By Andrew Butterwick
The watery late autumn sun was shining brightly as I gunned the car south for our clash with Steve McClaren's Rams. The Happy Chocker, Quiet One, Beady and Dale were all on board as we tried to 2nd guess the outcome of the latest Derby Leeds showdown, a fixture rich in nostalgia and keen rivalry stretching back to the early 70's when a certain Mr Clough relished going toe to toe with the Don both on and off the pitch. Of late this game has been as one sided as it gets as the Rams have reeled off 9 straight wins against the mighty whites. Those were already potent ingredients for an exciting game but adding the extra twist of the sacking of Clough junior and replacing him with the "Wally with the Brolly" has brought this recipe to an intriguing boil. Will McClaren benefit from the "new manager" syndrome or will he become the first manager to lose to Leeds in 10 games?
Of course the championship road has been a rocky one for Leeds in the last few games as their early season promise disintegrated on the rocks of poor finishing and less than impressive defending of balls flying into their box. Brian McD was a relieved man after Tuesday's victory against 10 man Bournemouth but as he admitted the result was more important than the performance. So were we confident of a getting a long overdue result against the Rams? Well judging from the feedback in the car not really with HC predicting a 3.0 reverse on the back of last week's awful showing at Millwall.
Brian McD stuck with the starting line up against Bournemouth with Hunt once again partnering Ross Mac up front. Wootton appears to have disappeared off the face of the earth? The 4,000 travelling fans were nervously quiet as the game kicked off. We couldn't possibly lose a 10th straight game to the Rams could we? The early exchanges were surprisingly open. The battle of the two wunderkids, Mowatt & Hughes, started with young Mowatt showing his excellent touch and balance on the ball in sharp contrast to his colleagues around him. But it was Hughes who so nearly claimed the first goal as he took advantage of a horrendous mix up between Kenny and his defence but his angled chip into the open goal ended up on the roof of the net with Peltier desperately covering back. Shortly after Keogh flashed a header over the bar from a corner as Leeds showed some all too familiar signs of porous defending.
Leeds did fashion a couple of attacks that had the home defence struggling but Austin wasted a golden chance to score when he was free in the box but failed to keep his shot down. With 15 minutes gone I couldn't see this staying 0.0. Ward was breaking quickly for the home team and twice he troubled Kenny with crosses. The Leeds midfield was disjointed though with Green playing in the pivotal defensive role and Tonge and Austin out wide and Mowatt roaming free. On twenty minutes Leeds paid dearly for their lack of cohesion in midfield. Ex-Derby player Green fiddled about on the centre circle and gifted the ball to his ex team mate allowing Derby to break quickly............Bryson drove into the box only to be closed down by three defenders.............problem was Martin was now unmarked on the penalty spot and when Bryson tapped the ball to him he gratefully converted the simple chance. 1.0 Derby and HC was soon repeating his pessimistic 3.0 prediction.
Pride Park was now rocking and on their next attack Derby got a soft 2nd goal as Russell benefited from a swift one two on the edge of the box and finished easily past the flailing Kenny. 2.0 Derby and still a hell of a long way to go. Derby's counter attacking system was obliterating Leeds. Their speed on the flanks caused Leeds plenty of problems whilst at the other end the only shining star in a gold shirt was Mowatt. He carved out a chance for Ross Mac who was unlucky not to convert as Leeds stuttered back into the game. Green continued to struggle though and Austin looked awkward out on the right. Tonge created some space and got his shot away to test the home goalie but the two home centre backs seemed to be comfortable in repelling any Leeds attacks. The dreaded sequence of straight wins for Derby seemed set to continue. Then just before half time Leeds got a much needed life line. A deep cross from Peltier was headed back into the box by Green for Pearce to finish. 2.1 and a sniff of hope for the travelling army.
The half time whistle blew. After last week's hugely disappointing performance at Millwall there wasn't much that Leeds had done to persuade the faithful that this week was going to be any different. I sat down with a heavy heart to try and think of any positives. Mowatt looked good but that was about it. Where were the goals going to come from? Why can't we mark tighter and exactly what are the midfield playing at?
The 2nd half kicked off. McClaren's tactics of sitting back and picking Leeds off on the break worked perfectly. Yes Mowatt and then Austin had shots from distance but it was the Rams who looked far more dangerous as they sliced through and ineffective Leeds midfield time and time again. The disillusionment of the travelling fans showed as Leeds failed to put Derby under any real pressure. On the hour Smith and Poleon replaced Hunt and Green shortly followed by Diouf for Tonge. This at least created some spark in the Leeds attack but not for long. On 78 minutes yet more Sunday League defending allowed Hughes space to dance through the Leeds box and finish in style. 3.1 and game over. Leeds were lucky not to concede more before the final whistle as the rejuvenated Rams revelled in their 10th straight win over the once mighty whites.
Very little went right for Leeds today with the one exception of Mowatt. Green, Austin and Tonge were completely outplayed whilst at the back slack marking was the order of the day with only Tom Lees showing anything like acceptable form. The march back to the car was at break neck speed as I fumed at the woeful Leeds display. The Derby fans were loving it though as they might be. The "new manager" syndrome had worked for them and this victory together with their remarkable comeback against Ipswich will boost their confidence. As for Leeds we are struggling big time. Brian McD has a big job on his hands as the dark days of winter approach.
At least we won't lose next weekend.
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