In the end, Wayne Rooney was able to name an experienced first eleven after a week of drama as his boss tried to navigate around the sanctions he himself has brought upon the Rams, and the delusional predictions of an easy task for the Terriers predictably evaporated.
Town’s own, more short term, difficulties arose in the run up to the game and stripped them of a goalkeeper, two left backs and their most valuable asset (also a sometime, if misjudged, left back). With Corberán also isolating, the disruption was complete.
Defensively, Town look far more capable of overcoming injury and suspension this season, though that is a particularly low bar to clear, and the adoption of a back 3 in some games had been predicted, if not for the opener. With Turton on the right being significantly more defensive minded than Pipa, risks were reduced somewhat but at the expense of threat.
An ill prepared but experienced home side was pitched against a well prepared but disrupted visiting team and the eventual sharing of points was a fair outcome in a game lacking quality in most areas, but not effort.
The fact that Derby didn’t visibly tire as the game wore on was admirable given their horrible circumstances and, indeed, they could have claimed all 3 points had Schofield not made up for a poor decision parrying a low cross in to a dangerous area with a good save from Sibley.
Minutes before that heart in mouth moment, substitute Campbell fired an excellent chance too close to Roos with Town looking increasingly more likely to grab a win.
The introduction of Campbell and Koroma introduced a better dynamic than the partnership of Ward and Rhodes. Neither of the original front two played badly but they lacked chemistry and produced little in the way of threat.
A disappointing first half, as the sides weighed each other up, was only brightened by Sorba Thomas’s vibrant and fearless efforts. None of his substitute appearances last season suggested the vertiginous raising of his levels he is showing, despite the obvious enthusiasm he displayed.
Somehow, Corberán needs to find a way of accommodating both Thomas and Koroma – the latter looked nearer to his own high standards when he came on than in his disappointing display at Hillsborough last Sunday.
Derby opened the scoring rather out of the blue, though an uncharacteristic error by Pearson had nearly let the home side in just before the half hour with Schofield doing well to close down the threat and the Rams had a brief period of ascendancy before their opener.
Giving away a corner following good work from Lawrence, the ball should either have been headed away by Holmes defending the near post or left to Schofield who came to claim it only to be thwarted by the ex-Derby man’s unintended flick on which flew to the back post. A combination of Curtis Davies and Levi Colwill bundled the ball over the line.
Encouragingly, Town were level by the break as the impressive Thomas delivered a superb ball in to the box from a free kick (he had delivered another to Rhodes minutes before which the striker didn’t quite connect with and the glance went wide). This one was met, unchallenged, by the towering Sarr and momentum switched back to the visitors for the second half.
Even before the half time whistle blew, High drew a good save from Roos and the subsequent corner should have caused more danger following another Rhodes flick.
A more interesting second half followed, with Town largely on the front foot but Derby looking dangerous on the break. The visitors played too slowly on the whole, though the penetration provided by Thomas was enhanced by the arrival of Koroma who carried threat down the right and Town began to look the more potent.
A corner resulting from another passage of attacking play found Pearson unmarked and the defender should have buried the chance rather than head over. Thomas, of course, had put the opportunity on Pearson’s head.
The outstanding player of the game then set Campbell free for another gilt edged opportunity but his shot was too close to Roos and, at that moment, it felt that the visitors’ chances of a winning start to the campaign had gone.
That final lapse and redemption by Schofield ensured that a positive, if slightly disappointing, result was achieved.
Playing their first competitive game ahead of the new season was sensible preparation, only to be ruined by the COVID problems, while the circumstances of their opponents, which will bite later in the season, added up to a game where conclusions are difficult to draw.
The anticipointment (yes, this is a word!) which usually accompanies the first game was absent, though the joy of both sets of fans to be present was not.
Stiffer challenges await, particularly in the next 5 games, but the emergence of Thomas as a talent of great potential will be fascinating to witness. Goals look as scarce as ever, but a Thomas/Koroma combination may provide the ammunition up front to keep Town clear of trouble, if the former can maintain his progress and the latter can adapt to playing down the right.
Defensively, Town look more secure, though they need a calmer influence behind them than Schofield. Nicholls needs to be restored against Fulham, if his circumstances permit.
A strange opening day, then, but life apparently returning back to normal is to be celebrated. It felt good.