It’s well documented that Pride Park and Derby away in particular, is our ‘lucky’ ground, having not lost in the City since 10th February, 1990, when we lost 0-2 in the top tier of English football. But believe me, on Saturday, Pride Park became our ‘luckiest’ ground we’ll ever play at this season having snatched a point from what seemed an unassailable lead. This was our sixth visit to Derby’s ‘new ground’ and having won 3 and drawn 2 previously. Saturday’s trip saw us top of the league with a 100% record and the hosts had just lost 3 games on the trot, including an early exit in the League Cup to lower league opposition, just like us. Add to that, Derby had just sold Luke Varney the day before to Ian Holloway’s Blackpool and the squad decimated with four recognised forwards on the injured list, some people would be forgiven for thinking this would be a formality for us. The fact is it wasn’t all down to Derby’s tactics and the non-stop running of their midfield, who basically snuffed any creative outlet we possessed.
We started with the same line-up as the team that beat Scunthorpe United the previous week. Derby lined up unchanged also, from the team that lost to Coventry the previous week, albeit unfortunately, but there was a tactical change as Chris Commons was now up-front and the previous week’s ‘forward’ Dean Moxey, played on the left of the midfield. Early indications led me to believe that this would be straightforward as in the 3rd minute, Taarabt glided past a couple of defenders and facing the keeper one-on-one, hit a powerful low drive which somehow Stephen Bywater saved superbly and Mackie’s follow up was also blocked on the line for our first corner of the game. Their keeper was not going to get tested again for the next 90 odd minutes as Derby took control after 15 minutes of trying to get to grips with our creative midfield trio of Taarabt, Faurlin and Ephraim.
The only other worthy incidents of note for us in the 1st half, was a long range free-kick from Taarabt which whistled about a yard wide with the keeper easily covering his goal and a ‘goal’ flagged for offside. Helguson was found expertly in the box and just like the Scunthorpe game, he lobbed the keeper as the female referee’s assistant was flagging for offside. It looked a close call from our vantage point at the other end of the pitch, but our second ‘offside’ goal in the 2nd half was miles offside as Buzsaky delayed his threaded pass for Mackie to bury in the net as the Derby back-line ran out en masse.
Basically, as soon as one of our midfielders received the ball, two or three opposition players would close them down, giving them no option but to give the ball back to one of our defenders, who then had no option but to go long to Helguson, who got no joy from Leacock all afternoon. The longer the 1st half went on the more confident Derby became as they found loads of space on the flanks to put in some very dangerous looking crosses, which only the lack of a recognised forward was the reason we found ourselves still level after 30 minutes. We seemed to be camped in our own half for the last 15 minutes and it was no surprise that Derby took the lead on 40 minutes with some great link-up play down our right hand side that saw a ball across the six yard box which found the best player on the pitch criminally unmarked with an open goal to aim at.
At half-time everyone would have taken a point, me included. The one bit of good news for us was seeing the scorer Commons being replaced just before the interval. The City Of Derby is the home of the Arboretum, England’s first dedicated ‘open space’, or public Park as we now know them. At Pride Park, any open space was at a premium during the 1st half, but we started the second half a lot brighter with Mackie and Ephraim at last getting some joy taking on their markers. Faurlin and Derry were now more visible, seeing more of the ball in the first 10 minutes of the half than they did in the previous 45. Surely it was only a matter of time ? Wrong again, with 58 minutes on the clock, Derby hit us on the break with pace down their left. The ball was then squared to James Bailey on the edge of the ‘D’ to look up, pick his spot as he buried a curling shot past static defenders who didn’t seem to close him down quick enough. It was Bailey’s first ever goal. No surprise there then !
Derby, now full of confidence, spent the next 30 odd minutes repeating what they did in the 1st half, snuffing our midfield out. Five minutes after the second goal, Warnock rang the changes as he removed both Helguson and Derry and brought on Buzsaky and Agyemang. Pat immediately gave us a different option by using his strength and pace to trouble their back-line for the first time in over an hour. One particular run saw him beat two defenders down the flank before cutting into the box and again beating two more defenders, but the next one was one too many and the ball was cleared. On 70 minutes, Leon Clarke replaced Adel Taarabt and went out wide left. But no matter what we tried, Derby’s midfield and defence were up to it. The game was fizzling out but Derby thankfully weren’t wasting time and were even pushing for a third.
The 4th official indicated that there would be 4 minutes added time, mainly because of a Derby defender suffering a head injury when colliding with his own defender in their own box as we attacked. The away fans were not happy with the decision, but the referee had no option as it was a head injury. While the player received treatment, Lily Savage got involved in some banter with the R’s fans, which made him more of a target of vitriol for the remaining 10 minutes or so. In the 1st minute of injury time, we got a corner which got the remaining QPR fans up out of their seats for what would surely be a mere consolation, but the corner was cleared to our half. The ball was then played to our midfield where Leon Clarke put a through ball to Agyemang who, facing only one defender, took him on a mazy run to the edge of the six yard box and he just managed to flick the ball past the advancing Bywater.
From the corner flag seat where I was, the ball seemed to take an eternity to cross the line for the consolation goal that Agyemang deserved for his never say die approach since coming on. Two minutes after the consolation, we again got a corner in front of the visiting fans. The cross was cleared to the right flank and we found ourselves with only two defenders against Derby’s four players as they hit us again with pace down the flank. The ball ended up at the feet of James Bailey for what should of been his second ever goal, but Kenny stood his ground and pulled off a miraculous save.
We have to lose some time this season and Derby were looking worthy winners as the clock seemed to tick on until the ref would bring the game to an end at any second as Kenny launched the ball upfield to Agyemang. Dean Leacock seemed to think that Pat was a climbing frame as he clambered on his shoulders to head the ball away. Somehow the referee waved play on and I was furious, not for the first time I must add, as he seemed to give a lot of wrong decisions for both sides it must be said. The ball fell to Mackie, with back to goal and two defenders all over him like a rash, he managed to turn them inside out and bury a low drive into the bottom corner to send us delirious. If you were a home fan, it was a cruel end to the game, but as an away fan it was absolutely hilarious seeing the looks on the fans in the Toyota Stand to our left who had abused us for the whole game. I had two young kids sat in front of me 2nd half and to see grown men, some middle aged it must be said, giving dogs abuse and hand gestures to go with it to ANYONE in the away section, was sad to witness.
As we all know, sometimes football isn’t fair, it’s happened to us loads of times and no doubt it will again. But Saturday’s draw was so sweet as we obviously didn’t deserve it, but we’ll take the point thank you very much. We will play better than that in the coming months and lose, as Derby will play worse and win. It’s what following your club is all about. My main concerns were firstly, the fact that both Derby goals came from moves attacking our right midfield/right back positions, but Warnock is experienced enough to realise this. Also, we also need some more attacking options before someone closes that imaginary window.
Team with player ratings:
Kenny 7, Orr 6, Hill 6, Gorkss 6, Connolly 6, Derry 6 (Buzsaky 6), Faurlin 6, Mackie 8, Taarabt 6 (Clarke 5), Ephraim 6, Helguson 5 (Agyemang 7).
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Ramage, Leigertwood, German.
Attendance: 25,874 – including 1,655 QPR fans (although only about 1,500 going into injury time !!!)
Referee: M.Haywood 6 (frustrated both sets of supporters with some weird decisions, although it’s easier to accept when you are 2-0 up I guess)
QPR’s MOM – Jamie Mackie, not just for his goal, but for his never say die attitude. On 83 minutes and at 0-2 down, he chased a lost cause when most players would have been eager to get in the showers and back on the team coach. He ran 30 yards to stop a ball going out for a goal kick which epitomises him. His celebration at the end as he jumped over the advertising boards and showed us his array of tattoos was also very impressive. Plymouth fans were correct when they described his 100% commitment to the cause. We are lucky to have him.
Both images were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission.