Yesterday the Rams battled against fellow play-off chasers Brighton and Hove Albion and emerged with a hard-fought 1-0 victory.
The visitors parked their bus in their own half early on, setting out as an away side playing on the break when they could. Derby did manage to have plenty of the ball but didn’t dissect the Seagulls’ defence often enough. There were some good ball-winners and a usually organised defence in the way of the hosts, who had the fortune of the dangerous Ulloa being completely isolated and marked out the game.
After a shambolic display against league leaders Leicester City last week, normal service was resumed in Steve McClaren’s back-line. Fit again skipper Richard Keogh came in for Manchester United loanee Michael Keane and showed exactly why he’s been sorely missed.
Keogh brought back in air of calm to the back four and put in some excellent tackles, as well as a couple of bursts forward. His solidity made a clean sheet in little doubt, a definite man of the match. Jake Buxton and Andre Wisdom also put in good shifts. Moreover, Lee Grant deserves a mention for a couple of reaction saves.
It’s been acknowledged as a mistake putting Jeff Hendrick in the holding role for the Leicester game, as a result John Eustace was given the nod today and again showed why his signing on a free was a shrewd piece of business.
The ex-Watford captain held everything together, put in some smart challenges and, in usual Eustace fashion, make a few fouls for the team. Back in the side and back to basics, he really is a cracking player – the experience that was needed in a very talented and youthful midfield.
Again McClaren made game-changing subs. Not settled with a 0-0 stalemate, two forwards were brought into the fray and made a difference. Jeff Hendrick was also brought on and slotted in at right-back.
The Chelsea youngster was a lively addition to the side at 0-0. His free-kick was among the worst I’ve witnessed all season (NASA is investigating claims that it is orbiting high above) but we can forget that due to his sublime curling finish to grab all three points.
Not Pretty But Enough
Derby have won prettier before and will win in much better fashion in times to come but winning with less style shows they can grind it out when necessary. Brighton were in the play-offs going into the game and never mind things easy, however it was a deserved victory.
The Rams remain in fourth place, five points off the top two and now eight points above seventh place. It’s vitally important that the gap continues to consolidate. Next up is Blackburn Rovers at Ewood next week.