My column last week finished with me highlighting the importance of keeping a clean sheet against Derby County at Pride Park this past weekend.
It was a bit of an over the top fanfare of a start, not helped by more ticker tape falling from the stadium roof than I’ve seen since the World Cup Finals in Argentina in 1978. Unfortunately within just four minutes that hope of a clean sheet was quickly dashed as we saw the dismissal of the returning Glenn Loovens and then the resulting penalty conversion to go one behind.
As starts go to a game, they don’t really come much worse than that to be honest. It really was just as bad as it can get and for the next ten minutes or so we really struggled to organise ourselves and fill the void left by the returning skipper's quick departure. This was totally understandable and with the wind whipping round and the home fans up on their feet we were a little fortunate when Derby hit the post a few minutes later and if this had gone in it would more likely have meant curtains on the game.
The really frustrating bit is that you work all week to set out a plan that you believe is going to win you the game, and in a matter of minutes it's torn up and a complete waste of time.
It is in times of adversity that you find out more about your players than at any other time and facing adversity they most certainly were. The reaction that we saw from there on in was testament to the players. To put it bluntly, you either sink or swim at a time like that but bearing in mind the recent performances that this group of players have served up, I felt it was a very positive reaction indeed. They didn’t sit back and feel sorry for themselves, they defended resolutely and when in possession tried to get forward and had a real go at getting back into the game.
Due to the sending off we reverted to a 4-4-1 formation, especially when Derby had the ball and ironically we looked far more solid and difficult to get through and in behind. The difficult part of playing with ten men is that you work so hard at getting men behind the ball when defending, when you do win the ball back there is only the one outlet upfront. Getting bodies up to support this lone striker is not just hard work physically but also mentally and credit has to be given to the players for constantly doing this. They left everything out there on Saturday and you could see the huge disappointment in them as the second Derby goal went in late on.
Personally I think we deserved to get something out of the game and I don’t think anyone could deny us of that. We created two or three excellent chances, especially in the first half and if one had gone in I think the home fans would have turned, as they seemed extremely anxious as the game went on.
I’m not one for pointing the finger at officials but they came under heavy scrutiny again and I felt that the referee did himself no favours with some of the decisions on the day. I thought we could have had one, if not two penalties in the first half, but I also wondered if Keiren Westwood could have seen red for what looked like a handball outside the area. They say that these things even themselves out over the space of a season, and I am a true believer in that but it would be hard to not feel sorry for ourselves right now with some big decisions not going our way over the past few weeks. Unfortunately, feeling sorry for ourselves won't get us anywhere at the minute and its about hard work, doing the right things and grinding out some results to get the cart back on its wheels as they say.
There have been many accusations leveled at these players in the last few weeks and I’d be lying if I didn’t agree that some of it has been warranted. Yet on Saturday, facing a nightmare start and a real uphill battle they showed the desire, fight, positive attitude and fire in their bellies to take some confidence forward to the next match. It does beg the question why they haven’t shown that fighting spirit in recent matches but I don’t really want to look backwards at the negative stuff if I can. The big question for me is can we build on a decent fighting performance and turn our season around?
With the visit of Barnsley on Saturday and then Millwall just a few days later it is the perfect opportunity to put in two big performances and get six points from the next two games. It's now got to the stage where unfortunately anything less is just not good enough I’m afraid. We are now in the bottom half of the table and results and performances need to improve quickly.
Carlos will undoubtedly have a selection problem this weekend with Loovens being suspended and it will be interesting to see which way he goes. Will he reinstall Joost van Aken who he dropped against Derby or go with a different option? Whichever way he goes a fighting, all-out battling display is the minimum to be expected.