With half his team making their debuts, facing a team without an away win all reason and the added bonus of a visit from his old club, Paul Jewell will have been hoping for a much needed sea-change in Derby’s fortunes. Instead he got pretty much more of the same, including the late winner, an unpopular feature of his time at the JJB, which he has taken to new levels in his short time in charge of the Rams.
If you had expected the talk ahead of this game to focus on Paul Jewell’s first match against the team he lifted through the divisions then you’ll have been undone by his (or Matt McCann’s) PR masterstroke. Ok, so that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the happy accident of 5 new signings and talk of building for next season’s promotion aid combined well with the positive messages about Latics’ chances and the strength of their squad to deflect any talk of this being a grudge match, or one where bragging rights were at stake.
The one thing that has been easy to forget is how quotable Jewell is, and whilst the press spent their time palling up to the scouser, Steve Bruce was busy carrying on his quiet revolution here in Wigan.
The first signing of his tenure was completed just in time to make the squad, and the addition of Wilson Palacios to the starting line up removed the need for any debate over who would take the midfield slot vacated by the injury to Ryan Taylor. The Honduran was at a disadvantage over his fellow debutants, having had less time with his new team-mates, and yet he was the one who came out on top. He wasn’t necessarily a world beater, but he showed enough tenacity and skill to suggest that there’s more to come.
For Derby, Savage lost out to Michael Brown for the second time this season, although he again managed to keep out of the book and Mills struggled against Valencia, who continued his recent role as easily our most creative player. The new striker Villa was given the thankless task of playing up-front on his own and Robert played like… well Laurent Robert on a bad day. Ghally? Well he did little to disprove the growing theory that he’s a good player in his head but nowhere else.
When you’re a side struggling for form as badly as Derby are, you can’t afford anyone having an off day, let alone half of your outfield players struggling to make an impact. With the new boys hardly firing, they were on a loser from the off and it was left to Latics to make the most of it. In a first half where dominance was an understatement, a combination of wasteful finishing and good goalkeeping left the visitors somewhat astray of their target.
Patience was the keyword for the second half, Jewell’s team talk obviously having some effect and inspiring Derby to scrap that bit more and try to frustrate the visitors. If biding their time brought Latics their just rewards, they were definitely helped out by the home team’s approach to defending, or in particular that of Claude Davis.
His battle with Marcus Bent, starting with a bit of roughing up in the first minute, looked as if it would provide an interesting aside to proceedings. Both players pushed things at times but in the end it was Davis who got on the wrong side of Mark Clattenburg. His swinging arm might have earned him a straight red on another afternoon but the referee’s decision was made easier by his earlier rugby tackle as Bent threatened to break free.
So with an half hour to go, Derby down to ten men and only Latics ever looking like they could get a win, the outcome was a fait accompli, wasn’t it? Well, the panic never kicked in, but Latics left it late. With 10 minutes left on the clock, Bruce decided to use the extra man by throwing on another attacker, replacing Landzaat with Sibierski, talk about an impact substitution.
His first and pretty much only input into proceedings came straight away, Bent cushioning a header square into his path for the Frenchman to lash home, first time from 20 some yards and, as far as the game goes, that was that. If there had been little chance of Derby sneaking a win then there was less chance of them sneaking a draw.
So all that was left was the post match comments, but there was no point waiting for a barbed comment or witty retort from Mr Jewell. It was one of those rare occasions where both managers were in agreement. The best team won.
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