From the moment Paul Konchesky lashed out and was deservedly red carded the result was never in doubt. The first half was almost as shocking as the second half of the Portsmouth game and ten minutes in I'd probably taken more interest in the flights of the paper aeroplanes people had made out of the anti-racism leaflets than the football. When Konch, one of the few players to claim any credit so far this season, allowed Chris Fagin to get him to react to a poor challenge, I knew we were going to struggle. We showed a bit more spirit in the second half but there was never the cutting edge needed to find a way through. Derby had set their stall out for a 0-0 from the start with Dean Leacock playing a holding role in a 5 man midfield. They actually played the ball around quite well and certainly retained possession better than we did. Kenny Miller looked sharp as the lone man up front and was ably supported by the hard working Fagin. Eddie Lewis was largely anonymous though he did test Niemi with a decent shot in the first.
Niemi made a surprise return in goal and had one of the best games I've seen him play for a long time. He even said as much in his post match interview on MotD. This was on the back of his midweek clean sheet for Finland so maybe things are on the up for the veteran stopper. Derby haven't scored away from home yet this season, and whilst none of their efforts were unstoppable, Niemi definitely played a big part in ensuring we weren't the first team to concede against them. Chris Baird also put in a solid performance and during the second half, as he was forced to push forward more often due to our three man midfield, managed what might have been our best shot of the game. The rest of the defence were unspectacular. Stefanovic had replaced Bocanegra in the centre and Hughes claimed the Captain's armband. Konch's moment of red mist let the whole team down, but then I think he's the sort of player who will always have those sort of moments. Bocanegra was brought on at left back in the second half and did a very professional job. I expect he'll continue there for a while as a red for violent conduct usually means a three match ban.
Our midfield was disappointing again. We started with Seol on the right and nothing seemed to go right for him. There were glimpses of the player who excited everyone in the last 20 minutes against Man City, but every little dribble he began he either overran, or gave away the ball. He did have our best shot of the first half but skewed it wide of the post. It was no surprise when he was sacrificed to cope with the sending off. Bouazza seemed unable to find the room to work his magic down the left, partly due to Derby's packed midfield, but even in the second half kept trying. Murphy played some neat football early on but faded dramatically as the game progressed. I was stunned when Sanchez brought Simon Davies on and choose to replace Davis not Murphy. Davies added nothing to an already overrun midfield. Kamara looked threatening at times and his pace was a clear concern for Derby. Unfortunately he rarely took the chance to shoot. He either wanted too much time, allowing the defence to catch him up and close him down, or kept the ball alive only to make a poor decision when he did release it. Dempsey put in another hard working performance and also had a couple of half chances. Healy was brought on with hardly any time to make an impact and no service to help him change the game. Tactically it was pretty aimless and brought back memories of the worst periods under Coleman, in fact this was the first game where I began to wonder whether we wouldn't have been better off if Cookie had stayed.