Firstly, apologies for the lack of reports lately. I didn't go to Millwall and don't do reports for games I watched on TV! I'd have rather become a Leeds fan than sit and write about that Barnsley game *shudders*
For 45 minutes tonight, the thought of writing about this game filled me with dread also. The Tigers were well below par and were frustrated by a Derby side who used fair means and foul to try and ensure they went home with a point. City made one change from Brighton with Alex Bruce's deal-leg ruling him out. Ahmed Fathi took a place on the bench as Corry Evans replaced Bruce.
Tigers 3-5-2: [G] Stockdale [D] Chester, Hobbs, McShane [M] Elmohamady, Brady, Evans, Meyler, Quinn [F] Koren, Simpson
The first nine minutes set the tone for the first half. Derby started time-wasting early while City struggled to string passes together. Derby worked hard and pressed us while pushing their full-backs on to stop Elmo and Brady getting in behind. That didn't excuse our inability to move the ball with any pace or accuracy. David Meyler put in a good defensive shift and made some great tackles but he passed the ball like a non-leaguer. Connor Sammon worried me. He's a bit of a donkey ad I said so last week. I was sure that would come back to bite me. He was played in on our left by Ward early on but poked a shot well wide. Quinn then fired a pass straight to Ward who ran in on goal but we were rescued by a brilliant Jack Hobbs tackle. That capped a really shaky start. At the other end Simpson worked hard to retrieve the ball, after his miscontrol lost it in the first place, and lay off to Elmo whose fine cross found a penalty area bereft of amber shirts. No-one had bothered to make a run to replace Simpson. We don't just struggle for goals because we lack a poacher, we lack the mentality throughout the team to desperately want to get on the end of crosses.
The players might've left the field to a chorus of boos at half time if not for the ref who stole the ire of the home crowd. He'd already annoyed everyone with his handling of the time wasting, handing out several warnings to their 'keeper but not doing anything about it. He eventually booked Paul Coutts for kicking the ball away. His first offence but a well deserved booking on behalf of his teammates. The ref then booked David Meyler for god knows what. Meyler went down on the right and handled the ball as he thought he was fouled. Play carried on for 10 seconds or so before the linesman started flagging. That started a bit of handbags with Meyler and Coutts going nose to nose. I did wonder if the linesman had finally registered the handball but he hadn't. Instead Meyler took a yellow and no-one could work out why. Gareth Roberts then flattened Meyler, at least his fifth offence, only to be given a final warning. Seconds later Corry Evans went into the book for a similar offence. No consistency whatsoever. The ref also awarded a free-kick against Hughes for a foul on Koren when he'd said an identical challenge from Meyler on Hughes was fair so it wasn't all against us.
Our set pieces in the half were awful, Brady and Elmo hitting the first man from free kicks and Koren's corners evading everyone. So I found it a bit puzzling that when Quinn and Elmo took a free kick short and Koren switched to Brady in acres of space, the crowd moaned that we hadn't chucked it in the box. We came a damn sight closer from that one. Elmo's deliveries from open play were far better than his free-kicks and he created the best chance of the half. Simpson held up well from Elmo's throw-in, laid off to Elmo, he crossed towards the near post, Quinn got across his man and flicked a header towards the far post, missing by a foot or so. The ref mercifully brought an end to the half soon after thought by rights, we should still be playing now to make up for the time-wasting!
Steve Bruce made a double change at half time, introducing Gedo and Proschwitz for Koren and Simpson. It was the same change that proved utterly pointless at Brighton on Saturday. I thought it was madness. Making one change I could live with. Swapping both Koren and Simpson for Gedo, who looked miles short of match sharpness on Saturday, and Proschwitz, who is Proschwitz, was a mistake. I tweeted so too.
"Madness, utter madness".
When Gedo scored 90 seconds later I'm pretty sure I saw Steve Bruce stick two fingers up at me! It was a fine goal too. Robbie Brady was released by Quinn, he strode into the space on the left, whipped in a cross, Keogh got caught underneath it and Gedo headed it back where it came from. Bottom corner [1-0].
In my defence, I wasn't to know from the change that good old Brucie had changed the system to 4-4-2 with McShane becoming the right back and Quinn moving out left in front of Brady. It was a bold move designed to get crosses into the box, probably more from Elmo than Brady, which we lack whenever we introduce Proschwitz from the bench. Because of the early goal forcing Derby out of their shell the second half was far more open. Gedo looked much brighter than he had on Saturday and volleyed way over after meeting Elmo's cross before picking the ball up on the left and running well with it before Meyler overhit a ball to get Quinn in behind. Derby would start to take over but not before City should have doubled the lead. The ball went into Proschwitz in the box, he held it up well, laid off to Meyler and his shot deflected onto the post. Quinn latched onto the rebound and went down under a light challenge with the ref rightly waving away any penalty appeal.
The visitors were initially lifted by a City mistake. A long ball bounced awkwardly and Chester's back header just about made it to Stockdale with Ward sniffing around. He's a terrific little player Jamie Ward, great pace, excellent work ethic and real awareness of what's around him. He inspired Derby's recovery, one that looked highly unlikely for most of the first half. Hendrick was given far too much room outside the box to line up a shot that Stockdale parried as it wobbled a little through the air. A little scramble then ensued before Ward hit a shot from 18 yards that was veering off target but hit Sammon and flew across the goal and inches wide with Stockdale at full stretch and probably beaten. Ward then raced away on the left, drew Chester and lobbed over to Sammon who'd peeled away from Hobbs. The big Irishman controlled well and fired a shot off the bar that bounced down and away from goal. It wasn't a confident finish but was centimetres away from being good enough. Sammon then went off for Jacobs. He's rubbish in front of goal but he caused us problems with his strong running in behind. He outstripped Chester in the second half which takes some doing. I was quite pleased to see him go off.
City were a little nervous. Steve Bruce had Liam Rosenior ready on the touchline, obviously contemplating a defensive change to see out the victory. Some of the sloppy passing was evident again and we were indecisive with clearances. We had another decent chance to seal the game when Gedo was barged in the back by Keogh inside the 'D'. Instead of hammering the free-kick, Brady tried to get it up and down over the wall and it flew a few feet over. Then, from very little, they equalised. Proschwitz conceded a free-kick in our half. Coutts stole 5 yards. His chip into the box was cleared to our right. Elmo ran out to meet the oncoming full back but bottled the challenge and from the whopped cross, Ward tapped into an empty net. The net empty because Stockdale flew out to punch but got nowhere near it [1-1]. Chester raged at Elmo for ducking the tackle and the crowd deflated knowing how rarely in the last few seasons we've pulled this type of win out of the bag.
All credit to the Tigers though, pull it out of the bag they did. Brady's cross was cleared to Evans who shot with three super-committed Rams charging him down, deflecting the ball for a corner. I thought "we never score from corners without Faye", plenty of others did too I'm sure. Brady whipped the ball in, Elmo rose and headed down into the ground and up high into the net. What a beauty [2-1]. I thought it was Gedo at first, a) because I read #22 on his shirt, and b) because he threw off his shirt, ran around like a lunatic and jumped into the crowd like a man who'd just scored twice on his home debut. I should have realised it wasn't of course because Elmo was running around topless and Gedo had one of those amber undershirts on. The exuberance was obviously the relief of a man who knew he bottled the tackle for their equaliser. What a way to make up for it!
If Derby had plans t press for an equaliser, they went up in smoke with Roberts was sent off. He and Proschwitz went in for the ball on half way. Prozzy stretched with boot up and won the ball and was caught by Roberts. The ref wasted no time in producing a red card. As an isolated incident, it was harsh. Both players went in similarly and ours nicked the ball first. Given that Roberts escaped a couple of bookings in the first half, he deserved it overall. Before we saw out 5 minutes of stoppage time quite comfortably (When they wasted time first half it was 90 seconds added, when we did it second half to a lesser degree, it was 5 minutes) we had a great chance to clinch the game. Gedo made another great run in behind and was found on the right. He got his head up, saw Proschwitz in support and put the ball on a plate for our big German to seal it. Not only did he not score, he didn't even make a connection with the ball. Dire. Still, once the whistle went, with three precious points in the bag, no-one cared.
This was a hard earned win against stubborn opposition while we were well short of our best. On the face of it, we didn't look like a top two side. It was the sort of victory that promotion winning sides eek out though. They find a way to win when they aren't allowed to play, or aren't capable of playing, free-flowing football. It was a cold night, tricky looking pitch, bitty, scrappy game and well drilled opponent and we came away with the only thing that matters, the three points. If we're to achieve this season, we'll have to do the same several more times. We'll probably have to do so in the next few weeks, with games coming thick and fast and teams coming to the KC Stadium with a renewed respect for our threat.
I didn't hear who picked up the man of the match tonight. It wasn't a great contest with several usually reliable performers being well below par. For the most part the back three were very solid, Paul McShane probably the pick of the bunch for his incredible skills display. The standout overall though would be Gedo. He was anonymous on Saturday, looking more like a competition winner than a Championship striker. Tonight he showed good mobility, pace, strength, intelligent movement and a great finish when it was needed. I don't know if fitness wise he's ready to start but he's certainly got something about him that we don't have. Robbie Brady was quite for the most part but walks away with both assists so he'll be happy. He needs to work at whipping in free-kicks from deep though. Watching some tapes of Stephen Hunt from 09/10 might help him.
There were plenty of negatives. The whole team passed like Scotland in the first half. David Meyler being the most disappointing. I haven't seen him have a good game since we signed him permanently. He was excellent exploiting the space in front of Elmo in his loan appearances but hasn't done so lately. He gave us some defensive steel at time but was a key reason for our shabbiness going forward. Corry Evans also passed poorly and slowly while Quinn made mistakes we've not seen from him. Koren and Simpson both moved around to find the ball and while they picked it up nicely at times, they left a gaping hole up front that no-one else had any inclination to fill. I'd still always drop Koren into midfield rather than hook him but I can see why Bruce didn't as he was reverting to a four man midfield. Nick Proschwitz eh? We're still not seeing anything like the best of him (I hope). He doesn't win anything, he's barely involved, the ball will do anything to avoid him in the box and then when it does finally arrive at his feet in front of goal, he misses a sitter. He's not a worth a place. He's barely worth a cameo. Perhaps, and it's a big perhaps, with a run in the side, he'd find his form. But who in their right mind would give him a run in the side?
I see a few decisions for Brucie against Charlton on Saturday. Firstly he'll have to decide between his tried and trusted 3-5-2 or the bog standard 4-4-2 that got us out of a hole tonight. Secondly he'll have to pick between Koren, Simpson, Gedo and Proschwitz up front. The insipid first half could put doubts in his mind about a few others, especially as Saturday will be the second of three games in quick succession. I fancy us to beat Charlton more than I do to beat Blackburn so personally, I wouldn't rest anyone for this one, I'd try and get the points in the bag. Not that I'll be questioning Brucie*, his madness is magic.
*I will really.