Today the Rams welcomed the fiery Steve Evans’s Rotherham United side to Pride Park to kick off the new season.
The headlines from the team news was Jake Buxton’s return from injury and Will Hughes retaining the ‘Thorne role’ after looking assured in the Rangers friendly last week. The two loan signings of the week, Leon Best and Omar Mascerall, were on the bench.
Greeted by the roar of a 30,000-strong crowd, the Rams really started on the front foot and, for the first few minutes, gave the Millers a torrid welcome to life in the Championship. At that point, my £2 on 4-0 wasn’t looking bad at all!
Soon Rotherham settled down and the match evened out a little. Both sides had their chances and we were even treated to Paul Green, ex-Ram and now the away side’s midfield engine, squaring up to Richard Keogh! The half ended with a fair outcome, even if both sides should have capitalised on their chances.
It was much clearer who the better side was in the second-half. Derby attacked and attacked, threading some good passes together, but, on the other hand, the visitors’ persistence and strong back-line demonstrated their credentials for the season.
Although Rotherham lacked that piece of quality in the final third and in the key midfield areas at times, they were a very hard-working side, as you’d imagine from Steve Evans (you wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him, would you?). It was good to get a glimpse of how Ben Pringle had progressed since leaving Pride Park and it’s fair to say he looked dangerous on the rare occasions he had the chance to whip in a cross.
Omar Mascerall, Leon Best and Jamie Ward were all introduced as the hosts looked to score a winner. Eventually the winner arrived with just around ten minutes to go. Cyrus Christie charged forward, not for the first time, waited patiently to find the right pass and did so when he found Jeff Hendrick, who gratefully steered the ball home with a great finish. I know I’m not alone in anticipating him being a shining light for the Rams this season and probably scoring a similar amount to Craig Bryson’s impressive total of last season.
Hendrick’s goal sparked a nervy ending for Rams fans with Lee Grant being forced into action and Craig Forsyth called into making a clearance off the goal line.7
In the end, it was a deserved victory for Derby, even though they weren’t at their best, but, had it been a side with a little more quality, they could have left the ground without the three points. The second 45 saw McClaren’s side have more extended spells of possession. All in all, there can’t be any real complaints; the side came through a typically tight Championship match with a moment of brilliance and I can say with confidence that it won’t be the only time.
My man of the match is summer signing Cyrus Chrsitie. Firstly, his attacking mentality and drive to go forward was marvellous. Each time he got in the opponents’ half he looked a threat. Secondly, he held firm in defence. The 21-year-old can only get better and clearly he’ll continue to develop under the stewardship of the coaching staff.
It certainly wasn’t hard to see why he has arrived with such a good reputation already and a high rating for the future.
Also looking good was Will Hughes. Last week he stood out but he was against a much weaker opposition in my view so the big question was could he repeat it in the highly competitive Championship. This week the England Under-21 international was in good form.
In addition, the back four and Grant looked assured today and shut out Rotherham in their advances. However, not everyone impressed to the same extent and there were tough times in breaking down the sturdy Millers defence. It’s early days though.
Mascerall, on as a sub, played the majority of the second period. The Madrid star was always available to receive the ball. A full 90 minutes in the upcoming League Cup tie at Carlisle will be a good way to indoctrinate him into the thrills and spills of English football beneath the top flight.
Best came on out wide and looked quite sharp, as did Jamie Ward, also a sub. I can see a lot of switching between the players occupying those roles over the course of the season.
The Rams march on to the next one. Up the Rams!