Rovers 1-1 Derby: What We Learned
ITEN made it down for the first home game of pre-season last night, with a new-look Rovers side hosting Championship outfit Derby County. Whilst we covered the match live over on our Twitter page, here we take a more in-depth look at the key elements of the game from a DRFC perspective.
The Shape of Things
Whilst these exhibition games often see managers testing multiple different set-ups and styles, Darren Ferguson stuck rigidly to his favoured 3-5-2 formation for 90 minutes here. It was one of the more consistent uses of a friendly fixture I’ve ever seen from both sides, as Derby maintained the same shape and team for the entire contest in addition to our staunch execution of the 3-5-2. But did it work for us?
Certainly we saw both the positives and negatives of such an unorthodox line-up as the game wore on, but overall the manager can probably look back at this game as a success for a set-up that has been debated to death by the Rovers fanbase in the near two years since his arrival at the club. In attack, playing with five across midfield gave us great width and depth to mount tactical moves in the final third, particularly in the second half when the midfield influence of James Coppinger, Tommy Rowe and to some extent trialist Issam Ben Khemis enabled Rovers to find space in and around the box to create plenty of good opportunities on goal. Our equaliser itself was a great example of this, Rowe slamming home from inside the box after some skilful work between him, Coppinger and Alfie May.
At the back, the fluidity of a five-man defence transitioning into five across midfield worked well, and in Danny Andrew it appears Fergie has finally found the elusive left wing back that he has sought since discovering that Cedric Evina wasn’t up to the job. Great at getting up and down the touchline, Andrew also possesses strong crossing ability and has a long throw in his arsenal too, and playing opposite the lightning fast Matty Blair should mean Rovers have a constant outlet down the flanks this season. The three central defenders also kept their shape well, restricting Derby’s productivity in the middle of the park both sides of the half, with the Rams primarily forging attacks in behind the wing backs. If the right personnel are deployed in these three positions going forward then our defence may just be meaner than it has ever been under the current management.
New Boys Bed In
The game gave many Rovers fans their first glimpse at our new signings so far this summer, sans injured forward Alex Kiwomya, with largely positive showings from the recent acquisitions.
The aforementioned Danny Andrew was probably the pick of the bunch, providing a constant threat in the first half down the left hand side. He showed he was more than capable of seamlessly switching from attacking to defensive duties, putting several good crosses in along with the odd long throw, and whilst we didn’t get a true glimpse of his dead ball skills, he did take a few corners with mixed results. After the break, playing left-hand side of the central defensive three, Andrew was comfortable and fit in well alongside Andy Butler and Niall Mason, with the only blemish coming when he upended Mason Bennett for the penalty that Chris Martin managed to send high into the North Stand. Ben Whiteman meanwhile had a much better second half than he did the first, looking like the positive presence needed at the base of the midfield whereas he struggled to get in the game during a tricky first 45 for the whole team.
And what of the trialists? The first, Steven Taylor, lived up to his reputation by putting in a composed display in the sweeper role at the heart of the defence. Taylor has been drafted in to cover the absence of Mathieu Baudry, struck down by another foot injury in the last few weeks, and as a short-term solution to this pressing need, Taylor fits the bill. Highly experienced at the top level, the still only 31-year-old centre back marshalled the back line showing true leadership qualities, and has apparently settled in to the squad very quickly. Young midfielder Issam Ben Khemis was given a second run-out on the hour mark and got the home fans off their seats on more than one occasion with exciting runs through the Derby defence, largely impressing with his array of abilities and willingness to get forward at every opportunity.
Good Night, Bad Night
ITEN awarded the Man of the Match accolade to substitute James Coppinger owing to his game-changing display in the second half. Providing that extra dimension that is just always lacking when he isn’t on the pitch, Copps transformed our attacking prowess and made Championship defenders look distinctly ordinary on multiple occasions. Influential in Tommy Rowe’s equalising goal shortly before the hour, our evergreen captain only seems to get better with time. Rowe himself displayed great guile and poise playing in the midfield trio for an hour, fully justifying his continued prominent place among Fergie’s favourites. Youngsters Liam Mandeville and Tyler Garratt also deserve singling out for strong performances, Mandeville demonstrating much of the same unpredictability that aided his rise to prominence last year, and Garratt showing more than we’ve seen from him before playing in multiple positions along the back five.
On what was a very good night overall for Rovers, it seems unfair somewhat to focus on anyone in a negative manner, but if looking for areas to improve upon then that focus must go to centre half Joe Wright. Wright has shown much promise in his young career to date, but struggled against a Derby front line carrying high pedigree. His distribution was lacking and his speed of thought also came into question a few times, particularly when passing forward into dangerous positions. He also lost his head slightly in slamming a wild shot into the advertising hoardings when Blair was free to his right, and was somewhat fortunate not to concede a penalty as well. Ian Lawlor also had a couple of suspect moments in the first half, let off when failing to come for a ball over the top that Martin squandered with an mistimed lob, and also making a couple of badly executed punches when conviction was needed.
That said, it was by no means a shocking night for anyone in Rovers colours (which on this occasion were black and neon green, for a change) and of course any comments on performances in pre-season should always be taken with a pinch of salt. All in all, we should all be pleased with the team’s efforts to get a well-earned draw against higher level opposition.
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