Up to the Rams scoring their first goal in the 38th minute, we had been the better of two bad sides and with a bit more quality up front and composure on the final ball we could have been a couple of goals up. However, as at Norwich on Wednesday evening, once the home side had scored we lost our way even further and the second-half performance was pretty awful in all honesty. It doesn’t need a genius to work out that when seven of the 11 that finished the game had no previous Championship experience prior to this season, then the odds are stacked against you before you start. North End wore their third kit of green and yellow for the first time and the side showed four changes from the starting line up at Carrow Road with Davies, Ledson, Harrop and Burke coming in for Clarke, Browne, Barkhuizen and Moult. Alex Neil reverted to his tried and trusted 4-2-3-1 and PNE at least looked better balanced. North End looked the more comfortable early on but any quality in the final third was conspicuous by its absence and it also has to be said that the home side looked very nervous. Nmecha and Robinson had chances before Derby took the lead against the run of play when Mount collected a cross from Nugent and steadied himself to put the ball past Declan Rudd to send the home side in one up at the break. The second half started with North End having a half chance via Burke but, as in the first period, it was the hosts who looked the most likely. The thing that became more and more obvious was that we were not executing our gameplan, whatever that was, and that missing the experience of Browne and Clarke was impacting the team’s performance. Derby were no great shakes but North End were content to pass the ball around without making any incisive moves into the Rams’ defence. When Keogh sealed the game with a back-post header in the 78th minute the frustration of the North End fans turned to anger. I, personally, don’t think it is the fact that we have lost all three away games but more the manner in which we have lost them and the real handicap of not having a proven goalscorer, at this level, available for selection. Whether you want to talk tactically about this game or strategically about where the club is going you will come to the same answer and that is that North End are lacking in quality and experience and that can only be solved by investment. The club has known all summer that some firepower was needed. The lad from City has potential but there is a huge “toughening up” process to go through. Alex Neil is already talking about a tougher Championship and a limited budget and his guarded frustration was echoed by some of the fans at Derby.
In the Championship games come thick and fast and Saturday’s game at Derby was an ideal opportunity to put right the disappointing midweek loss at Norwich. However far from being a barnstorming performance it was completely the opposite with not one single positive to be taken from a lacklustre display from which we got what we deserved out of the game that being absolutely nothing. We have now not scored on the road for 270 minutes and at any level of football if you don’t score, the best you can get out of a game is a 0-0 draw. On the evidence of this display you would have to take a lot of powerful hallucinogenic drugs to envisage a North End side playing Premier League football next season and after last season’s relative success ,we now appear to be going more in a backwards direction. Derby were no great shakes in my opinion and if we had played to the levels we achieved last season I think we would have come away with at least a point. However with our lack of firepower up front and with Derby getting the all important key first goal just before the break the result was never really in doubt from that moment on. Once the second goal went in 15 minutes from time it was all over and I found myself wishing I was somewhere else instead of seeing the game out to its painful conclusion. For me it was a return to the bad old days I have seen on numerous occasions as a seasoned North Ender. But it was the manner in which we lost what made me feel as deflated as a man who had just put his month’s wage on red on the roulette table only for it to land on black. At the end of the game sections of the travelling fans who had parted with their hard-earned money to watch their side voiced their disapproval and while I personally did not boo, I could sympathise with their frustrations and feel we need to up our game soon and try and somehow rediscover the x-factor .