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Bill's Take: One Year Later And Little Has Changed For Listless Rams
Thursday, 27th Apr 2017 06:03 by Bill Riordan

In last week’s article, I brought up the subject of the Rams’ poor showing this season in matches against the top six in the Championship.

Following last Saturday’s match against Sheffield Wednesday, the games against this season’s high flying clubs; Brighton, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Reading, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday, are now finished.

The Rams’ record against this 6 teams reads; P12 W3 D3 L6 F14 A17 P12.

One point per game would give the Rams forty-six points for the season; this would usually be relegation form, and it almost certainly would be this season. Against these top clubs in the division, the Rams are simply not competitive, and this illustrates well why we are not going up this season.

Yet these teams are not by any means world beaters. Brighton looked like a very good side against us at their place in March, and Fulham have shown that they can play going forward; despite the fact they tend to let in goals.

But in the Rams’ last home match against Huddersfield a week or so ago, I had mixed feelings about Huddersfield. With no disrespect, I thought they were not especially skilful; their strength as a team seemed to lie in being very well drilled. Every player knew his job; they kept possession of the ball and were constantly pushing forward.

I thought Sheffield Wednesday were much the same: they probably had a higher skill level than Huddersfield, but their strength was in keeping possession and always looking to push forward.

Both of these teams contrasted sharply with the Rams: while our players look to have been told possession of the ball is important, they give the ball away as though it does not really matter. Instead of looking to push forward constantly, our players try to keep possession by playing the low risk pass backwards.

Our players seem to have some idea of what is expected of them, but are frequently caught napping. Of course, it is quite possible that the Rams’ continual changing of managers over the last couple of years has contributed to the players’ confusion in regard to tactics.

These observations suggest that for the Rams to improve, a spending spree this Summer is less important than teaching the players we have how to play the game and win.

But given that Gary Rowett will want to make his mark on the team, and had likely already decided that some players are not going to work out, where should the Rams look to improve if we are to have less disappointment next season?

First, I would like to see goalkeeper Scott Carson command his area; not the penalty area you understand, but commanding the six-yard box would be nice. Carson has had a good season and at one time commanded his area, but recently he has begun allowing crosses to drop deep into the six-yard box with predictable results.

The central defenders are probably the area of the team where we are least likely to see change. This is fine for now, but somehow the errors must be cut down. Perhaps when they receive cover and support from midfield things will improve.

Full-back has been a problem area all season. In part this is due to the lack of support received from the wingers, but the full backs have also offered little going forward. The return from injury of Craig Forsyth will be welcomed when it eventually happens, but in the meantime, I can see efforts being made to strengthen this area.

The first of these may be Chris Baird’s contract extension, but in an ideal world Baird would surely be a backup only.

Central midfield makes me want to pull my hair out. Craig Bryson, Will Hughes, Jacob Butterfield and Bradley Johnson seem to have been rotated match by match almost randomly. Hughes earlier in the season and Johnson on occasion since have probably been the pick of the bunch, but for me this is where the Rams’ worst problems lie. What is to be done, I do not know; all are on long contracts, but bold moves do need to be taken.

The Vikings used to toss chicken bones on the ground to try and foretell the future. There is reason to think the medical people guessing at when George Thorne might return to action are using similar methods. The Rams could dearly use a fit and effective Thorne next season, but who knows whether it will happen and if so, when? If a replacement for Thorne is signed until George is fit, please let it not be Julien de Sart.

Then there are the wingers: if it were not for central midfield and full back, I would say this is the Rams’ area of greatest weakness. Who would have thought that replacing Jamie Ward would be so hard?

Johnny Russell, Ikechi Anya, Abdoul Camara and Andreas Weimann have contributed close to nothing this season. They do not score goals, do not create chances and provide little defensive support for the full backs. It is widely reported that Weimann’s loan at Wolves will be made permanent at the end of the season in exchange for a substantial fee; if this happens, it could be the highlight of the season for the Rams.

Finally, there are the strikers. This is another massive problem area. We learned this week that Darren Bent will be with the Rams for another year and Rowett has stated that Chris Martin’s future is with the Rams next season. But will we see the Chris Martin of earlier years, around whom the Rams can build the team? Or will we see the isolated and ineffective player who we saw under Nigel Pearson?

One of the few certainties; only a supreme optimist would expect much from Nick Blackman.

Tom Ince looks likely to finish the Season as the Rams’ leading scorer in league matches, but here is an interesting factoid about him; of his thirteen goals so far, only one came when McClaren was not manager. Ince has been linked in some quarters with a move to Newcastle; could there be a greater compliment for a player than that?

Add in the unpredictable talents of Nugent and Vydra, and the Rams have plenty of scoring talent, but the likely results are highly uncertain. The Rams’ fifty league goals this season is another significant pointer towards relegation form; next season will need to be much better.

I have said for some time that this summer will not see major transfer market moves by the Rams; we have too many under-performing players on long contracts.

Furthermore, the owner could not be blamed if he was reluctant to waste more of his money in the transfer market. But something certainly must be done.

As already stated, the team needs much greater discipline, but it also needs fresh faces. Gary Rowett has an awful lot of work to do before next season. Perhaps his most important task is to prevent Sam Rush from loading the club with any more duff players.

I think I said about this time last year that Rams fans would be looking at an interesting summer.

A year further on and little has changed…

Photo: Action Images

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