Derby County show resolve at Pride Park but improved away form must be made a priority
WHAT happens at Pride Park is likely to hold the key to where Derby County finish in the Championship this season.
Nigel Clough said just that on the back page of the Derby Telegraph on Saturday before the Rams recorded a crucial victory over Leicester City to end a run of eight matches without a win.
The chasm between the home results and those on the road is startling.
Derby have the ninth best home record in the division – 34 points from 19 games – but have the second worst away record with 14 from a possible 57.
The difference between the figures is too wide and something to be addressed next season.
For now, hopes of a top-half finish rest on how the Rams fare in the remaining four home fixtures against Bristol City, Ipswich Town, Peterborough United and Millwall, all teams currently below them.
Clough was delighted with the way his players ground out the victory over Leicester.
He also praised the backing of the supporters.
"The crowd played their part," said Clough.
"We were disappointed to come away from our previous home game against Crystal Palace with nothing, given the effort we put in and the performance.
"We didn't play anywhere near as well against Leicester. We didn't create as many chances but the crowd appreciated the other side of our game.
"They appreciate it when players throw their bodies on the line, which they did against Leicester and have done for most of the season."
Derby were booed off after the 1-0 defeat by Palace and yet their display that night was much better than we saw against Leicester. Such is football.
What Derby did better against Leicester than they have at times in matches since the turn of the year is defend with greater resolution.
Soft goals were conceded in the defeats at Brighton, Hull City, Watford and Birmingham City. Brighton went one up inside two minutes.
Hull's winner was a header from a corner three minutes from time while the defending on the first and third goals at Birmingham fell short on basics and bite.
Soft goals were also conceded in the draws against Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough and away to leaders Cardiff City. Goals from Jeff Hendrick and Jamie Ward, a penalty, built a two-goal lead against Wednesday.
That advantage was erased in a seven-minute spell when Michail Antonio and Miguel Llera struck.
Leicester was different.
There was, in Clough's words, a sheer bloody-mindedness not to concede a second goal after the Foxes halved the deficit to 2-1 with an hour gone.
The visitors took route one in their bid for an equaliser and their lack of guile was surprising.
Rather than looking to test Derby's full-backs, their huff-and-puff approach played into the hands of centre-backs Richard Keogh and Jake Buxton.
The pair stood firm, and revelled in the battle. Keogh was man of the match and Buxton not far behind him.
For all the good football played and the attacking intent on view in the winless sequence, it is ironic Derby finally claimed a victory with a dogged performance.
Such a performance can boost confidence just as much as a free-flowing five-goal win.
It shows the team can protect a lead, something Derby failed to do against Sheffield Wednesday, Cardiff and Birmingham.