to forget, Scunthorpe recovered from both 3-0 and 5-3 down to eventually win on penalties. Nigel Clough will be looking to put that behind him as he bids to win his first League Cup match in charge of Derby, who last won in the competition in that famous 1-0 victory over Manchester United at Pride Park in 2009. Although appointed that evening, Clough wasn’t yet in charge of the side.
Surely the Rams can break their League Cup duck this season.
Come on you Rams!