Last night Derby continued their impressive pre-season form with a 2-0 victory at Burton Albion.
A goal from Chris Martin just prior to the half-time mark and a late Conor Sammon headed-goal gave the Rams their deserved victory, which the Brewers didn’t make easy for the away side though. It could easily have been more, not just from open play but also from the penalty spot – Michael Jacobs stepped up and saw his penalty excellently saved by Chris Dunn. The fans cries were for Conor Sammon to take the spot-kick, maybe he should have taken it after all.
In the first half a 4-3-3 formation was tried out by the Rams. Grant began in goal, with the defensive foursome most likely to start the campaign in front of him – Brayford, Keogh, Buxton and Forsyth. The midfield trio were Hendrick, Eustace and Hughes. Coutts and Bryson were notable absentees due to minor knocks. Russell, Martin and Ward made up the attack.
I don’t think the 4-3-3 formation worked brilliantly in the first-half and I would be surprised to see it next Sunday when Blackburn Rovers visit Pride Park for the club’s season opener. Strikers Jamie Ward and Johnny Russell, on the far sides of the forward line to give width to the attack, didn’t see as much action but it’s worth experimenting with formations in pre-season.
The second period saw Nigel Clough revert the team to a 4-4-2, with Ward dropping into the midfield. It gave new signing Johnny Russell more to feed off up front. This certainly wasn’t his best pre-season friendly in a Rams shirt, nevertheless he was a lively man in the side. The second 45 was full of more opportunities on goal for both sides.
John Eustace, available on a free since departing from Watford, has verbally agreed a one-year deal with Derby and is expected to finalise the deal this week. Last night he played a role which saw him just behind Hughes and Hendrick as a deep midfielder. The ex-Hornets skipper linked the defence to the midfield through simple but effective passing in a tidy style, he wasn’t afraid to make a tackle either. His role in the team was superb and he looked a class act.
I was also very impressed with Chris Martin. I wasn’t wholly convinced by him when he was on loan, particularly towards the end of the season. The free transfer from Premier League Norwich looked comfortable on the ball and used his strength to battle hard. But, most of all, his awareness of those around him was brilliant. I really want him to start the season in the starting line-up. He earned his goal.
Will Hughes was given more freedom to roam in midfield due to Eustace’s deep role. He grasped that well and got himself heavily involved in the attacks. The youngster also showed he wasn’t afraid to have a pop at goal himself.
Honourable mentions must also go to goalkeeper Lee Grant and captain Richard Keogh. Grant looks very comfortable with his feet, which is as important as ever for ‘keepers now, and his hands. The signing from Burnley, now into his second stint as a Ram, is also vocal with his defence. Keogh remained a commanding figure at the back, winning plenty of loose balls.
Overall, I was quite impressed with the Rams. They moved the ball around the pitch well. 15 goals in 4 matches, along with 4 wins, is a good record to boast in pre-season. Next up is West Brom at Pride Park on Saturday for the final first-team friendly and a good test against Steve Clarke’s Premier League side.
There’s every reason to feel positive ahead of the new season, which seems to be coming around incredibly quickly!
Up the Rams!