Derby County so tame as they make Cup exit – and even boos are half-hearted
DISAPPOINTING cup exits are nothing new for Derby County. Their recent history is littered with them and now one more has been added to a growing list.
But losing to Blackburn Rovers cannot be considered a shock.
They, like Derby, are a team in the lower half of the Championship but their squad and the quality dotted around their first 11 suggest Rovers should be doing much better.
One only has to think back to the League meeting between the two sides in October, when the Rams needed a late equaliser to snatch a point, having been second best for long periods.
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That said, there was no excuse for the tame nature of Derby's display in Saturday's FA Cup fourth-round tie.
More was expected of them.
Their solid home form was supposed to provide an advantage and yet Blackburn, without the need to find too many gears, were allowed to leave Pride Park with a 3-0 win, their feathers barely ruffled.
Surprisingly and a little worryingly, Derby were devoid of the characteristics that have helped them forge a reputation as being a force on their own patch.
Missing was the spark, the energy and the drive.
Add an annoying carelessness with the passing and final ball and they were never able to ask serious questions of a Blackburn side desperate for some consistency and stability.
This made Blackburn's passage relatively straightforward and left the Rams nursing a missed opportunity.
The scoreline suggests a comfortable victory for the visitors and, in the end, it was but for 44 dour minutes it looked like the names of both clubs would be in the hat for the fifth round draw.
Both laboured and such was the scarcity of meaningful action that the most ardent Derby fan could not complain if the tie had been last on during the TV highlights programme on Saturday night (it was actually third from last).
Derby's line-up did not look balanced from the start.
Craig Bryson was on the left of a four-man midfield and Jamie Ward, who naturally drifts to the left, was closer to striker Conor Sammon.
There remains, however, a dilemma when it comes to fitting in Bryson, Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick in their favoured positions.
Hendrick carried the fight but Hughes and Paul Coutts were out of sorts.
Coutts' dip means the effective link-up with John Brayford on the right has been derailed and Bryson's niggling knee injury has not helped him in recent weeks.
Derby are stuttering at the moment and much of their play in the first half foundered due to unforced errors and a lack of quality in the final third.
There was an inescapable feeling from the early exchanges that it was not going to be their day and this was confirmed when they fell behind just before half-time.
Blackburn's main threat to that point had come from Morten Gamst Pedersen's delivery at set-pieces. Scott Dann headed inches wide from one and Adam Legzdins arched backwards to claw out a free kick that was destined for the top corner.
But when the goal came, it was down to a mistake by Rams skipper Richard Keogh.
There seemed little danger when Keogh moved in to tidy up a long punt forward. The defender should have dealt with the situation but dallied and Colin Kazim-Richards muscled in. He shrugged off Keogh, took the ball on and drilled an angled shot low past Legzdins, despite the goalkeeper getting a hand on the ball.
Derby's one effort on target in the first half came in added time, when Jake Kean saved from Brayford.
Derby-born Kean came through the Rams Academy system before he was released in 2008. This was his first appearance at Pride Park and he has probably not had a quieter game since breaking into the Rovers team.
Ward, now on the left, tested Kean after the keeper's attempted clearance had been charged down by Sammon but a comeback never really looked on.
Once ahead, Blackburn blossomed.
Their quality shone through and in the second half they were better than Derby in all departments and physically stronger in the 50-50 shoving matches.
Danny Murphy bossed midfield along with Pedersen. The pair had too much know-how on the day, while Ruben Rochina, an early substitute, was lively just behind the powerful strike partnership of Kazim-Richards and Jordan Rhodes.
Derby huffed and puffed but in truth their response never convinced and fell well short of the level needed to turn the tie.
They were short of ideas and Blackburn wrapped up their win with two goals in six minutes.
Legzdins had already denied Rochina before he was beaten by Dann after 66 minutes.
Murphy was an old head enjoying himself up against young pretenders Hughes and Hendrick.
The former England international got the better of Bryson and calmly chipped a pass to Dann, who chested the ball down and his searing volley dipped over Legzdins and threatened to rip the netting from the back of the goal.
It was some strike by the central defender.
Blackburn's third goal owed much to Rochina's cleverness and a burst from Marcus Olsson. The ball broke kindly in the area for Rhodes and he neatly lifted it high and wide of Legzdins from eight yards.
"He's Jordan Rhodes, he scores when he wants" was the chant from the Blackburn fans and that seems to be the case when he faces Derby.
Not comfortable in build-up play, he can be anonymous for long periods but comes alive when a chance falls to him. It was the same story in the League game earlier this season – one chance, one goal and the £8m striker now has 22 for the season, including six in his last seven games.
Theo Robinson is Derby's top scorer on nine and he was absent from the squad due to tonsillitis.
Legzdins denied Blackburn a fourth goal when he scooped Rochina's low drive round a post but Michael Appleton had his first win as Rovers manager.
For Derby, even the boos from some fans on the final whistle were half-hearted.
It was a flat day for the Rams all round; their poorest show at home this season, although the painful memory of the Scunthorpe debacle in the League Cup remains vivid.