I hate football. Again.
A trip to Derby on the telly looked likely to be a solid test of the newly assembled City squad and when asked before the game I predicted a narrow defeat on that basis. Not in my worst nightmares did I foresee the sort of capitulation we made a habit of this time last year.
There wasn’t a player who had a good night and the same goes for the manager. He chose to change the 3-4-3 formation that worked so well against Bolton and left David Meyler out of the midfield for Markus Henriksen. Unless Meyler was literally seconds from death, this was the wrong decision.
Aina – Dawson – Hector – Kingsley
Larsson – Henriksen
Bowen – Toral – Grosicki
If you’re thinking that midfield looks too soft for an away game in the Championship, you’re absolutely right. Derby’s fans have been downhearted at their start to the season and lack of transfer activity but on paper, they look a decent side. They’ve experience at the back with Davies and Keogh, quality in midfield in Huddlestone and Johnson and pace and flair up front and out wide from the likes of Wiemann, Lawrence and Vydra.
City started well and for the first half an hour there was no sign of the horror that was about to unfold. With both sides feeling each other out, we passed the ball around confidently, made the pitch wide and started to assert ourselves on the game, forcing a couple of corners and winning the second balls around the box. Then Henriksen gifted them possession in our half on 15, Aina fouled clumsily and Vydra stepped up to hit a free kick that we knew would go in two minutes before he hit it because McGregor doesn’t save free kicks [1-0]. It was shambolic all round but McGregor’s habit of guessing the wrong way was decisive.
The goal didn’t deter City and we continued to dominate possession but without hurting Derby. Grosicki wandered around looking for the ball rather than staying wide and Dicko had as little effect as Diomande does around the box. From nowhere on 25 mins, Lawrence pulled down Aina at the back post as he tried to meet Grosicki’s cross and City were awarded a penalty. Seb Larsson stepped up to take it and, unforgivably, chipped it over the bar. It was a dreadful effort and the start of a complete collapse. Henriksen jogged around hopefully and passed to them as often as us. Larsson’s impression of Tom Huddlestone was passable against a poor Bolton side but utterly ineffective here. Jon Toral was also in midfield, in theory.
Derby went further in front through a nicely worked goal from their point of view but another hideous one from ours. Hector took himself out of the game, Nugent ran in behind Dawson with Kingsley struggling to cover and laid the ball off for Vydra to smash home untroubled by our midfield [2-0]. Worryingly, it got much worse before half time. Curtis Davies headed in from a right-wing corner after finding himself completely unmarked on the six yard line [3-0]. McGregor made a decent save at his near post and as the resulting corner was recycled, they crossed again from their right and Johnson arrived at the back post to tap in [4-0]. We didn’t stop crosses, didn’t mark properly and didn’t track runners. We’d gone. Shoulders slumped. Faces blank. The absence of anyone with the gumption to tell the rest that they’re a f****** shower of s**** another worry.
The second half was barely worth reporting on. Bowen headed wide after a nice run took him onto Hector’s cross, Grosicki shot wide from close range with his left foot and Meyler curled just over amongst other City chances but Derby rarely looked flustered. Perhaps because they went five up near the hour when Hector twisted, turned, flicked the ball up in the air and eventually smacked it straight down the centre of the pitch where Johnson pounced on it and passed the ball into the bottom corner with his left foot [5-0]. Shocking defending from a player who has started the season brightly but looked way out of his depth against quality opposition.
Slutsky’s decision to wait 66 minutes before attempting to make a substitution was baffling. Irvine, Diomande and Meyler replaced Toral, Dicko and Grosicki in quick succession and Irvine and Meyler will go down as by far our best players on the night. How Henriksen and Larsson evaded the hook is beyond me. I’m getting close to writing Henriksen off. We’ve waited for him to settle and waited through injuries. Now the opposition are worse than last season and he still looks inept.
I don’t think this game told us anything we don’t already know but it did hammer home just how far this squad has to go. We know it’s been cobbled together far too late and needs time to gel. There is a lack of leadership and know-how. Of the few experienced players we’ve got, too many go missing when the going gets tough and always have.
It’s not all gloomy – we know there is talent in the squad. Even on a terrible night we had the majority of the possession and 18 shots on goal. The game reminded me of the 4-1 defeat at Leeds under Nigel Pearson. With the ball, we looked superior that night, but were punished for mistakes and wasted chances. We grew as a team that season and I think we will this season. We’re not a promotion challenging team though. Nowhere near.
The fans were outstanding. The game just got in the way. I hate football.
Rick Skelton (via Tiger Chat)