Visit to Crystal Palace was one of the rare occasions Derby County have been totally outplayed this season
WRITING my match report following Derby's County 3-0 defeat by Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park in November was not a difficult exercise.
There are times when a team has to hold its hands up and admit it was second best.
Palace, away, was one such time for Derby.
They were beaten by a better, stronger and more confident side on the day – no complaints, no argument.
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It was the one and only time this season that they have been outplayed virtually all game.
They were battered for half an hour at Leicester in December and lost 4-1 but the scoreline was not a true reflection of the 90 minutes.
At 2-0, Derby pulled a goal back through Theo Robinson and a lengthy period of possession and promise followed as the Rams searched and threatened an equaliser.
They did not find one, and two late goals from Foxes substitute David Nugent soothed Leicester's jitters.
Derby suffered three-goal defeats against Peterborough United in the Championship and at home to Blackburn Rovers in the FA Cup.
Peterborough deserved their win but Derby left London Road reflecting on what might have been.
They produced a tame display against Blackburn when more was expected of them but the visitors still needed a helping hand.
Richard Keogh's mistake a minute before half-time gifted a chance to Colin Kazim-Richards and he finished emphatically. It proved the key moment in the tie.
But the only key moments in the Palace game were created and finished by the Eagles.
Derby's 4-4-1-1 formation did not work. The hope was that midfielder Craig Bryson would support Conor Sammon and cause problems but the tactic floundered on the shield provided by Palace captain Mile Jedinak, who sat in front of the back four.
Jeff Hendrick was struggling for form at the time and fellow midfielder Will Hughes had a tough afternoon.
Derby never got to grips with Palace striker Glenn Murray, especially in the air, and he scored twice. He now has 28 goals for the season.
The Rams face Palace at Pride Park tomorrow and it will be interesting to see how the game pans out this time.
One clear and unquestionable sign of progress this season has been the consistency of the performances.
Seven of the Rams' 12 defeats in the League have been by the odd goal, including four of the last five.
There could have been a different outcome in the majority of those matches and the Rams are falling the wrong side of the line in tight contests.
Clough says the young players are learning all the time and that work will continue in a bid to turn tight games in Derby's favour.
"That is what we are striving to do, within what we have got to work with," Clough added.
"The young players are gaining experience.
"Take Saturday's game at Watford. Michael Jacobs was in a great position to get a shot off but didn't.
"It was 0-0 at the time and we might have gone one up. We didn't, and then Watford went and scored. There can be very little in the games.
"The players are giving everything. We cannot fault their effort but in some ways, they are wasting their own work, because it is just little things that are stopping us getting a point or three.
"The second we rectify those things, then the players will get the rewards for their hard work."