SOMETIMES, you have to take the positives anywhere you can get them. Here’s Daily Telegraph journalist Nick Britten, a Derby fan, writing in the programme for today’s match against Southampton:
“For the first time in a year, I could watch Match of the Day last week without having to hide behind the sofa.
“Time is football’s greatest healer, and how refreshing it was to see a Premier League team being laughed at and sneered at that wasn’t Derby County.”
Britten was writing about Stoke, but that wasn’t really his point. His point was that Derby don’t have to worry about being embarrassed at the tail end of MOTD week after week any more.
That doesn’t mean that Derby’s problems have gone away, though. And it doesn’t mean that people have stopped sneering at them, either.
Manager Paul Jewell gave an interview to the Derby Evening Telegraph a few days ago in which he bemoaned the national media’s obsession with the fact that the Rams haven’t won a league game for 11 months.
“We have won one, drawn one and lost one [this season] and yet all some people want to tell us about is that we haven’t won for 34 league games,” Jewell said. “They don’t say we are unbeaten in two games.”
I can understand Jewell’s point, to a degree. Derby were record-breakingly useless last season – but that was last season. However, Jewell has been in charge of the Rams for nearly nine months now, and in that time he has steered his team to no league wins and two cup victories.
It’s the sort of record that leaves a manager clinging to a two-match unbeaten run as a positive.
So, at lunchtime today, Derby had two positives – not being last on Match of the Day any more, and a record of no defeats in two weeks. They’ve still got one of those positives tonight. Unfortunately, it’s the less useful of the two.
There was some debate in the press room after the game as to who scored Southampton’s winning goal. Jamie White crossed from the right, Adam Lallana’s close-range effort was brilliantly saved by Roy Carroll, his follow-up hit the underside of the bar – and may have crossed the line – before David McGoldrick prodded the ball into the net to make sure.
What was beyond debate was that Derby were atrocious, and Southampton deserved to win. That’s not to say that Southampton were brilliant – they weren’t, although they visibly grew in confidence after taking the lead 11 minutes into the second half.
This was not a great game. Indeed, one of the highlights came just before the start of the second half, when former Southampton manager Dave Merrington, commentating for local radio, returned to his seat and sat down with such a force that he unwittingly sent a cup of coffee flying all over a reporter sitting directly behind him.
And because the journalist was too polite to point out what had happened, Merrington remained completely oblivious to the chaos he had caused.
No use crying over spilt… oh, never mind. The other debate in the press room afterwards was about how long it would take Jewell to show up for the post-match press conference.
Jewell has led Derby through 27 winless league matches, but had made himself available for interview after each of the previous 26. Today, for whatever reason, he left the press conference duties to his assistant Chris Hutchings, who this time a year ago was in charge of a Wigan side lying in a Champions League spot. Hutchings, to his great credit, did not try to gloss over Derby’s shortcomings.
“We’ve got good players at this football club and they’ve not performed. They’ve let themselves down, they’ve let their team-mates down and they’ve let the fans down,” said Hutchings, stopping short of adding “and they’ve let the whole school down”.
Today was a negative rather than a positive for Derby. It leaves them in a similar position to the one Alan Partridge was in when the BBC cancelled his chat show. As he famously said: “That was a negative, and right now I need two positives. One to cancel out the negative and another one, you know, just so I can have a positive.”
Well, even the longest winless straeks have to end sometime. Maybe it will end at Preston on Tuesday. And if it does, Derby still won’t be last on Match of the Day, because it’s a Championship game. So there’s potential for two positives right there.
They certainly need something to go right for them, because no one will be sneering at Stoke this weekend.