Gerald Mortimer column: Tough time to be a Derby County supporter
THIS is not an easy time to be a Derby County supporter.
While the Rams are sliding far enough down the table for Nigel Clough to set a survival target, Nottingham Forest have surged into the play-off places.
The return of Billy Davies, a former Derby manager, has galvanised Forest. They were floundering under Alex McLeish after the extraordinary decision to sack Sean O’Driscoll but it comes as no surprise that Davies has made an immediate impact.
Davies is like having an aggressive Jack Russell round your ankles. He’s everywhere, meticulous in his preparation and demanding towards his players.
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
Not that he had the worst hand when he took over. At the time of O’Driscoll’s departure in December, hours after a thumping victory over Leeds United, Forest were only a point outside the top six.
O’Driscoll’s record since taking over Bristol City suggests he could have gone all the way had he been left alone to do his job with Forest.
Davies returned to the City Ground with a stated aim to prove the critics wrong and is mounting a charm offensive with Natalie Jackson on BBC East Midlands.
Results make him King Billy to the fans and he’s certainly Billy Whizz as far as the play-offs are concerned.
He took Preston North End there twice in the Championship and guided the Rams to success at Wembley in his first season at Pride Park.
That was slightly to his alarm as he was well aware that the Rams needed to be strengthened if they were to make a fist of playing in the Premier League.
He marred the Wembley day by making it about himself and whether or not he would still be in office by August.
It should have been an occasion for the players to celebrate with a mention for directors who had taken over only a year earlier. Peter Gadsby’s hard-fought takeover removed Jeremy Keith and his chums before pursuing them to court and custodial sentences.
That was a defining moment in the recent history of Derby County although the Premier League season turned out to be an utter embarrassment.
Davies was a constant touchline presence in the Championship and such a pest to officials that removal to a seat in the stand was always a possibility.
He seemed less inclined to make his views felt in the Premier League before – another disastrous decision – he was replaced by Paul Jewell. How do the Rams do it?
If Davies has anything to prove, it is that he is a long-term operator who can take Forest up and keep them there. So far he has had brief spells, taken all his staff with him and left successors wondering how to shift Claude Davis.
He has established himself as a brilliant Championship manager but there is another step to take.
There will be no excuses put forward for Derby’s slump here. I am not interested in lack of luck, mistakes by the officials or missed chances, except for the way they reveal the lack of a consistent scorer.
But there are reasons. Were a referendum to be held on Derby’s most influential player, the names of Shaun Barker, John Brayford, Craig Bryson, Will Hughes and Jamie Ward would gather plenty of votes.
All five would figure on some ballot papers and the only one I see as likely to muscle in is Jeff Hendrick.
We knew Barker would be absent for the season after suffering every possible knee injury in one hit but for Clough to be without all the others at the same time is cruel, especially as he is working with a small squad.
The Rams are at their best when everybody is fit and playing at a high tempo but they cannot afford injuries or loss of form. It is asking too much to sustain all those elements over 46 League games.
Derby are overstocked in goalkeepers but I begin to think that is a problem position.
I can only scream silently when one is described as a good shot-stopper. Of course. A goalkeeper would not get a game for Accrington Stanley if he could not make a few flying saves.
There is so much more to the position. A goalkeeper has the game in front of him so he must convey information to his defenders and keep them in shape.
Above all, he must be master of the goal area and preferably beyond. Mart Poom ranged as far as the penalty spot and he caught most things.
Defenders need to know precisely what the man behind them will do and then they play with confidence. Everybody, including the manager, knows Derby are short of an experienced voice and in goal may be the place to start.
My ideal of recent seasons was Edwin van der Sar, who was not only extremely good but had a splendidly supercilious expression as if challenging opponents to give him something to do.