Preston Preview / Ipswich Review
How often in a season do you hear that there’s no easy games in the Championship?
It’s probably a tired cliche but I’m not one for originality so Tuesday’s hard fought victory over Ipswich wasn’t an easy game and neither will Saturday’s game against Preston.
Derby really needed that win on Tuesday. Two tame defeats had gone some way to deflate a fan base that was hugely encouraged and excited by the displays from a pre-season.
The passing was quick and incisive. The movement good. And they played on the front foot.
Then came the start of the season and teams were surprisingly more professional and determined than what they were through the earlier summer months.
It’s perhaps been a steep learning curve for Frank Lampard. Victory was snatched in game one where a draw was probably a fairer result. He was schooled in game two by a genuinely brilliant mind, and great of the game, who has somehow rocked up at Leeds United. In game three inexperience showed both on and off the field when Millwall outfought Derby and then saw the game out.
Then came game four, against an Ipswich side who offered nothing in attack and would have been more than content with going back to Suffolk with a point.
Games in which the opposition offer nothing are always difficult. If an early goal isn’t scored then frustration grows in the crowd and belief grows in the opposition.
Derby got the win and deserve credit for it despite the patchy display.
The frustration from the home crowd came with the constant passing between centre halves and the lack of penetrating passes forward.
In Mason Mount, Derby have a terrific midfielder who finds pockets of space between the midfield and defence and it’s there where Derby will be most effective.
The issue that they have at the minute is that there isn’t a central midfielder who is fit enough to find him.
Joe Ledley, goal aside, isn’t that player. He’s a grafter who helps play tick along and positionally he’s really sound but he doesn’t have a killer pass in him.
George Evans may be that man but he went off injured early on and faces a spell on the sidelines.
Then there’s George Thorne who has been bombed out and is more likely to feature for the 23s than the first team.
Bradley Johnson has been tried there and whilst his mobility and drive helps the team, it’s not what’s needed when the ball needs to be moved better throughout the team.
Tom Huddlestone is the man though. In the holding role in this side he should thrive. He has the passing ability to keep the ball moving. The range to pick out diagonals to the wide players which can stretch the play and create space for the attacking players further forward.
His touted move to Stoke was a huge worry. If Derby are to play as Lampard wishes them to then Huddlestone is essential for that to succeed.
Too often we focus on what players can’t do and the argument with Huddlestone is that he doesn’t move well enough and doesn’t have pace.
Well he’s never had pace. He’s never been particularly mobile. Yet he’s played over 500 league games never dropping below the Championship and has spent half of that time in the Premier League.
In Mount and Bryson he has the legs around him. He’s massive as well, which is another thing that we’ve missed in his absence. It’ll be great to see him back in a Derby shirt.
Anyway, back to Saturday’s game. It’s going to be tough. Preston are solid, organised and have done well under Alex Neil. They’re another side who have been together for a while and that’ll benefit them.
The constant switching of lineups is an intriguing one. Is it solely down to injuries or is this an approach that’ll be used throughout the season to keep players fresh?
Of the four games so far, the only constants have been Scott Carson, Richard Keogh, Craig Bryson, Mason Mount and Tom Lawrence. The rest have been rotated.
Derby have their wobble annually in February and March and I wonder whether Lampard has seen that and put it down to lack of fitness amongst players.
Whatever it is, I don’t think the changing lineups have helped Derby in the short term. Partnerships between players take longer to form and in turn form can fluctuate.
I think in an ideal world, there’s a core of seven or eight who play most weeks and the other positions are rotated. What’s happened at the minute seems a bit too much.
Back to the game though and it’s important that Derby avoid defeat. And whilst that might negative, they need a solid run of games now to build some confidence and rhythm. Three defeats from the opening five games isn’t good and Preston will be a tough test.