Derby County fail to cross the fine lines again as they fall to in-form Watford
FOUR of Derby County's last five defeats have been by the same 2-1 scoreline.
They have tackled Hull City, twice, Brighton and now Watford – all promotion hopefuls – and have been left frustrated.
They have stood toe-to-toe with their opponents in periods of games and yet finished on the wrong end of the result.
The fine lines that tend to decide matches in the Championship have been more evident than ever in recent weeks, as the Rams have failed to win in five League outings and have recorded only one victory in the last eight.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Friday, May 31 2013
Derby need to start emerging from the tight battles with some reward, in points terms.
That is their task in the final dozen games. They need to break what has become a pattern
"Very simple things – basics – win or lose football matches, most of the time," Rams manager Nigel Clough told me as we stood outside the Press room at Vicarage Road while Gianfranco Zola concluded his media duties following Watford's third win in eight days.
Watford, in the end, edged Saturday's clash 2-1 to move into second place and Zola's team are bang in form, having taken 13 points from 15 this month.
Derby have collected three from 15.
How do they turn close contests in their favour?
Certain things have to improve.
Their decision-making and quality in the final third let them down on Saturday and their passing was awfully sloppy at times. Too many unforced errors when in possession resulted in momentum being lost.
They also conceded from a corner.
That is always infuriating, more so when it has happened a number of times in recent weeks.
Falling short on the basics means the commendable graft and terrific spirit being shown by the players, as well as the lion's share of possession they often enjoy, is being wasted.
Derby's positive approach saw them use a 4-3-3 system in which Conor Sammon was flanked by Jamie Ward and Michael Jacobs but Watford were the better side in the first half.
They led by one at the break, although the home side should have scored at least three.
They went close twice inside the opening 10 minutes.
Czech Republic international Matej Vydra wriggled between Derby's centre-backs and was denied by Adam Legzdins before Alex Geijo lifted the loose ball high and wide of an unguarded net.
Legzdins pushed out a firm drive from Marco Cassetti as Watford, bright and lively, continued on the front foot.
Clough and coach Andy Garner spent most of the early minutes in the technical area barking out instructions to press Watford higher up the pitch and stop them playing out from the back.
The tactic started to work.
A Jamie Ward shot flashed wide and Michael Jacobs squandered an excellent opportunity when he declined to shoot and then failed to pick out Craig Bryson.
Rather than possibly being one up, Derby went one down after 35 minutes.
Joel Ekstrand and Ikechi Anya missed glorious chances for the Hornets before Vydra fired them ahead with his 20th goal of the campaign.
He took up possession just inside the Derby half and advanced with too much pace for the trailing midfielders. He reached the edge of the area and let fly with a left-foot strike that beat Legzdins. The ball hit the inside of a post and rolled into the opposite corner of the net.
Vydra was one of eight loan signings in Watford's 11, courtesy of a loophole that surely needs to be closed.
Loan deals arranged with foreign teams are recognised as transfers, meaning there is no limit to the number of loanees from overseas.
Fair play to Watford for taking advantage but having said all that, the best loanee on the pitch was a domestic loan, midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah from Chelsea. The 18-year-old looks a player of immense promise.
Watford lost their goalkeeper and skipper, Manuel Almunia, to injury just before the break. His replacement, Jonathan Bond, denied Bryson but he was not overly stretched in the rest of the game.
Derby made a double change at the interval. Jake Buxton came on for the injured Michael Hoganson and new loan signing Chris Martin was handed his debut, in place of Jacobs.
Another reshuffle at the back saw Buxton go to centre-back, John Brayford move to right-back and Ben Davies switch to left-back.
Martin became the focal point of a three-man attack, Sammon moved to the right and the Rams pushed Watford back for most of the half.
The spirit and effort cannot be faulted but they were caught by a sucker punch after 68 minutes.
Almen Abdi delivered a corner, Sammon lost his man and Ekstrand forced the ball home from six yards without needing the cleanest of connections. It was a soft goal to add to the list of poor goals conceded in recent weeks.
Watford are the top scorers in all four divisions. They do not need a helping hand to find the net.
Sammon was replaced by 16-year-old Mason Bennett, who made an impact, and Martin added touch and control to the forward play.
Derby were back in it after 73 minutes when Richard Keogh, totally committed in his defensive work, was pushed by Marco Cassetti at a corner and Ward drilled his spot kick down the middle of the goal, giving Bond no chance.
Ward has scored Derby's last four goals and the striker has 11 for the season, despite missing more than three months with injury.
Watford, like all teams, looked less comfortable when pressured but they survived a jittery finale in which Ward was inches away from connecting with a centre from Paul Coutts.
Last season, the Rams won 1-0 at Watford when they barely strung two passes together.
This was a better performance, though not quite good enough, and they lost.
Such is the Championship.