Michael Bailey: Nelson’s time, rowing Rowett and the rock at the back – Six things learned from City’s dive in at the Derby deep end
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After Norwich City dived in at the Derby deep end, Michael Bailey delivers his six things learned from an excellent Championship performance that deserved even more.
1 – Booing him is pointless
James Maddison has annoyed a lot of Championship supporters this season, and it’s brilliant. It started off being his response to opponents trying to kick him off the park. It’s a sign of his continuing improvement that the number of players getting close enough to him to do that is readily decreasing.
Had Nelson Oliveira been on the receiving end of such treatment from the crowd, you could see emotions boiling over. Yet as Derby continued to hope their boos would dampen Maddison’s influence, you just knew it’d only add fuel to the fire.
It’s a trait that took Craig Bellamy to the top, and will serve Maddison just as well.
City’s number 23 actually admitted he was too busy claiming a penalty to notice Moritz Leitner had put the ball in the net in the second half, but all resolved itself in the end.
Which is good because given what happened at Carrow Road earlier in the season, you’d hate for Derby fans to feel hard done-by.
2 – Leit touch worked out in the end
Confession time here. With 20 minutes gone, it felt like the wrong call. Mario Vrancic should have got the nod in place of a crocked Tom Trybull – making the most of his English acclimatisation rather than trialing someone else’s.
At that point, Moritz Leitner looked a little lost when City didn’t have the ball – which was threatening to be a lot, given how poorly his team-mates were keeping it.
Indeed, the dynamic between Leitner and Maddison was fascinating almost from kick-off, and regularly featured verbal exchanges and directions between the pair.
Their intention to rotate and switch is exciting. The pair getting in each other’s way on occasion is part of the learning curve – Maddison admitted as much to me after the game.
But we’ve also seen how their wavelength can and will cut teams open. That and Leitner’s own quality raised City’s all-round level and made Saturday a success.
3 – Leaders don’t have to be senior
Not that Moritz Leitner’s afternoon entirely avoided a hairy moment. His twist and turn in the 89th minute on the edge of his own box won a free-kick off Kasey Palmer, but could have been worse.
At which point, Christoph Zimmermann made sure City’s number 10 was aware of his thoughts as the clock wound down. Leitner jogged off with the words still ringing in his ears.
It was enough to underline the progress Zimmermann has made – including the fact some notable Premier League managers have been linked with interest in the towering German defender.
At 25, Zimmermann has time on his side – yet still fancies telling people what to do and where to go. While keeping a degree of senior figures at the club will be necessary in the summer, having such younger characters is the foundation.
For the record, Derby’s XI featured six players over 30 and an average age of almost 29. City had five under 24 at an average of four years younger.
4 – Nelson’s just saving himself
It feels like a long time ago that Nelson Oliveira was fresh from firing home an injury-time equaliser against Hull and busy telling Ipswich Town their place in the world. Boos followed as the rehabbing striker stayed on the derby sidelines.
Mind you, it feels like a long time since the Portuguese forward scored a goal, never mind the rest of it.
Four months on from that sunny Suffolk Sunday and Oliveira looks like a man who will never score again in his career. A shot from 12 yards should have been a confidence booster, but instead made matters worse. Some City fans made it clear they were losing patience.
But away from all that Oliveira earned chances and worked the ball well, was involved at most stages of the game and rarely stopped working or running.
That can eventually see him end his goal drought and with the derby next, plus his quotes still fresh in Town fans’ memories, there would be no better time to do it.
5 – Gary’s was the only bad blood
If those average age stats from point three are still banging away in the back of your mind, then you now know how Gary Rowett feels. If Derby don’t do it this season, then his current squad is unlikely to be well placed to improve on their performances next season.
Perhaps that’s why the Rams boss took such exception to a 21-year-old whippersnapper leaving Richard Keogh on his backside more than once.
Away from that, it was handshakes all round. In fact, at one point the post-match Pride Park dugouts had Cameron Jerome sharing chats with current head coach Daniel Farke, sporting director Stuart Webber and City owner Delia Smith.
Bradley Johnson would later join them to ensure he said hello to Delia.
It could prove to be a pivotal weekend for Derby. Aston Villa’s own derby success ensured they knocked the Rams out of the top two and if choosing between those two clubs, I know who my money would be on to finish there.
6 – All eyes now on the real derby
Of course, the last game before the derby – whether at Derby or not – always has a whiff of rivalry in the air.
Given Norwich and Ipswich both sit on 44 points safely in Championship midtable, there is even less riding on Sunday than there was for the draw at Carrow Road last term.
And yet the evidence again suggests Norwich fans should fancy dialing up the atmosphere to push their players over the line. After all, Ipswich will arrive following their lowest home attendance in 20 years and a goalless draw against Burton. Imagine only getting a goalless draw in that one?
Norwich have spent a long time sat below Town in the table this season, while the visitors have been waiting so long for a derby success they’ve probably forgotten when it last happened. They are most definitely due one.
Whether or not the law of averages finally wins out on Sunday, the mood music in Norfolk should make for a tasty occasion again. The rest will ta ke care of itself.
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