The Weston Report: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly Rams
Monday, 13th Feb 2017 07:34 by Ryan Weston
A home game against a relegation-threatened side who haven’t won on the road since September. Surely a regulation home-win, right? Wrong, as what was actually served up was a reminder of how bonkers the Championship really is.
If this was a film, it would have been The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, although ugly is far too polite in describing our first-half display. Not that anyone would have predicted as such, particularly given the fact that the gaffer made another eight changes from the midweek reserves side. Remember, professionals can’t play three times per week…
Still, our side looked strong, with Camara ‘In’ as the Hokey-Cokey on the left-wing continued. The visitors set up 4-4-2, intent on having a go, which would surely work to our advantage… wouldn’t it?
Well, in a word, no, as the early knockings gave a sign of what was to come. City knocked the ball round with the confidence of a side in far higher echelons than theirs, as our midfield toiled.
After defending a couple of set pieces, we stutteringly found second gear. A good lay off from Bent led to a sublime first time pass from Hughes to Ince on the right. Driving into the area, Tom crashed a firm strike which Giefer did well to push away.
Soon though, our Achilles Heel struck once again. City forced a corner on our right, which met the head of the giant Flint. Thankfully, Hughes was on the line. Sadly, his sort of smothering action diverted the ball straight to Taylor who couldn’t miss (well, he could, but more of that later).
How would we respond? Well, positively it seemed, as Ince combined with Bent to set up Camara, whose low drive was beaten away at the near post.
It proved our only bright respite, as the visitors continued to make us look, well, shambolic. A great cross from the left just evaded everyone, before another guilt-edged chance. In Tammy Abraham, the visitors have a genuine threat and a genuine goal scorer. Gangly, awkward and springy, the 18 year old will no doubt go on to bigger and better things (or he could rot on a bench like most of Chelsea’s prospects). Anyhow, his sublime one-two with Brownhill saw the midfielder’s shot saved by the irate Carson.
Scotty’s mood was about to get much worse. A throw-in, more good movement and slick passing, as our defence looked as secure as Leicester’s title defence. A cross-shot, a save, a tap-in for Abraham. Two down.
It was that bad, the sight of a double-substitution being readied after just half-an-hour wasn’t surprising. Anyone could have been hooked - Camara thought he was playing in red, Olsson seemingly had the wrong boots on and our midfield… well, did we have one?
McClaren agreed, taking off Bryson and Johnson, the latter visibly annoyed, throwing his shirt in frustration. Anya and Butterfield were charged with starting the rescue mission. Mission Impossible it seemed, as the patterned continued.
Another interchange down the left. More poor marking. A great cross, kept alive at the far stick, for Abraham to again receive the freedom of Derby to tap in a third. I must have missed the memo telling the Rams not to tackle, as the ease with which City were able to play was laughable. Except no-one was laughing.
We managed to avoid any more clean punches and made it to the half-time bell. A chorus of boos was presumably very mild compared to what the gaffer would have been saying, or shouting, in the dressing room.
Sure enough, before we had even had time to digest what had played out in front of us during the previous 45 minutes, the Rams were back out, flea in their ears and scowls on their faces.
Hand on heart, I never thought the game was lost. Our visitors have lost as many leads as a bumbling chief inspector over recent weeks and a goal would be sure to make them twitch.
With the crowd doing its bit, we struck the early blow we craved. Baird was released down the right with space to move into, but instead he chose an early cross. Just as I was about to berate him for a rushed delivery, Bent took off, angling a diving header superbly into the top corner.
Game on? Yes!
The now raucous atmosphere and a change in momentum should have been stopped dead within two minutes as more appalling defending allowed Bryan to drive down the left like Moses parting the sea. His cross was also divine, finding Taylor with tap in from three yards.
A tap-in for me, you, your Grandma. But not for Taylor, who somehow spooned over the bar. It will be one for many a bloopers DVD for years to come.
You just sensed that it was the turning point. A proper game was breaking out now, as we were starting to get a foothold. With Butterfield pulling the strings, we were playing more incisively. Nugent was then thrown on for Baird as we decided on all-out attack.
Yet still City created. A superb counter attack saw Anya, now right-back, horribly out of positon, to give Bryan another free run. Again though, there was no finish, his shot going agonizingly wide.
We soon gratefully accepted City’s charity. Clever movement from Nugent allowed Anya to burst free on the right to hang up a teasing cross. And was that Paul Scholes arriving perfectly? No, it was Ince, who brilliantly headed into the corner.
Game very much on!
Now City were panicking. Now there was a sort of inevitability on what would happen next. And so it proved. Ince was now causing problems and his foray into the box was halted by Golbourne. Spot kick.
The celebrations around me did seem very premature but I needn’t have worried. Bent took up the responsibility and took aim in his favourite corner to the keeper’s right. There was JUST enough power to beat Giefer, who could only push it into the corner. 3-3.
With ten minutes left, you felt there was only one team who would steal it. Credit then to City, who didn’t just roll over and feel sorry for themselves. Instead, a frantic final few minutes played out, with both teams threatening.
Butterfield crashed a 25 yarder wide after Nugent had seen a volley stolen off his toe. He smiled though. He always smiles!
After City saw a headed chance drop wide and Keogh had produced a very aesthetically pleasing dive to win a free-kick, it was all over. Two points dropped? Definitely. A point gained? For sure.
Football. It’s mad.
As we applauded the second half efforts, it was hard not to think that the 90 minutes had summed up our season…
A terrible start, a spirited comeback, but ultimately, you fear, not enough.
Weston’s Player Rating:
Scott Carson – 5: No real chance with goals but some appalling kicks in the second half.
Chris Baird – 6: Good assist to start the comeback.
Richard Keogh – 7: Led by example in the second half.
Alex Pearce – 6: Not his normal steady self.
Marcus Olsson – 5: Got better as it went out but generally poor.
Bradley Johnson – 4: Subbed after 30 mins… enough said!
Craig Bryson – 4: See above.
Will Hughes – 6: Battled hard but didn’t look fit.
Abdoul Camara – 5: Frustratingly poor throughout.
Tom Ince – 6: Had a go second half. Did revert back to his petulant self, mind.
Darren Bent – 7: Largely innocuous but did what he does.
Jacob Butterfield – 7: Showed courage in trying to get us playing.
Ikechi Anya – 6: Always puts in a shift.
David Nugent – 7: Movement made the difference.
We Said / They Said:
Derby Manager - Steve McClaren:
‘For the neutral it was one hell of a game, but we talk about game ready or game head on and we didn't have it on first half, it's as simple as that. You can't do that against any opponent. We had to change attitude and it was up to the players to respond, which they did, but I think it's a lesson for us.”
We said that at the end, it's a lesson and if you're not right and your game head isn't on, you can lose to anyone. It was Jekyll and Hyde, we know the direction we want to take and it's up to the players.’
Bristol City Manager - Lee Johnson:
‘You know when your kid runs out in the road and you quickly grab them back in and you don't know whether to give them a smack on the bum or a cuddle, that's how I feel.
So much of our work was excellent today, the way the players passed and moved the ball in the first half, and even in the second we created numerous really good chances and could have scored six.
But obviously I'm massively disappointed, I'd be lying if I told you I was happy with the group and taking a point from a winning position and three goals up. We are very, very close to being a decent side but we've got to learn and grow together.’
Post Match Reaction:
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Photo: Action Images
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