After my favourite ever away day last Tuesday at the KC Stadium in Hull, I was left mulling over what could have been if Derby had applied themselves in this manner all season long.
The first leg of the 2016 Play-offs left me with very little, in fact no hope at all, of going to Wembley for the second time in three years.
Desire, passion, grit, flair, determination, honesty. Everything that was lacking from the first 90 minutes.
Tactically Derby got it so wrong.
With the absence of George Thorne from the heart of the midfield following his horrific double leg break, Darren Wassall was left with the dilemma of who to put just in front of the back four. The head coach turned to Will Hughes to fill that role, as the returning Bradley Johnson slotted into the more attacking midfield position.
As a big fan of Will Hughes, it was inevitable that this decision was horrendous, and it showed in his and the team’s performance in comparison to Tuesday night. Hughes’ offensive creativity is second to none but still leaves his defensive capabilities to be discovered just yet.
The vast majority of Derby fans understood that this decision would not work. Hughes is wasted and offers very little when played as a deep lying defensive midfielder. So the problems started before the game began on Saturday afternoon.
Little cohesion and creativity was at the forefront for Derby’s failure in the opening game of the play-off campaign but the contrast to the second leg is not far from unbelievable.
Travelling to Hull, three nil down, Derby needed to become history makers. Do what no team had ever done before in the play-offs and overcome a two nil deficit from the first leg.
Scoring first was vital. It was imperative for the Rams to exit the starting blocks at full throttle and leave nothing to the imagination. This was exactly what happened and couldn’t have been scripted any better.
When Johnny Russell found himself time and space in the six-yard-box to tuck away the first goal of the night the away end was instilled with a small amount of hope. Thirty minutes later, having the lion’s share of possession and reaming defensively resolute, close to 3,000 travelling Derby supporters were sent into bedlam, when an impressive ball into the box by Marcus Olsson was met by the boot of defender Andrew Robertson who turned the ball into his own net.
Wow. What a first half performance.
A deserved two goal lead and all 11 players heading for the changing room having delivered an awe-inspiring display.
The second forty five was to be pretty much the same. Dominance from Derby and a chance early doors to put the aggregate score line level and take the tie into crunch time.
Had Craig Bryson poked home from an Andreas Weimann cross the result could and should have been very different.
However it wasn’t meant to be. And after all their best efforts Derby fell short as a result of their dismal first leg display.
To his credit and the teams credit, Darren Wassall deserve tremendous praise the passion they both showed on the night and the unwillingness to give up despite the weight of the world being against them.
Derby have become a team that are wanted to fail. They are now are team used to failing after the last three disappointing seasons. Had the team performed like they did on Tuesday night for the whole season then they would have walked the league by a country mile. It was insane to imagine.
Where Derby go from now on is unknown. Whether Wassall will be here for the long run or not is still undecided, but with the names of so many high quality managers in the market window, Mel Morris has a huge decision on his hands.
With this comes the decisions of who to keep and who to release as plain and simply a first team squad of 29 is far too big.
Stay tuned for my next piece that will explore the options for Mel Morris and where Derby go from here