Break at a bad time for sleepy Rams as they are caught out be early goal
A QUESTION managers are often asked ahead of a two-week interruption for international matches is: Has the break from League action come at a good or bad time?
Derby County's sluggish and ultimately costly first-half display against Huddersfield Town provided a clear answer on this occasion.
The break came at very much the wrong time.
They went into it buzzing. Four points from six against Wolves and Watford included a shedload of goals in swatting the Hornets 5-1. The Rams' passing was crisp, their play sharp and highly-encouraging.
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But the sharpness and brightness was nowhere to be seen when they emerged from the tunnel at the John Smith's Stadium to face Huddersfield on Saturday.
Their performance in the opening 45 minutes was like nothing we had seen from them in the previous games.
This game lasted 90 minutes plus stoppage time but the decisive moment came after only 46 seconds.
Derby's coach had been caught in traffic on the way to the stadium and the players were caught cold on the pitch.
One second they had possession in Huddersfield's half, the next they were in trouble and back-pedalling as Adam Hammill, on his home debut, accepted an invitation to run in space on the right.
Hammill teased James O'Connor and delivered a centre towards Danny Ward, who timed his dart across Richard Keogh and flicked a volley from six yards into the roof of the net.
It was a fine finish because the centre flashed to him around waist height but to be caught so open, so early was poor on Derby's part.
They have played six games this season – five in the League, one in the Capital One Cup – and have yet to register a clean sheet.
Understandably, The goal lifted newly-promoted Huddersfield and left the Rams searching for a higher gear they never located in the rest of the half.
Conor Sammon was denied by Peter Clarke's block as Derby slowly started to find their feet but their decision-making in the final third lacked clear thinking.
Derby improved from the moment early in the second half when they switched Will Hughes from the left-hand side to a more central midfield role in a 4-5-1 shape.
From there, he was able to get on the ball and influence the game.
The 17-year-old provided a pattern to the passing and although Frank Fielding had to move sharply to keep out Adam Clayton's raking drive, the second period belonged to Derby.
They started to move the ball quicker and forced a number of corners but for all their possession, there was no end product. They failed to work goalkeeper Alex Smithies.
Keogh was annoyed with himself when he headed wide and Conor Doyle needed to show more composure when he sliced his shot into the crowd following good work by Jamie Ward.
It was not an easy chance because the ball came to him quickly at the back post but in a game of precious few chances, he had to do better.
Doyle was in for his first start in 10 months and was used on the right, where the energy and threat the absent Paul Coutts can provide was missed.
Some Derby fans among the 2,500 who gave tremendous backing felt it necessary to cheer when Doyle was replaced just after the hour.
The 20-year-old has struggled to make an impact in his first-team outings, although such a reaction from supporters is never nice to hear and is counter-productive.
Shouts for penalties came and went and Derby's players and fans claimed Smithies handled the ball outside the box as Sammon closed in.
While it might seem churlish to criticise referee Trevor Kettle, he did not have a good afternoon.
He missed some obvious fouls in the first half when play became fiery and his failure to allow an obvious advantage to Huddersfield late on rather summed up his display.
Derby barely allowed Huddersfield out of their half in the second period.
When a team are under pressure and are not seeing much of the ball, the key is to remain solid and not to concede, which is what the home side did and the Rams could not pick the lock.
Theo Robinson was introduced and defender Jake Buxton, the side's leading scorer, was sent on up front to add a physical presence.
It was all to no avail.
Ward scuffed a shot harmlessly wide as time ticked away and it became clear that the slow start would scupper Derby in an instantly forgettable game.
That was deeply frustrating because Huddersfield were no better on the day.