Where Did It All Go Right?
After Saturdays comprehensive and utterly professional victory over Donny, even the most negative of Rams fans are starting to think that after 2 1/2 years of trying, Nigel might finally be on to something.
Obviously it’s still very early days, but there is a definite different feel about this Rams team, which gives the impression we wont be rolling over for anyone, anytime soon. So what’s changed?
Currently enjoying the best defensive record in the football league, you could say we’ve learnt to defend. What we’ve actually done is changed the personnel completely. Of the back 5, only John Brayford remains from the end of last season. Shackell has been a colossus and O’Brien has been a revelation (Ando, if you book your flights to Aberdeen now, for next July, you’ll get them cheaper) but the experience and know how of Kilbane should not be overlooked - more on that in a moment.
Moving into Midfield, Bryson is getting better with every game, not that he was bad to start with, Bails looks stronger, Crofty (along with OB and Hendrik) is effectively a new signing and Ben Davies is coming up with the goods in almost every game. Signed at a really awkward time, Ben’s dead ball specialist tag has mostly been used as a stick to beat him with since he joined. However he’s kept his pre season form going and 4 assists and 1 goal in 5 games is good going by any standard.
In my recent piece, things to learn from last season, I wrote about game management. This was mainly around our inability to see out games but could also be extended to include how we dictate the tempo of the game and how/when we choose to press and/or attack the opposition. Last year we rarely got this right, which is a criticism of the players but also the coaching staff.
How many times, particularly early in the season, did we dominate possession, rack up shots and corner stats yet somehow contrive to lose or draw games?
This year, we seem happy to concede possession, press hard then break quickly. This is not always thrilling at home, but will deliver results, particularly away from Pride Park. We also seem to have grown up a bit in terms of running the clock down; witness players about to be subbed running to the other side of the pitch, Frank killing time in his box with 30 minutes to play, Kilbane’s calculated chips into touch and/or the corners then his support of our striker to keep it there, every players willingness to ‘go home’ from long distance as opposed to a hopeful cross into the box. These things havent started happening by accident, so credit to Clough for taking a look at his own instructions.
With Burnley coming to Pride Park on Saturday and Southampton travelling to Leicester we’ve got a great opportunity to go into the break top of the league. But let’s be honest, whatever happens, to be top 6 with Tyson, Barks & Macguire still in the locker will be more than any Rams fan could have hoped for at this stage of the season.