In their first home game of the 2015/16 season, Derby County drew 1-1 with Charlton Athletic.
Both goals came after the break. Tony Watt gave the Addicks a 48th minute lead with a shot that deflected up and over a stranded Scott Carson. Chris Martin equalised in the 68th minute with a hard low shot into the bottom corner.
Given that Derby County had 27 attempts on goal to Charlton Athletic’s nine, and dominated the game with 68% possession, a draw was the least the Rams deserved against visitor’s who set their stall out for a draw. Referee Nigel Miller warned Nick Pope, in the Addicks’ goal, for time wasting as early as the 37th minute.
The reason Derby County didn’t win the game came down to two things: firstly, poor finishing and, secondly, a lack of creativity and penetration.
Head Coach Paul Clement utilised a 4-3-3 formation – the third system he’s used in three games – and the Rams looked far more comfortable than with the 4-4-2 diamond at Bolton Wanderers and the 4-2-3-1 against Portsmouth.
The system was very similar to the Plan A Clement’s predecessor used. The main difference being that the full-backs, Chris Baird and Craig Forsyth, held back more and weren’t so gung-ho going forward as under Steve McClaren’s leadership.
More accurately, I’d say, the formation was 4-1-2-3. George Thorne was majestic in the holding midfielder’s role. Jamie Hanson had a very good game to Thorne’s right, and Jeff Hendrick never stopped running and looking to attack.
But, for me, the balance in midfield wasn’t quite right with the absence of Will Hughes and Craig Bryson. Thorne played an ideal game as the holding midfielder, protecting the back four, winning the ball, spraying passes about… and so did Hanson. But therein lay the problem for me. Hanson didn’t get forward to support the attack and this meant we were often attacking with just four players.
Hendrick saw a lot of the ball and was the one central midfielder to consistently push forward. On the one occasion he tried to dribble the ball into the penalty area he was easily dispossessed. Other times he found himself closed down and crowded out and either had to pass sideways or back, or shoot from long range.
On another day though Hendrick could’ve scored two or three. He had three shots blocked and saw two more go wide. In the 54th minute Hendrick did beat the goalkeeper, but his shot lacked power and it was cleared off the line.
Thorne also had a number of shots from outside the penalty area – four were blocked and another three flew either wide or over the bar. Thorne forced a fine save from Pope in the 73rd minute with a stunning shot from the edge of the penalty area.
Hanson also tried his luck from long range and his shot was also blocked by the Addicks’ defence.
I can’t remember a game when Derby’s midfield have had so many shots from distance, but they were having to shoot from range because the Rams found it difficult to penetrate Charlton’s defence.
Charlton lined up 4-4-2, presenting the Rams with a familiar problem of having to break through two solid rows of four. With Watt also dropping off when Derby had possession, Charlton often had nine men behind the ball.
It’s a problem Nigel Clough and Steve McClaren were unable to effectively solve and, on this evidence, Clement will also have to work with the players on a solution.
Only once in the first half did the Rams get behind the Charlton defence. Forsyth hit a raking cross-field ball to Tom Ince, Ince controlled it well, cut into the penalty area, cleverly beat two defenders, and pulled the ball back, only for Chris Martin to hit a tame shot wide of the goal.
Ince was another one to have a couple of shots blocked. He also fired one free-kick over the bar and forced a good save out of Pope with another.
Defensively, the Rams were much more solid and Carson was barely tested in goal. Richard Keogh and Jason Shackell worked together well in central defence, and Keogh impressed against Charlton’s tall centre forward Simon Makienok.
Cristian Ceballos fired over in the first minute and Carson saved Johann Berg Gudmundsson’s effort shortly after.
Carson had to be alert in the 31st minute when Baird attempted to chest the ball back to him, only for Ceballos to nip in, and Carson had to dive bravely at Ceballos’s feet to deny a goal.
In the second-half Charlton mounted a few counter-attacks and the Rams worrying tendency to back-off and back-off when the opposition run with the ball down the middle resurfaced.
From one such counter-attack in the 48th minute Charlton Athletic took the lead. Watt ran through the middle with the ball, the Rams backed-off and backed-off, and when Watt unleashed his shot the ball ballooned up off Keogh and looped over a helpless Carson into the back of the net.
Less than 10 minutes later, a similar counter-attack saw Gudmundsson’s shot deflect wide. Gudmundsson had another chance shortly after, he looked to be clean through but Shackell made up ground and deflected the shot wide. Makienok also hit a shot straight at Carson and later headed over the bar.
But the Rams dug in after falling behind and showed great character to take the game to the Addicks.
Forsyth slipped a neat pass into the box on 57 minutes and an off-balance Johnny Russell shot wide. Another pass from Forsyth saw Ince’s shot blocked on 65 minutes.
Derby County equalised on 68 minutes. Hanson threaded a lovely pass into the box, Martin took a touch and then hit a hard, low shot beyond Pope and into the bottom corner of the net.
Good work by Forsyth on 70 minutes saw Martin unselfishly set-up Andreas Weimann but the substitute’s touch was heavy and the chance was gone.
Two minutes later, great work Ince, Hendrick, and Martin created a good chance for Weimann. The Austrian went down in the penalty area but the referee was probably correct in waving away the penalty shout.
On 77 minutes Pope dived full length to parry away an Ince free-kick.
Ince sent an 85th minute free-kick over the bar.
After good work by Ince, Forsyth hit a fierce low cross into the box but it was too hard for Weimann to deal with and the ball hit his legs and went out for a goal kick.
Cyrus Christie replaced Hanson on 87 minutes and Baird moved into midfield. There was hardly time for Christie to get into the game but four additional minutes allowed him enough time to hit a cross into the box, Martin met it with a firm header, and Pope made a good save to tip it over the bar.
From a Hendrick corner, Weimann’s header was deflected out for another corner.
Charlton Athletic came for a draw and left with a point. The Addicks will argue they defended well and deserved the point.
I’m not so sure. Derby County will win games this season playing worse than this and creating less chances than this.
Ultimately though, the Rams weren’t clinical enough in front of goal, didn’t get behind the Charlton defence enough, and failed to create enough clear-cut chances.
Derby County (4-3-3): Scott Carson ; Chris Baird , Richard Keogh , Jason Shackell , Craig Forsyth ; George Thorne , Jamie Hanson  (Cyrus Christie, 87 [-]), Jeff Hendrick ; Tom Ince , Chris Martin , Johnny Russell  (Andreas Weimann, 66 ). Subs not used: Lee Grant, Stephen Warnock, Ryan Shotton, Simon Dawkins, Darren Bent.