Offered a point at Derby before the season started, I would have bitten your arm off. Losing semi-finalists in the play-offs last season and one of the teams expected to be in the mix come the end of this one, a draw ought to be seen as a good result.
But I can’t shake the feeling that this should have been so much more.
The midweek draw against Huddersfield was disappointing and another calamitous moment from Pierluigi Gollini raised awkward questions about the kind of goalkeeper we had signed. He proved yesterday the good side of his game with a fine save from Tom Ince but just as Napoleon craved lucky generals, we also need him to be a lucky ‘keeper. Perhaps his luck turned when Ashley Westwood cleared off the line.
The point was frustrating simply because it was the woodwork which denied us. Gardner’s ferocious long range effort deserved more luck that flying behind the goalkeeper across the face of goal, after it hit the post. McCormack had primed Carson earlier with a shot which the Derby ‘keeper did well to turn onto the bar. Buckling, the home defence somehow held firm until the interval but a goal was coming, you could feel it.
When Tommy Elphick’s controlled volley was cleared off the line, it seemed inevitable that one moment would come to bring the breakthrough. It arrived but unmarked Libor Kozak could only head wide from McCormack’s corner. In truth, that was the only poor finish throughout the afternoon.
Overall, it’s hard to complain. Bemoan our bad luck certainly but I wouldn’t question the players’ effort and more promisingly, we look like a team which has gotten its act together and is ready to defy the odds with a promotion challenge. Results such as this will only breed more confidence in the squad.
As Roberto Di Matteo said in his post-match press conference, we are getting more and more of the basics right; a change in fortunes is all we need. Taking a leaf out of Gary Player’s book would be no bad thing: “The harder I practice, the luckier I get.” Training pitch work looks to be paying off with a more balanced approach from the players, who clearly understand what the manager wants of them.
Even so, Di Matteo will be concerned by the slow start to the second half; the Rams were quickest out of the blocks. The defence lost its discipline and shape in the early stage but Derby couldn’t punish the slackness. With the addition of Mile Jedinak, perhaps that will come although it’s a couple of weeks before we see him in action.
From an attacking perspective, there seems to be an issue with Jordan Ayew coping with the mix of attack and defence. Required to offer support defensively, he did sterling work but struggled to find the pace to move into attack. There’s a balance to be found and hopefully, with the transfer talk fading, he will be less distracted.
Five points from the opening four games sees us sitting nicely on the edge of the burgeoning promotion race. A tricky little trip to Ashton Gate next weekend but nothing to be fearful of if we play as we did yesterday. With a bit of finishing thrown in, of course.