Northampton Town 0-1 Derby County
I’d been looking forward to the Northampton Town game ever since the pre-season fixtures were announced or, to be more accurate; ever since Rams’ head coach Paul Clement pushed the start of pre-season back a week and the Nuneaton Town and Alfreton Town friendlies were cancelled.
This was the first senior game I’d seen under the Clement era and my excitement had risen with the signings of Darren Bent, Thomas Ince, Alex Pearce, Chris Baird, Scott Carson and Andreas Weimann. I was hoping I’d get to see Pearce, Baird, Carson and Weimann playing in a Rams shirt for the first time – and I did.
But my excitement gradually drained away during the opening 45 minutes and left me with a feeling of disappointment by the final whistle.
Derby County won the game 1-0. Johnny Russell rounded off a team move of genuine quality to score the only goal of the game. But that was the only moment of quality in a poor game.
Northampton Town should have got a draw. Richard Keogh gifted them a perfect opportunity to equalise but Marc Richards blasted his penalty kick over the bar.
Clement sent the Rams out playing 4-3-3, with Baird wearing the captain’s arm band even though last season’s captain Keogh was also on the pitch. It was refreshing to see Clement, dressed in a blue tracksuit, prowling his technical area, shouting instructions to his players. Call me old fashioned, but that’s where the head coach should be. He shouldn’t be sitting upstairs in the Directors Box with a telephone at the ready.
With former Rams Academy player Josh Lelan looking lively at right-back, Northampton Town were the best team for the first half hour. They had more possession than the Rams and used the ball better, creating a number of openings and winning a string of corners.
Leading the line, Bent was isolated for the most part and starved of service. Too often Derby sent long balls into the channels that Bent was never going to catch and when they pumped the ball up to him he was unable to win his headers.
Bent did have Derby’s best chance of the first half hour. After good work by Weimann, Bent shot wide from close range.
Derby tried to play a passing game but too much of it was in their own half, going backwards and, at times, Carson was the playmaker as a lot of moves involved him at some point. At one point, as Derby’s passing went deeper and deeper into their own half, a cry of “Keeper’s on” sounded behind me. Almost immediately the ball went back to Carson, who passed it to the full-back on the other side.
But the goal, when it came in the 33rd minute, was a quality team move that took the ball from one end of the field to the other. It started with playmaker Carson rolling the ball out to Jeff Hendrick and ended eight passes later with Russell smashing the ball into the back of the net off the underside of the bar. Hendrick, Will Hughes, the goalscorer himself, Weimann and Craig Forsyth were instrumental in the move, before Weimann supplied the final incisive pass to Russell who broke the deadlock.
The Rams played better in the second half but they almost shot themselves in the foot just minutes after the restart.
Keogh conceded an unnecessary penalty after making a mess of a headed clearance, allowing Richards to get in behind him. Keogh was fortunate on two counts. Had this been a Championship game Keogh would almost certainly have been sent-off, but this was a friendly and no card was shown. Secondly, Richards stepped up to take the penalty himself and blasted the ball over the bar.
The Rams improved in the second half, their attacking more penetrative and creative, and they conjured up enough chances to have stretched their lead on another day.
Bent controlled a long ball forward perfectly on his foot, only to see his powerful shot blocked.
A good move down the left involving Weimann and Craig Forsyth, saw Forsyth fire a low hard cross into the box that Bent at full-stretch couldn’t quite reach.
Between the 60th and 75th minute, Clement made a raft of changes with only Keogh playing the full game. With the introduction of Ince on 61 minutes, Derby went two up top with Ince in a free role in the hole behind them.
Russell nearly added an assist but his cross saw Craig Bryson’s diving header fly wide.
Then Bryson turned provider for Thomas Ince to shoot wide. Moments later an Ince free-kick beat the wall but the goalkeeper made a good low save.
Conor Sammon fired wide after Stephen Warnock had sent a low cross into the box from the left.
Jamie Hanson tried his luck from outside the penalty area but his shot was too high.
Finally, with virtually the last kick of the game, Ince drove into the penalty area, unselfishly squared the ball, for Sammon to send his shot into the crowd.
So what about the new signings I saw for the first time?
Scott Carson looked calm and composed in goal. He dominated his penalty area and confidently caught the ball, even when under pressure. He was the wrong player to be playmaker but coped well with the multitude of back passes to him. His kicking up field was hit and miss.
Alex Pearce dominated in the air and I don’t think he missed a header all game, but he did give the ball away in a dangerous area one time, and later was fortunate not to concede a penalty.
Chris Baird wore the arm band, captained the side, and looked neat and tidy in the defensive midfield role.
Andreas Weimann overall had a quiet game on the left of the front three but, when he was involved, looked a threat running with the ball. Played an integral part in the goal and will be credited with the assist.
Although not a new signing, I was very impressed with Isak Ssewankambo during his cameo at right-back. He’s tall, powerful, and quick coming forward. Defensively he looked solid and got Ryan Shotton out of a mess with a great tackle in the penalty area after Shotton had given the ball away.
Derby County: Carson  (Grant, ht ), Christie  (Ssewankambo, 65 ), Keogh , Pearce  (Shotton, 61 ), Forsyth  (Warnock, 61 ), Baird  (Thorne, 61 ), Hendrick  (Hanson, 75 ), Hughes  (Bryson, 61 ), Russell  (Sammon, 75 ), Bent  (Martin, 61 ), Weimann  (Ince, 61 ). Unused sub: Mitchell.
***Rams’ Star Man – for me Johnny Russell was the best Derby County player by a country mile. He never stopped running, looked lively and was always a goal threat. He scored a superb goal, created a couple of opportunities for team-mates, and worked hard defensively providing support for Christie. ***