The football gods have heaped more than a fair share of good fortune on Town this season, which continued in midweek as Wayne Rooney’s Derby County came looking for more points to aid their unlikely survival bid.
If you hold your nose against the stench of over spending cheating going back to Frank Lampard’s Derby County and beyond, there is something rather heroic in their efforts to claw back the penalties imposed upon them and their support is clearly rallying around the flag in times of adversity. The visiting support was particularly vociferous all evening.
Town’s good fortune continued as a reckless challenge on O’Brien by his erstwhile colleague Stearman, following an excellent early press which forced a big error, had the referee producing a fairly straightforward red card. It was just as reckless, and probably more so, as Koroma’s on Friday night but this time the referee was competent.
It has been a regular feature down the years that Town are often comically inept when facing 10 men, though they did take advantage when Blackpool were reduced a few weeks ago; even so, Stearman’s departure was not quite the gift outsiders would assume.
Naturally, the Rams were limited by the decision and what promised to be an open and exciting game became a frustrating and attritional affair with the visitors, not unnaturally, digging in for a point and Town struggling to make their numerical supremacy count for long periods.
The initial euphoria of seeing an opposition player dismissed usually wanes fairly quickly as it dawns that the advantage is more marginal than assumed and frustration, on and off the pitch, follows on behind. Town didn’t deserve the boos of a small amount of supporters, but their attempts to pick their way through a deep defensive wall were not particularly inspiring and creating good chances proved difficult.
Not that the home side lacked energy and, if anything, it was over elaboration which saw them falter as they sighted goal. One intricate move involving Sinani, Toffolo and O’Brien opened up the visitors at last only for Holmes’ effort from a fairly tight angle to be well saved by Allsop (a dead ball was mistakenly awarded).
Overall, though, Town were restricted to half chances and thwarted by a very good defensive performance by the visitors.
Unsurprisingly, Corberán’s half time change saw Pearson replaced by Eiting who finally saw a peopled stadium as his second Town career begins. With Hogg moving to defence, Corberán was signalling good intent, but Eiting’s stumbling introduction to the game with 3 consecutive poor passes failed to provide the desired momentum.
In fact, the first chance of note fell to Derby and Town only escaped considerable embarrassment because Sibley just failed to bring the ball under control when he was heading for a one on one with Nicholls.
The scare did prompt a reaction from Town, though they still failed to threaten as the final 20 minutes approached. They should have been further aided by another sending off when Ebosele, who impressively snuffed out Thomas’s threat pretty much entirely, fouled O’Brien to stop a break having already been booked for kicking the ball away.
Rather belatedly, after nearly half an hour of insignificant threat from the home side, Corberán replaced Hogg with Rhodes and gave the Rams something different to think about. By this point, Pipa had revitalised the right flank having replaced the dependable Turton and he helped Thomas find more space with his surging runs.
On the three quarter mark, good fortune shone on the hosts again as a move involving simple passing by Sinani, O’Brien and Eiting found Holmes on the edge of the box. At the point of taking the shot, Bielik threw himself at the ball which diverted it in a loop over the beaten keeper.
The relief of the home contingent contrasted sharply with Derby’s despair as they saw all their hard work undone by a deflection. Cruel.
With nothing to lose, the visitors pushed forward and were always vulnerable to the counter, with their defensive shape necessarily abandoned and, sure enough, an incisive Town attack freed Ward to shoot at Allsop who parried in to the path of Rhodes to register his first goal of the season and his 74th for the club.
Rhodes could have added a third late on but inexplicably got his legs tangled up and the chance was gone.
So another 3 points gained, the unbeaten run extended and a strengthened squad with 2 Chelsea loanees to be added over the next few weeks. It wasn’t particularly pretty, often frustrating and far from straightforward against a valiant opponent but Town maintain their challenge with momentum and promise.
An excellent transfer window gives Town a very good platform for the rest of the season; carpe diem.