SBW Monthly: Clear progress and fun times with Frank

October was an important month for Derby. Two seemingly winnable games against Norwich and QPR, followed by three arguably tougher games against promotion rivals.

The Carabao Cup tie at Chelsea on Halloween would be an interesting way to end the month – a free hit if ever there was one but also an opportunity to test our young, athletic team against one of the best in the country.

The context was important too. Could Derby move on from their ‘consistently inconsistent’ September and make progress in the League before our perhaps inevitable traditional collapse in February and March?

Derby went into the Norwich home game having won only one of their last five, and only avoided defeat through Craig Bryson’s 86th bundled equaliser off his knee. Not very impressive. However, Norwich won their previous four home games, continued this form after playing the Rams and are currently fourth. Taking this into account, you would have to say a draw was reasonable.

QPR at Loftus Road, on paper at least, looked like a good chance for Derby to return to winning ways, but sadly ended in a cagey, scrappy draw. The one positive and significant moment was Jack Marriott’s first League start – and his first league goal. He also demonstrated a willingness to track back and work hard off the ball, which will prove essential for the way Lampard wants to play.

Derby County v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park Stadium
Craig Bryson’s bundled equaliser earned a valuable point against in-form Norwich.

The result meant our run was only one win in six and there were some grumblings from the fans afterwards (albeit mainly on Twitter). However, QPR won all of their games in October apart from their draw against Derby. Another result which wasn’t actually that bad, given context?

We were playing teams who were hitting form and, in due course, would have an excellent October. However, even bigger tests were to come.

The Championship’s taking notice…

Sheffield United topped the table when they arrived at Pride Park on October 20, but Derby eventually ran out 2-1 winners. It was a strange game in my view, with Bryson slotting home after a record breaking and frankly outstanding goal after only 19 seconds. Despite the perfect start, Derby struggled to keep possession and string passes together in that first half, handing momentum to the Blades.

The equaliser had a certain inevitability about it. However, two decisions by Lampard ensured victory for Derby. Firstly, Huddlestone was recalled to the side in place of Bradley Johnson, giving Derby more midfield control.

Derby County v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
Off and running: Bryson netted again in October in Derby’s rapid start against Sheffield United.
Derby County v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
Jack Marriott’s superb volleyed finish earned Derby all three points against the Blades.

Secondly, when Bryson came off injured in the first half, Lampard moved Wilson inside and stuck Lawrence on. A brave decision but one that paid off, instantly giving us more tenacity and mobility and adding to our attacking threat.

The winning goal from Marriott was fantastic – a dynamic, athletic poacher’s goal from an excellent driven Forsyth cross. 2-1 was a great result.

The game at the Hawthorns was an almost perfect performance which no one really expected. Another predatory finish from Marriott before a moment of wing wizardry from Tom Lawrence saw the Rams coasting at half time against a West Brom back three who simply couldn’t cope.

West Bromwich Albion v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - The Hawthorns
Harry Wilson is all smiles after smashing home number three at West Brom.
West Bromwich Albion v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - The Hawthorns
Four goals and even the left back scored: Malone gets in on the act at WBA

Harry Wilson’s latest long range special and a fourth from Scott Malone after a lung-busting run completed a comprehensive thrashing which will have made the Championship take notice.

This was the game where Lampard’s preference for skilful, mobile, youthful players really began to pay dividends. It was an easy win to be honest.

Expectations were high by the time we arrived in Teeside to play Middlesbrough – and Derby were less than 10 minutes from an outstanding win. Almost completely dominant in the first half, we led at half time through a George Friend own goal but allowed Boro back into the contest by sitting back in the second half.

Middlesbrough v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - Riverside Stadium
Sucker punch: Derby were ten minutes away from a huge victory at Middlesbrough.

Derby briefly topped the table at 1-0 up and there were six different leaders that day – a perfect demonstration of how open the Championship is this year. No one is dominating like Wolves, Leicester and Newcastle have in previous years.

Both West Brom and Middlesbrough changed their defensive formations either during the first half or at half time in each game. This seems a clear sign that Derby can rattle the top teams with our mobility, intensity and attacking flair. How many games can we do that in? Perhaps the second half of the Middlesbrough game demonstrated what can happen when we let our foot off the gas.

Up for the Cup

The pressure was off, in my view, for the Cup game at Stamford Bridge. It was gracious of Chelsea to let Mount and Tomori play, albeit a reminder they are playing for Derby for their development and won’t be here next season. The game itself was ridiculous, chaotic, and thoroughly entertaining.

The Rams more than held their own overall and could have at least forced penalties had Keogh (!) taken a late chance or Nugent not agonisingly hit the post. The first two goals conceded were freakish, but still sloppy.

Chelsea v Derby County - Carabao Cup - Fourth Round - Stamford Bridge
One game too far: A brave, entertaining performance at Chelsea, but the cup run is over.

Against a nearly full strength team, including two World Cup winning midfielders, we were always going to get punished. It was one miracle too far – but we came mighty close.

Overall, you have to see October as a month of progress. Unbeaten in the League, four goals from Jack Marriott, the re-emergence of Tom Huddlestone and some bravura attacking performances. The only concerns have to be those woeful own goals and the lack of intensity in that Middlesbrough second half. Here’s to more fireworks in November.

This month we also enjoyed:

– The perfect implementation of the much talked about ‘high press” at West Brom. The harried Baggies defence were constantly hassled into mistakes, it was amazing to watch and contributed to the best League performance of the season so far. Lampard has talked about this way of playing a lot but we’ve only seen it in fits and starts so far. Long may it continue.

– Scott Malone’s goal against West Brom. He made a great defensive interception, drove forward, quickly exchanged passes with Mason Bennett before drilling low into the bottom corner. Not the best goal technically this month or the most significant but a thrilling example of what he could add to the team’s attacking options.

– While I wouldn’t normally enjoy us conceding two own goals in quick succession, the banter about us scoring four goals in the first half at Stamford Bridge, without them having a single shot on goal, was pretty amusing.

– Lampard, just like at Old Trafford, named an unchanged, full strength team in a Cup game when we’re in the middle of a dogfight to get out of the Championship. Other managers might have rested players or seen it as an opportunity to give some game time to some squad players. Not Frank. How refreshing.

Goal of the month

Must go to Jack Marriott for his magnificent match winning goal in the Sheffield United game. A fabulous poacher’s finish from Jack and significant too. Like a lot of fans have been saying, it was a finish reminiscent of a Dean Sturridge or a Bobby Davison (for those of a certain age). Vydra and Martin scored goals, but we haven’t had a striker who charges around causing chaos, while also showing a predatory instinct, for a long time.

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