In August, ‘Flexible’ Frank Lampard reworked his strategy after early setbacks to produce Derby’s best start in seven years.
We hoped more settled selections would see Derby hit their stride – but two months in, the Rams’ results are that pet-hate phrase of fans everywhere… ‘consistently inconsistent’.
September started with a smash-and-grab away win, and finished with the second of two wall-punchingly frustrating 1-0 defeats.
It’s still impossible to draw conclusions about our long term 18/19 prospects, but a couple of kinks have arisen for Derby which need ironing out before Christmas.
Craig Noone’s back post header for Bolton was the seventh time Derby conceded first in 12 games.
What’s more, five times this season we’ve gone behind in the first ten minutes. It’s a worrying trend which Lampard needs to eradicate.
Derby have still rescued games from these losing positions, most notably *that* night in Manchester, and the Brentford blitz before that.
However, if we keep starting games cold and having to score twice to win, a top six finish would be miraculous.
Fikayo Tomori summed up the ’sublime to the ridiculous’ September Derby had.
A good young athlete capable of composed interceptions, in general terms he’s improved since his baptism of fire against Leeds.
On top of that, no Derby defender in recent memory covers the pitch quicker. When Keogh’s lapse put Lukaku in at Old Trafford, he ate up the ground in seconds and made a last-ditch intervention from nowhere.
For every raking long ball and speedy dispossession though, there’s a clumsy foul to concede a penalty (Rotherham), there’s losing your man in the first minute (Brentford), or failing to cut out a cross (Bolton).
It’s imperative to say, at this point, that Derby concede as a team – Forsyth was flat-footed for Bolton’s winner and Wisdom got bullied by Fellaini at Old Trafford.
Tomori is only 20, and one of several young stars who will make mistakes, as we pointed out after Rotherham.
Whether Curtis Davies comes straight back in will be a big test of Lampard’s commitment to bring on young players.
But if the Chelsea loanee – and others – can cut out those lapses, it could be the basis for a big unbeaten Derby run.
Old Trafford emotional rollercoaster
In years to come, 3,000 Derby fans who made the journey to Manchester expecting a character-building defeat will instead talk about a glorious night in Rams history.
Forget that Man Utd are a mess thanks to two clashing egos. The second best team in England last season had £300m of talent on display – but at times Derby played them off the park.
The 8-7 win on penalties after a pulsating 2-2 draw was as thrilling as it was unexpected.
Harry Wilson’s astonishing free kick epitomised the chaos. With everyone expecting a Mason Mount curler, the returning Wilson unleashed a left-footed 30-yard howitzer which dipped viciously under the crossbar past a staggered Sergio Romero.
For technique and audacity, the only Derby set piece which comes close in my lifetime is Asanovic v Chelsea in 1996/97.
Then there were the penalties, where Derby transformed into a team of German cyborgs to dispatch some of the best spot kicks you’ll see in a shoot-out. No Derby fan will forget Tuesday September 25th in a hurry.
Back down to earth
Such an epic triumph was always going to be draining, mentally and physically.
Even so, Derby’s squad depth and the Old Trafford feel-good factor had fans anticipating a win which would’ve put us a point off leaders West Brom.
The resulting defeat – which echoed the pattern of Rotherham – left fans tearing their hair out.
Against Blackburn and Bolton, Derby had 39 attempts on goal, but just four on target, along with no goals, and one point.
Lampard’s Rams also have the 3rd highest average possession share in the league.
For all Derby’s ball retention and attacking intent, momentary lapses at one end and a lack of ruthlessness at the other are costing us.
This month we also enjoyed:
– Everyone doing The Bounce. It should be retired after Old Trafford and only used again after a Forest victory or promotion.
– Keogh’s 300th appearance. Whatever your view on him, a triple century of games is a helluva achievement. And while we’re here, 250 for Bryson and 150 for Carson.
– Marriott off the mark: His first goal got swallowed up slightly in the Man Utd hysteria, but we’re made up for him.
– Jody Morris’s Instagram: Just all of it. Give him a follow, you won’t regret it.
Goal of the Month:
Harry Wilson v Man Utd. Lost count of how many replays we’ve watched. All three goals v Brentford had a touch of quality, but let’s be honest – there’s only one winner.