We never beat Derby. Oh, I know there was a brief period in the BO* years, when they were a perennial mid-table bore and we were the flairtastic side that everyone hated, when we considered a visit from County untaxing – it was them that Vicente waltzed through to nearly score the best goal ever seen at the Amex – but recently, as far as Derby are concerned we have represented a walking three points. And rightly so. While our side of ex-internationals has been decimated Steve McClaren has taken what was only promising under Nigel Clough and sent it in to overdrive. It was only in May last year that I was drooling over them and wishing them all the best in the playoff final. They were easily the best side in the division last season and it was a travesty that they didn’t go up. Since then we have been back to the scene of that playoff disaster and conceded three goals in less than fifteen minutes under Hyypia’s suicidal leadership. I wasn’t expecting much.
I got off the train at Brighton. I was heading, again, for The Cyclist. I saw my friend Paul. “I’m not expecting much “ I said. He replied that the fact they’d just lost to Fulham, and that we’d played so well against Leeds meant they were beatable. This seemed to echo a conversation I’d had with The Boy just before I’d left the house. I was meeting my brother in the pub but he wasn’t there. Another friend was though, Andy aka Terry the Trainspotter, a man I’ve travelled the length and breadth of the country with watching Brighton back before marriage and kids. “I’m not expecting much” I said. Andy replied that Fulham had proven Derby were beatable.
My brother arrived and we jumped on the train to Falmer. “I’m not expecting much” I said, to which he replied along the lines of ‘you never know’. Fulham beat them. We had a couple of pints in Dick’s and then met my season ticket buddies in the West Upper concourse. I’ll let you guess how the conversation went.
So I took these low expectations to my seat, like last week during fanzone, and just like last week the stadium was deserted. It seemed no one else expected much either. That extended to the players. And let’s pause here for some amateur psychology (because, just as last week, the Real Ale had flowed and actual match description is a bit, well, sparse). How much of our feelings as fans transmits to the pitch? Genuinely?
Each game this season where we have taken the lead my immediate thought has been that we are about to concede. In fact it took the Leeds game to knock that out of me because we didn’t. Is that because we were all thinking it, and group pessimism somehow transmitted to the players? ‘We mustn’t concede now, we must hold this lead’ they’d think and immediately play within themselves and concede. So were fifteen thousand or more of us now thinking “we’re not expecting much” as the game kicked off, because that’s how we played. Within minutes Derby had hit the woodwork when a nice interchange led to Hendrick curling an effort beyond Stockdale but not in.
That’s right. Hendrick. Not Bent, nor our tormentor in chief Chris Martin, who were both missing. Derby may have been in All Yellow but the longer the Clocks ticked the less chance there was of them weaving some Magic and ending up in Paradise. Sorry. The point is that they were closing us down while we were affording them room. Their passing was slick where ours was laboured (one beauty from Holla excepted, though he tried to repeat the trick five minutes afterwards and played one of the most horrible balls ever seen at The Amex). I can’t name a chance that we had in the first half. Eventually my head and my bladder had had enough and I took myself off to relieve the pressure on it, wash my hands and get the beers in. The TV in the concourse was showing the last minute of the half and Derby should have scored, Stockdale tipping a point blank header over when they would have scored had it gone either side.
I wasn’t expecting much anyway.
If you thought Derby had dominated the first half then they absolutely BOSSED the first fifteen minutes of the second. We barely had a touch as the goal led a charmed (or perhaps a Bent and Martin free) life. They created then they missed. Then we gave them the ball again. They created then they missed. We gave them the ball. It was like groundhog day. And then. We tried a rare foray up their end. The North Stand, seeing some action at last, woke up. We won a long throw. Stephens won a header that was blocked. The loose ball fell to him six yards out. HE COULDN’T MISS! He didn’t. 1-0 us. I wasn’t expecting that.
And that was it really. The goal sucked the life out of them. Their fans who had been remarking on the dubious quality of our home support went silent. We gave it Ring of Fire like we were back at Fulham. The players seemed to realise that we now believed and the game evened out. And then the moment of the match (ok the moment for US, Derby having squandered chance after chance). O’Grady who had been fantastic leading a fairly non existent line and feeding off scraps exposed the space in the Derby defence left by their chasing of an equaliser and put in Lua Lua. In acres of space he did not cut in on his right foot but rather transferred the ball to his left and hit a blistering shot in to the bottom corner. No one was expecting that. We got the full backflip celebration and up in the Gods the four of us, Mark who has suffered the season with me, Steve who I have travelled everywhere with and my brother went stark, staring mental.
That was that. Daylight robbery. Grand larceny. Three points.
This morning, while writing this, The Boy appeared. “We won 2-0” I informed him. “Oh” he replied. “I didn’t expect that.”