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Commons shines as Derby show promise

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Paul Fletcher | 22:15 UK time, Saturday, 7 August 2010

At Elland Road.

There was a weary tone of resignation in Nigel Clough's voice as he fielded the inevitable question about his family's association with Leeds United.

Father Brian lasted just 44 days as Leeds manager back in 1974, with the recent film adaptation of David Peace's book The Damned United bringing the whole episode back into stark focus.

"No, it had meant nothing at all," said Derby manager Nigel when asked if his Dad's forgettable spell at Leeds had made his team's 2-1 victory on Saturday extra special.

"I felt more pleasure because my little lad had not been allowed to walk on the pitch one-and-a-half hours before kick-off. Apparently it was a club rule."

Nigel and his brother Simon both featured in The Damned United, actors portraying them as young children accompanying their old man, who had previously won the League title at Derby in 1972, as he arrived at Elland Road to start his ill-fated reign.

And Nigel was shadowed around the ground on Saturday by son William, the youngster chasing after his old man as he made his way from the gantry where he watched the match to the dressing room for his half-time talk.

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Robbie Savage delighted with win at Elland Road

Then there was the Brian-esque ploy that saw Nigel stop the team coach 200 yards from the ground and walk his players through the opposition fans to the ground.

The Derby manager insisted that he had done it purely because the team had arrived early and were in no rush to enter the away dressing room, which is often very hot. The slight grin on his face as he delivered his explanation suggested otherwise.

But I'm not sure that Brian ever sent a team out in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as Nigel has done throughout the close season and did so again at Leeds.

"It is a little bit unusual for the players but they have settled in well with it," said Clough.
The Netherlands fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation through the World Cup. The link between the Dutch and Derby comes through Johnny Metgod, who is a member of the coaching staff at Pride Park and was part of the Netherlands scouting team at the World Cup.

The Dutch frequently played Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt behind Robin van Persie in South Africa. Derby fielded Kris Commons, Paul Green and Tomasz Cywka behind Rob Hulse on Saturday - and I thought it worked effectively, with Leeds struggling to pick up the Rams forwards.

Hulse, who struck a superb opening goal with an angled strike, was an excellent target man - a role substitute Chris Porter is also capable of performing.

Cywka was fouled for the penalty that led to Derby's winner, while Green made several telling runs from deep positions - but it was Commons who really stood out.

The 26-year-old former Stoke and Nottingham Forest midfielder is hugely gifted but has been dogged by injury and fitness problems.

Commons tired against Leeds and Clough admitted that he needs to do further work to improve his fitness, but in the first hour he showed the full range of his talents.

Within minutes of kick-off he had burst into the Leeds box after a jinking, purposeful run and only narrowly missed with his left-foot strike. Later, his sumptuous pass played Hulse through for the opening goal and it was Commons cheeky, impudent penalty that proved to be the winning goal. He also picked out Green with another superb through ball and drew a brilliant save from Kasper Schmeichel.

Clough had experimented with the 4-2-3-1 system against Ipswich towards the end of last season, discussed it at length with his coaching staff and felt that it might be the best formation for the players he had available.

After signing midfielder James Bailey as well as full-backs John Brayford and Gareth Roberts during the close season, Clough was finally convinced it was the one to use.

"The performance was encouraging, especially in the first-half when we got the ball down and played," added the Rams boss. "We are in pretty good shape and have some good young players but it is very early days."

There is definite room for improvement in defence - and a tendency to over-play in their own half caused the mistake that led to the Leeds' goal. But the Rams showed a resolve to resist a late charge and held their shape under pressure.

Derby finished 14th last season, winning just three away games, but I reckon they can be regarded as one of a large bunch of clubs that might feel a play-off place is not beyond them. That said, a repeat of the sort of lengthy injury list that undermined Clough's options last season might see his team struggling towards the wrong end of the table yet again.

Of course, trying to read too much into opening-day results is a foolish business. Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest, favourites with the bookmakers for automatic promotion, both lost on Saturday, as did the likes of Reading, Leicester and Swansea.

Millwall won 3-0 at Bristol City - a superb result that ensured the Lions became the only promoted team to mark their return with a victory.

Leeds chairman Ken Bates outlined in his programme notes on Saturday his joy at having won promotion from the "sink estate" of League One.

He presides over what I regard as one of the biggest clubs in England and it will be fascinating to see how they perform this season.

Grayson has admitted that his sights are fixed on reaching the Premier League and is hopeful his team will benefit from the fact that they are no longer such a big fish in a small pond.

Leeds might well have snatched a point at the end on Saturday - and would have done so but for a goal-line clearance from Roberts.

They also have several key players to return from either injury or suspension, including close season signing Billy Paynter from Swindon. The striker scored 29 goals for the Robins and will improve Grayson's options in attack. Saturday saw him deploy a 4-5-1 system with goalscorer Luciano Becchio the lone forward.

"We had six players out who could easily get into the team," said Grayson.

"When we were trying to change the system we did not have too many attacking options."

Leeds were indebted to Kasper Schmeichel, who made a string of brilliant saves on his competitive debut. He will be an invaluable asset if he maintains that form.

"There were a lot of positives to take from the game," added Grayson. "We have to learn quickly and I am sure that we will."

Leeds will face another stern test when they play Nottingham Forest in their next Championship fixture and it could take Grayson's team some time to adjust to their new surroundings.

But what Saturday's match demonstrated was why I find the Championship such a beguiling and exciting division.

OK, some of the defending was atrocious but, allied to some crafty attacking play it ensured a steady supply of chances. There were flashes of brilliance and moments of madness.

It featured two teams who showed a strong desire to attack and was played in front of a loud and passionate atmosphere.

It might still be summer but the Championship is back - and I would not have it any other way.

You can follow me throughout the season at


  • Comment number 1.

    "Cywka was fouled for the penalty that led to Derby's winner"

    Its debatable whether he was fouled or not, though Derby were much better than us and Kasper kept us in the game.

    And whose Andy Paynter? He doesnt play for Leeds, that much I know.

  • Comment number 2.

    what about the elbow in howsons face in their penalty box about 10 minutes after the penelty

  • Comment number 3.

    Good performance from the super rams,i think we could have won by 3 or 4 to be honest. Schmeichael was in top form and the only reason leeds were still in the game come the final few minutes.Having said that i dont think leeds will have a problem staying up if they play two up front,especially at home.

    I was very impressed with Commons & Green today,if we stay injury free then we will have a very good chance of a top half/play-off spot come the end of the season.

    As for the penalty, well it was not a dive and Cywka was caught even if it was slight! Leeds fans seem to have a very short memory! Harry Kewell 1999 last minute at Pride Park THAT WAS A DIVE!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Welcome to the Championship...

  • Comment number 5.

    Cywka was fouled and it was a stone wall penalty, no question.

    Harry Kewell dived right at the end which made me sick.

    Fantastic performance from Derby, so pleased we haven't carried on from last year.


  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    To be fair I think it's a good time to Play Leeds at the moment - Injuries and suspensions and new players bedding in mean the first few weeks could be a bit of a struggle - Having said that Derby could have had more yesterday and the defence needs sorting out quickly. Maybe a partnership of Bruce and Collins should be tried midweek in the Carling cup.

  • Comment number 8.

    I must admit that the more I think about it, the more amusing I find Clough's ploy of stopping the Derby coach 200 yards before Elland Road, making his players walk the remaining distance to the ground.

    I think his old man would have been delighted with son copying the tactic favoured by former Leeds boss and Brian's arch-enemy Don Revie, who often walked the final few hundred yards to an away ground to show that his side were in charge and not afraid of anyone. It is a ploy that was featured in the film of The Damned United.

    It strikes me as showing that Nigel possesses a cheeky and impudent side. Robbie Savage, interviewed after the game, sounded delighted by it and it was obvious that the ploy had a positive impact on the Derby players.

    As for Andy Paynter (LUFC Falcon1986 - post one) - you're quite right - it is Billy all the way!

  • Comment number 9.

    Welcome to the Championship, the best league in the World, Prima Donna's not welcome. You can keep the premiership!. The Championship where young players are given a chance to master their craft.
    Nigel Clough at my club Derby County is doing just that & so are other managers.

    I hope we never get taken over by some Billionaire Sheik to use as a play thing & spoil what i believe nige is trying to do. New method, new ideas, Brilliant!

    Football has a fresh breeze blowing through it, & i'm loving it.

  • Comment number 10.

    I thought Robbie Savage had a good game. He looks as though he's finally found a way of making himself useful without his lack of pace being constantly exposed and without having to foul his way through a game. Yes, he made a dog's breakfast of the defending that led to the Leeds goal, but he's generally a calming influence at the rear of midfield and his free kicks can be dangerous.

    He still talks a lot of drivel on radio and TV (and I don't like the way he says "Listen!"), but I think Cloughie is right to keep faith with him on the pitch. He, Commons and Hulse form a decent backbone.

  • Comment number 11.

    I actually thought Robbie had an only slightly better than average game, he gave away possesion to much and is a bit slow, (age catching up with him) & against better sides than Leeds it may prove embarrassing.

    He's a good asset but not in every game i feel.
    Still Love robble :-)

  • Comment number 12.

  • Comment number 13.

    Why do Derby fans keep going on about Harry Kewell in 1999. Francis Lee started the diving thing back in 1975

  • Comment number 14.

    Just like watching a Derby game last season.

    One side with limited tactics, huffing and puffing, struggling with injuries and lacking quality. The other playing the more progressive football, resilent, keeping its shape and making that little extra quality count.

    How nice to have the roles reversed. Leeds played like we did last season! Leeds will improve, they have to improve.

    Derby fans shouldn't get carried away by one performance, I expected more from Leeds and, frankly, they were not very good. All our new signings played well, Cywka looks quality, the lads from Crewe positive and Gareth Roberts was a steady eddie and his goal-line clearance vital.

    If, and it's a very big if, we can steer clear of too many injuries, a top half finish should be a realistic aim. Anything else a bonus.

    "I'm still waiting at the bar to be served." Climb on to a barstool, Billy, the Aussie barmaid can't you see you from down there.

  • Comment number 15.

    CapnBob - glad you're not getting too carried away on the back of one result - very sensible.

    That said, I see you couldn't resist a little dig at Billy Davies. I wonder what drinks will come his way between now and the end of the transfer window?

    Forest had a tough opener at Burnley and it will be fascinating to see how they respond against a Leeds side who will also be desperate to pick up their first points.

    Any general thoughts after the opening weekend of what will be a long season?

  • Comment number 16.

    My money on both this teams to do absolutely nothing all season, both finish mid table and define the word mediocre.

  • Comment number 17.

    Great to see a young English manager like Nigel Clough adopting a non-typical 4-2-3-1 formation especially in the it to early to suggest he may actually do what his father never quite achieved and go on to manage the National team one day..the F.A. are looking to train up a younger manager and what a story that would make.

    As for the result..the Championship will be incredibly tight this season with lots of teams in the shuffle and opening day matches rarely provide a true barometer of a teams' overall chances of success - we'll have to wait a while before making a proper judgement.

  • Comment number 18.

    I don't think mcguirk12 knows what mediocre means. It means below average, so a mid-table finish would not be mediocre.

    I digress, Leeds could do anything this season from promotion to relegation. From the very first whistle you could see the passing game that disappeared after xmas last year was back. The pace of the new full backs and wingers also impressed me. Kasper made some amazing saves and while there's no doubt Derby had more possession and chances it was clear to me the team was of much higher quality than the one that scraped promotion.

  • Comment number 19.


    I just found the quote by Billy Davies genuinely amusing. I don't doubt Davies will have Forest there and there abouts again. Davies once wasted the best part of £3.5m on Claude Davis though. How I wished he had stayed teetotal on that one.

    It's such a competitive division, especially this season where there are no stand out teams, though I personally think QPR have finally got their act together and Warnock is a good manager at this level. They will also have the backing, I would think, to bolster things in January.

    It all boils down to confidence & consistency, depth of squad and avoiding injuries. Owen Coyle's Burnley were able to win promotion with a small, tightknit squad and avoided too many injuries.

    It's a mix of teams with big support but who have underachieved and carry debts alongside teams who have 'overachieved' yet are run well, on/off the pitch (Doncaster, a definite dark horse).

    I think JoC (17) is right, the first day no real indicator though we once got thrashed at home by Stoke 0-3 and we knew then already we were in a relegation battle from day one. I do think one of the more established Championship sides could find themselves under serious threat such as Preston.

  • Comment number 20.

    grecian9: "mediocre, from Latin 'mediocris' "of middling height or state," originally "halfway up a mountain,"

    mcguirk12 is quite right in definition and usage of the word 'mediocre'.

  • Comment number 21.

    Just to add, I found Nigel Pearson's move to Hull a surprise, but after yesterday's result, I would not discount Hull being in the top 6. He got Leicester promoted, using loans astutely and Bostock & the younger players could thrive under Pearson.

  • Comment number 22.

    No, i know what it means.
    It means average.
    You fool.

  • Comment number 23.

    Well done for being able to cut and paste from

    You conveniently missed this bit

    of only ordinary or moderate quality; neither good nor bad; barely adequate.
    rather poor or inferior.

  • Comment number 24.

    Oh and regarding football. Hull look good, Bostock is a great signing. I think Boro will take a season to get themselves sorted, cant understand the belief bookmakers have in them, or Forest for that matter, but at least they have last season to compare to.

    For me its Hull Ipswich and QPR for the playoffs.

  • Comment number 25.

    Neither good nor bad, WHAT IS THAT THEN, ITS AVERAGE!!!!!

    Thus mid table, oh my god are you that stupid?

  • Comment number 26.

    Sorry to hijack this football thread...apologies all.

    English is a very subtle language and there is widespread misunderstanding of the word mediocre. As you can see in the definition it also says rather poor and inferior. Mediocre means below average but not terrible. I'll leave it there.

  • Comment number 27.

    This game didn't seem to be anything special. Two average championship sides, and on the day, either side could have won it. Alot of Derby's success seems to rely on Commons, and on his day he can win a match single handedly, but as Forest fans will attest, he will only show up in about a tenth of Derby's matches. If he's not injured, he only performs during high profile matches (i.e. Forest v Yeovil (2008), Derby v Man Utd).

    Leeds had a number of their better players missing, so I'd expect them to finish in the top half of the table, whilst for Derby, I'd predict a similar season to last season, finishing just below midtable.

  • Comment number 28.

    Johnny Metgod influencing the new style of play at Derby ? - I think that is a good shout Paul

    When we started playing the 4-2-3-1 pre-season I wondered where it had come from, was pleased that Nigel was showing more tactical sophistication; the link with Johnny M makes sense !

    It is only one game but I thought our approach and style yesterday was miles better than almost every game last season - as others have commented the holding role suits Sav better and fielding three attacking midfielders in KC, Greeny & Cwyka gives us so much more threat that last year.

    More optimistic than I was some weeks ago - hopeful of a top ten finish

  • Comment number 29.

    Last season we (Leeds) found it hard because teams came out and played like it was their FA Cup final. I thought this season that we would be the underdog in all of the games, but I think the name Leeds united brings out the best in people - just watch the interview with Robbie Savage, you would have thought that he had just won the World Cup.

    I think we will end up mid-table, and I will be pleased with that. The game reminded us that we are in the Championship, not League One.

  • Comment number 30.

    I'm sorry but I must have been watching a different game.
    Did no-one from either coaching staff, or indeed any of the posters here watch any of the World Cup?
    Wasn't the televised game a perfect example as to why England will never win anything internationally?

    Top quality football is all about possession : if you've got the ball, they can't score.
    It's all about technique and support play to make sure that you can keep possession.

    Instead what was shown over and over again?
    a)One team lumps the ball forward.
    b)There's a bit of aerial combat
    c)the other team gets the ball and either boots it out of play,or they in turn, just lump it forward again.
    Repeat, ad nauseam, from (a) until some lucky bounce or blind-side elbowing produces a shooting chance.

    Where was the skill, the patience, the ability to pass to feet, the ability to see and deliver an incisive pass? No, for all the crocodile tears after the South Africa debacle, what we all still seem to want to see is good old manly hoof and chase.

    Bring back Tommy Lawton and Norman Hunter!

  • Comment number 31.

    I hope we keep getting written off. Keep doubting us, hate us if you so wish. We deserved the victory yesterday and looked dangerous going forward. When Barker plays, our defence is resolute. I can't see us Rams finishing too high up, however the lack of knowledge on DCFC matters from other fans is alarming. Last season, we had a catastrophic number of injuries. We are still missing the likes of Addison and Davies. Nobody seems to have Derby down to finish above 17th. That will do, no expectancy, being mocked yet knowing we actually have a squad with some decent talent. Here's hoping. UTR.

  • Comment number 32.

    I love the fact Nigel did the ol' Don Revie trick. That move alone has rasied my respect for him 10 fold.

    I watched the Damned United a few weeks back and it brought tears to my eyes. Seeing lil Nigel in the film really brings a sense of where he has come from. I now wish him all the luck in the world after this cunning decision. I thought Cloughie was a living legend when I was about 8 years old and we miss his kind in todays Corporate governed world - but Nigel has always struck me as a 2 dimensional character. Maybe I have underestimated the proportion of Clough genes that run through his body !

    STID. Swansea Till I die.

  • Comment number 33.

    Derby didn't play amazing as well as this article says. They looked very frail in defense as well cus leeds had a lot of shots on target and hit the crossbar at one point. Our defence was worse though and fair play to Derby who, if it weren't for Kasper, would've won by a lot more. Bear in mind you lot were playing against an INCOMPLETE Leeds side with 4 of our main players missing.

    Also in response to all this Damned United rubbish. I am a Leeds fan and have seen the film, i also enjoyed it a lot. I've also read the book and you have to remember it was written by a Huddersfield fan who are BIG rivals of Leeds so it's obviously going to be biased, and films just like to exaggerate things even more just to be entertaining

  • Comment number 34.

    30. At 8:59pm on 08 Aug 2010, swaqik wrote:

    I'm sorry but I must have been watching a different game.
    Did no-one from either coaching staff, or indeed any of the posters here watch any of the World Cup?
    Wasn't the televised game a perfect example as to why England will never win anything internationally?

    Top quality football is all about possession : if you've got the ball, they can't score.
    It's all about technique and support play to make sure that you can keep possession.



    I take your point and to a certain extent it is a valid one. However, I'm not sure that using a game between two Championship teams, especially given that one finished in the lower half and one was promoted from League Two, is a good way to show the inefficiencies of the National Team as I'm pretty sure we wont be seeing any players from either side in the National team this year.

  • Comment number 35.

    It does make me laugh on how everyone is defying a teams season on Saturdays game, I'm a Leeds fan and I can honestly say we wer not great, we wer open at the back and didn't av a plan b as time was running out but let's be honest derby we no better! They got the lead and used ther experience to keep it, Leeds hit the bar twice, moved the ball around well and caused problems, Leeds av 4 quality players missing kisnorbo, snodgrass, gradel and paynter and will all make a difference, it's game one people, I saw better teams at elland road last season than derby. Fair play to derby but dnt write Leeds off yet it's very early

  • Comment number 36.

    Can we stop all this nonsense about big brave Derby walking the last 200 yards, running the gauntlet of Leeds fans and showing they were in charge ala Leeds when revie was in charge? Those of you who have seen the film will attest that it was shown to be a match at Burton (I think) when Clough was manager and the Leeds coach couldn't get into the ground so they HAD to walk. I think you'll find that the Derby bus didn't turn right into the Leeds ground so they had to walk the short distance from the main entrance on Elland Rd into the covered walkway through to the dressing rooms - probably no more than 75 yards - and at the time they arrived there would have been a few stewards, programme sellers setting up and the odd fan. So much for big tough Derby!

  • Comment number 37.

    @ Guiseley Pete

    No-one from the club is building up the Rams players walk to the ground as "big tough Derby" as you put it

    But it was an unusual thing to do and for a team like us with a number of young players in it , it probably settled a few nerves

    Also brush up on your history of your own club - this is something Revie used to do in the 1960's and the incident depicted in the Damned United occurred in 1967 when Derby County played Leeds in the League Cup

  • Comment number 38.

    Leeds' defence looked like they were playing their first competitive game together and had been assembled over the summer, which is true. Bessone, Naylor and Collins looked lost when trying to work out what the other one was doing. It's not because they're bad players, just that they don't have the experience playing together. Though Bessone was miles out of position for the first goal. Lets not forget too that we could and perhaps should have scored two more.

    But I've no complaints with the result, I don't think we deserved to win, nor do I think we deserved to lose, or walk away with a point. Same with Derby. They won, lets move on. (Though that wasn't a penalty, I had a near perfect view of it being positioned next to the corner flag, but hey, these things happen and even themselves out over a season)

    Commons was fantastic for Derby and I thought Savage bossed the midfield around, you can tell he's been around for years and it showed (in the positive way).

    And let's not forget that Derby are an established Championship club and we're the new boys, I'll happily take 21st come the end of the season.

  • Comment number 39.

    @ 30 swaqik,

    "Where was the skill, the patience, the ability to pass to feet, the ability to see and deliver an incisive pass?"

    ....erm. All 3 goals ??

  • Comment number 40.

    I think too much fuss was made in the build up to the game concerning the Clough connection. As a 37 year old Leeds fan my memories of Brian Clough are as the manager of Nottingham Forest.

    Most fans were more interested in seeing how their teams would line up and who would get the three points. I thought it was a good game. Credit to Derby they looked dangerous coming forward and thanks to some excellent saves by Kasper, they only scored two goals.

    The penalty wasn't clear-cut as some are suggesting and it wasn't a dive either. It was one of those that could have gone either way.

    I left the ground feeling optimistic having reassured now that we have some pace in the Leeds team. Sanchez Watt and Lloyd Sam looked lively and I am excited about Max Gradel returning from suspension to link up with them.

    Did Derby raise their game for the trip to Elland Road? I'm not sure.If they play like that for the rest of the season Derby will finish in the top six in my opinion.

    As for Leeds I reckon most fans would be happy for a season of consolidation. A top half finish would be great with anything better a bonus.

  • Comment number 41.

    Good Blog Paul, as per usual.

    Sink estate ?????? He must be hating not having his grandiose seat at Chelski anymore !!

    League 1, as you well know is far from it, some very good footballing teams in there, which has been proved by the way some have come out of there and done very well in the championship, even going through it realitively quickly to the greed is good league.
    A lot more managers get to cut their teeth down here, and a lot of them preach good passing and good football, i'd rather watch a good league 1 match than two 'premier' teams battling for survival, because that's what it is, a battle (to watch !!)


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