Today presented the final chance to see the Rams in action before next week’s season opener against Rotherham United. Rangers provided the opposition today.
Although I moaned about this friendly, I went along anyway.
First of all, it must be said that Rangers’ support was nothing short of magnificent. To provide over 8,000 fans for a pre-season friendly so far away illustrates the visceral support the club is fortunate to have at this period where the club is climbing back up the leagues.
I counted around three Israel flags and, most notably, there was strong support for the union ahead of their upcoming independence referendum with plenty of union flags and a huge banner (see below) spread across the width of the packed South Stand.
Anyway, onto the match. Jake Buxton missed out through a ‘slight strain’. Paul Simpson played down George Thorne’s injury and look where that got us! As a result of Buxton sitting out and fellow centre-backs Mark O’Brien and Zak Whitbread still being sidelines, Craig Forsyth moved over to centre-half and Lee Naylor slotted in at left-back.
The first-half saw Derby initially stamp their control and have their chances, exposing the Rangers defence as awful on occasions. However, the away side worked their way back into the half and mounted a bit of pressure, all without really testing Lee Grant.
After the break the Rams looked much more at home and held better spells of possession. Both goals came in the second 45 and began just over ten minutes into the half. Cyrus Christie picked out Chris Martin, who made no mistake in front of goal.
Martin and Derby’s second came all through Will Hughes, whose rampaging run through midfield ended in a smart pass to Derby’s number 9 who did the rest.
Pre-season friendlies aren’t known for horrific fouls or moments of rage by players but today the lanky Rangers number 3, Bilel Mohsni, playing at the heart of the Scottish side’s defence, decided to combat that normality.
I didn’t see the off-ball incident as I was following where the ball actually was but he did headbutt Chris Martin while still on the ground. Astonishing, especially for a friendly match. Unsurprisingly, he was given a straight red card.
I felt that he looked clumsy and calamitous throughout the game but that was something else. Martin can easily wind defenders up, as we saw last season.
Back to the Rams and their performance and it was certainly another good workout for the players with a good 2-0 win. The gulf in quality of the sides prevailed with Derby ultimately looking the most comfortable side and taking their chances.
Craig Forsyth in the position of centre-half certainly didn’t look out of place and I’m sure McClaren wouldn’t have any qualms about him filling in there in the event of an emergency. If Buxton’s injury is worse than what it has been first assessed as then the club would have to dip into the loan market for that position.
Defensive partner Richard Keogh had a couple of nervy moments again but there was a particular tackle that he made that was especially good. Overall, the defence wasn’t tested too much and generally held their own.
Chrsitie, the new signing at right-back, impressed today. He was very keen to get forward and always in space to receive the ball. There are no doubts that he is part of that popular breed of attacking full-backs. I’m still yet to see him tested much defensively.
The George Thorne role, pivotal to the team, has provided a lot of discussion for Rams fans recently and today Will Hughes played the full 90 in that position.
For me, he looked very good and, as perhaps expected, had a couple of off moments, yet, on the whole, stood out. The youngster put in a couple of wonderful tackles and wasn’t beaten easily in terms of strength against Kenny Miller. Also, he did charge forward despite his role to assist the second goal so hopefully he still has the chance to use his passing range to good attacking effect from that position.
After today I would expect him to continue in that position for the Championship opener next week. John Eustace played magnificently last year (obviously Thorne was a masisve upgrade but Eustace did play the majority of the season) and should be a good squad player over the course of the season. Still, I think it would be good to strengthen with a natural in that position.
Simon Dawkins was another standout performer today. The ex-Spurs winger drove forward and wasn’t afraid to run at the defence. Jeff Hendrick looked good, as did the lively Jamie Ward from the bench.
Lastly, Chris Martin was clinical. He took both of his goals well. It’s always hard to follow up a season like he had last year so, pleasingly, the signs are good so far.
Next week it’s down to the real stuff. Come on you Rams!