The biggest game of the season so far. A must win six pointer. Am I being hyperbolic or is that true? Well, whilst I agree that it's too early in the season for those statements to really stand up I do think winning this game is going to be crucial in deciding our fate for the rest of the campaign. I've read quite a bit this week from various sources about where we stand and the one point that really struck a chord with me was that if we can't win this game where are we going to get the points from.
Sanchez has been positive in the media today "We have three games over the next three weeks where we are as good as, if not better than, the teams we are playing and then we play Liverpool away, which is obviously a step up. It is very much in our own hands what we get from those games and I wouldn't want to come out of this period in the bottom three. I know they could be famous last words and I'm sure they will be quoted back at me if it doesn't happen but that is what we should be looking to do." He's not wrong. For me we need to get six points from the next three games. A win against Derby would not only set us on the road to achieving that but also give the team the confidence they need to pick up more points. Sanchez was also candid about Chris Baird's culpability in defence saying "I have had a word with Chris. For every mistake he has made there has been a goal, unfortunately. I am not hiding from that but at this moment in time there is no alternative in his position. It does take time to step up sometimes". I'm not sure Sanchez is trying to point the finger here, maybe just deflect some of the criticism as he goes on to add that "He is finding his feet, I know that and he knows that but people will have to be patient. It doesn't help any player if people are getting on his back but he is the only one who can get through it".
As I discussed in my previous post, our record last season against promoted clubs was not that impressive. A grand total of 5 points. If we are to survive more comfortably this season we certainly need to improve on that. The problem is for all intents and purposes we are in a very similar boat to those promoted sides. However poor we were last season we did at least have some Premiership experience. This time around our first team consists of only a handful of players with more than a few months experience, and fifteen players that are new to our club. We need to learn fast how to turn decent performances into winning performances.
Derby will no doubt be looking on this as an away game where they could pick up points. They've not scored away from Pride Park yet and Billy Davies is talking of giving Rob Earnshaw another start. This could be at the expense of alleged Fulham target Steve Hayward, who has started every game for the Rams so far but is yet to score. Kenny Miller has made a big impact since his late arrival and it seems unlikely he would be dropped. In midfield we may see the return of "the American David Beckham" in the shape of Eddie Lewis. Eddie never really impressed for us but it will be nice to see him again. Davies also suggests that County will have more options in midfield with Criag Fagan completing a four match ban and the much coveted Giles Barnes nearing fitness after injury. Another former White, Dean Leacock, should also line up alongside Claude Davis in defence. I liked Leacock and felt he did have to ability to play a bigger part for us, but having had a decent season in the Championship, he's looked decidedly shaky in the glimpses I've seen so far of Derby's season.
Despite Sanchez suggesting he would make changes if he could, it seems we've not got as much choice as we may have thought. I'm expecting Keller to continue in goal despite Niemi making an excellent return to International football in Finland's 0-0 draw with Spain. The back four should also remain unchanged with Baird given another opportunity thanks partly Moritz Volz' injury. We might see some minor tinkering in midfield though I would be surprised if Davis, Smertin and Bouazza did not keep their places. The most likely change would be on the right side of midfield where either Dempsey or Seol could oust Simon Davies. Dempsey played for the US midweek (as did Bocanegra) and was instrumental in setting up their only goal of a 1-0 win. Up front we might see Kamara partner Healy for only the second time this season. Assuming we'll stick to a 4-4-2 this would leave Dempsey either in midfield or on the bench. Whilst Dempsey has undoubtedly been one of the players of the season so far, maybe a rest will do him some good and the impact he could make coming on later in the game could be useful.
I have to admit I'm not feeling that confident right now. Much as I'd love us to cruise to a comfortable win, my gut feeling is that this is not going to be east watching. Fingers crossed though, I'd take three points anyway they come and a scruffy 1-0 win would be just as good as a 4-0 romp.