As this was my first game of the season, I can’t compare the performance with what has gone before. But not surprisingly there can’t be many complaints after a win against one of the promotion favourites, one in which we displayed solidity when out of possession, created the better chances, took three of them, and left nothing to be desired in terms of effort and commitment.
Derby will probably look back and wonder how they lost, given the balance of play over the full game. They did not least because their defence was unable to cope and whereas our defence remained organised theirs seemed to switch off rather too often. At times it seemed as though they believed that we couldn’t hurt them, so we went and did. A review of the actual decent chances created in the game should leave no room for complaints on their front, especially when you add in the fact that the referee chose not to accompany our penalty on the stroke of half-time – the moment which may well have turned the game - with a red card. More later.
Given Henderson’s injury, the surprise on the team selection front was the absence of Solly, with presumably three games in quick succession too much for him at this stage of his return, and the fact that Gomez got the nod at right-back instead of Wilson. Otherwise it was in line with the previous games, with Bikey-Amougou and Ben Haim keeping out Morrison, Cousins and Gudmundsson in the wide berths either side of Jackson and Buyens, and Tucudean and Vetokele up front in a basic 4-4-2.
We had the better of the early exchanges just through keeping possession well , with Derby kept at arms’ length. We didn’t look especially threatening, but the shape was good and Derby looked a little sluggish as we kept them off the ball. And we managed to turn that decent start into a better one with a goal, albeit one rather out of the blue. The ball was played out to Cousins on the left and he picked out Tucudean in the box with his back to goal. Decent control and as their defenders backed off and gave him too much time he turned and shot with some assurance into the corner of the net. Reports to date haven’t been universally complementary about him, but it was well taken and probably helped raise his confidence as he went on to produce an entirely praiseworthy first-half performance.
Rather stung by the goal, and with us if not sitting back not surprisingly focusing on keeping the shape, Derby came more into it after that. In fact a couple of minutes after the breakthrough they had a not dissimilar chance, with one into the box knocked down, but their guy was unable to control the ball and get a shot away. We converted our half-chance, they didn’t. But as the half progressed they did start to dominate possession and the equaliser when it came wasn’t against the run of play. A shot from the edge of the left of our box was parried by Pope, a decent enough save but the ball remained in play and their guy was able to knock it back to around the edge of the box, from where it has to be said that another curled in an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
After that, I suspect we’d have been happy to make it to the break all square and regroup, especially as a foul on Tucudean saw him receive lengthy treatment. But just as we were into the final of four minutes of added time Tucudean turned from some way out and ran at them. They backed off, probably expecting a lay-off. Instead he just kept going, into the box, sidestepping one or two challenges. The way I saw it (and I have been known to get these things wrong), he cut back onto his left and was just about to get the shot away when his legs were taken from behind. No question about it being a penalty, but no red card. There were other defenders around, but the way I saw it Tucudean had sidestepped them and was then denied a clear goalscoring opportunity. In any event, Buyens stepped up and confidently tucked away the penalty.
Trudging off the pitch Derby must have been scratching their heads as they were behind, again, having equalised and dominated the final 20 minutes or so of the half. Fact is, during that time they hadn’t converted that possession into decent opportunities (for which the credit goes to our defence and midfield), then failed to prevent a guy seemingly hopelessly outnumbered from running through them.
Tucudean’s knock was sufficient to take him out of the game at the break, with Moussa coming on to play as the second forward rather than Church. Derby made a change of their own and not surprisingly realised that their height and physical advantage had increased. Perhaps with a word or two from their manager in their ears they were up for the task and once more had the bulk of possession. But aside from a fierce shot from the edge of the box which cleared the bar and one ball across the face, I can’t remember Pope being called on to make a real save whereas I can remember Vetokele taking a ball in their box which was rolling sweetly into the path of Moussa, plus Vetokele wriggling free to create a one-on-one which their keeper turned away, and a free kick in a decent position which Jackson put just a bit too much on for it to curl under the bar.
Wilson came on for Cousins, with Gudmundsson switching to the left, and as the clock was starting to tick down we did convert another chance, one which left me wondering just where their defence went to. Good work down the right produced a cross to the near post which Wilson deftly flicked on and Vetokele running in nodded home from a couple of yards out. Good goal, but just how was it possible? Can only say that not for the first time their defence went to sleep.
After that, with Ben Haim and Bikey-Amougou commanding and Buyens generally marshalling things in front of them (including taking one for the team when someone did get past him), it felt like game over, even though Derby’s greater number of big guys meant an obvious danger from set pieces. The goal that gave them hope towards the death was, however, an obvious error by Pope, as an innocuous shot somehow went through him. From my angle I couldn’t see quite how, but now it was a case of getting through the final minutes with some tired legs out there (and Fox coming on to provide fresh ones in place of Gudmundsson). Despite one or two edgy moments that was accomplished.
I did just have a final quick check of the BBC possession stats and according to them Derby enjoyed 63% of the play. Shots on target show we had seven to their five and in the end that’s what counted. Rounds off an opening salvo of games that Peeters and the players can be well pleased with. So can the fans, as on the basis of what was shown tonight we have weapons to hurt teams, good organisation, and a solid back four. Pope’s error was just one of those things which he will learn from, the other lesson perhaps being that they pressured him from backpasses because they saw mileage from it as it at least affected his distribution. It’s not easy for any young keeper to be a commanding presence from the off, but it will come in time. The central midfield pairing of Jackson and Buyens looks good defensively but means we don’t have too much pace and forward momentum in that area. Nevertheless, with six goals in three games and a team which will still be learning how to play together these are quibbles on a night when all else was positive.
Pope – 5/10. No disgrace in that. It was a bad error which cost us a goal and on another night perhaps points.
Gomez – 8/10. Accomplished performance, what more could you ask for from the guy? Never looked out of place and when caught out was quickly back in position.
Wiggins – 7/10. Not evidence of the driving force going forward that we know he can be, but that’s in part due to learning to play with another guy in front of him on his side. Defensively sound.
Ben Haim – 9/10. I’d just about make him my man of the match. Very sound and composed.
Bikey-Amougou – 8/10. Not far behind.
Gudmundsson – 7/10. Guy clearly has something, intelligent in his play and capable of trickery to create space and opportunities. Doesn’t seem blessed with blistering pace, but good first impression.
Jackson – 6/10. Decent performance, especially in front of the back four, but can’t remember too much from him going forward.
Buyens – 8/10. Excellent. Reads the game and keeps things ticking over, perfectly capable of looking after himself.
Cousins – 7/10. Decent showing in another position for him, involved in the first goal.
Vetokele – 7/10. If the guy keeps popping up when it matters that will be fine by me. Perhaps should have scored more than one.
Tucudean – 8/10. If he’d played the full game and played in the second half as in the first may well have been man of the match. Took his goal well and made the second out of nothing.
Subs – Moussa (6/10; tough ask to play as a forward alongside another non-target man); Wilson (7/10; played his part in the third goal, would have liked more driving runs to the corner flag in the final minutes); Fox (not on long enough for a mark).