The day Derby County only needed ten men
They say you have to experience the lows to truly experience the highs in life, writes Stephen Marshall. Well, in football that is certainly the case if you follow any team without trillions of oil dollars in its coffers or a Glaswegian genius in charge.
Saturday’s game was shorn of some of the animosity that has clouded recent encounters between Nottingham Forest and Derby County, at least in the eyes of Derby fans. Steve McClaren may have a history in Derby, but his Baseball Ground past is part of a fondly remembered purple patch and doesn’t bear comparison to the short lived and ultimately failed reign of Billy Davies. Plus, the men are very different and incomparable in terms of their ability to wind you up. Similarly, with Robert Earnshaw and Kris Commons gone from the East Midlands, it was only the presence of Nathan Tyson which added further player-based fuel to the fire. I can’t speak for the enemy but I was more worried about my own team’s decline in form in relation to such a big game than any other considerations.
My ‘match-day experience’ got off to a bad start. As I climbed out of my father’s car before walking to meet my cousin at Trent Bridge, I uttered some foolish words… “It’s pretty bright now, doubt i’ll need this”. And then I threw down my waterproof coat into the footwell and bid him farewell. More or less as soon as I shook my cousin’s hand to greet him, the heavens opened. By the time we reached the turnstiles I was absolutely drenched, my shirt still damp some 5 hours later when I returned home.
So, literally dripping with excitement, I saw the game start and an ominous looking long ball head towards Ishmael Miller and his marker, Mark O’Brien. O’Brien’s heading has impressed me so far in his brief career, but he was thoroughly outjumped here and my senses told me there was danger. After all, it was expected we’d concede early as we have done in 4 of the last 5 visits to the City Ground. However, what I did not expect was to not only go a goal down, but have our team reduced to 10 men.
Adam Legzdins’ first act in The Championship was being wrong footed by Andy Reid as his emphatic penalty flew in, but that was the last contribution of note by the rotund Irishman as he wasted several decent free kick positions over the game. Legzdins would go on to make a couple of crucial saves and generally marshal his defence well. I didn’t know that at the time mind, and at that point felt as low as i can remember at a Derby game. Our good start would not continue. Our bitter rivals would laud it up again. I’d realise finally what a futile hobby that only brings me misery following Derby is. But just when the boot is raised above your head, just when the guillotine begins it’s murderous slide… you are proved memorably wrong.
In the first half, barely anything else of note happened. THat’s why I cannot criticise the BBC for only showing the 2 goal incidents in it’s highlights package. I can’t remember much more myself. What I can remember is the shock, amazement and wonder of Jamie Ward’s equaliser. As solo goals go, it was hardly Messi dancing through the REal back line, but it was genius in the context of the game. I’m not even sure if we had another shot in the half.
I’m not going to lie and pretend I was concerned for Chris Cohen. We all knew, as did the ref, that his condition, although painful looking, would not necessarily benefit from immediate medical help. I also can’t pretend that I’d be smiling if the boot was on the other foot. During half time I felt good. I hadn’t seen anything to worry me about from Forest. It was only Derby’s innate ability to self destruct which weighed heavy on my mind.
The story of minutes 45 to 94 belongs to Jeff Hendrick. The Irish U-19 international has been a revelation so far this season, showing composure and strength beyond his age. But he displayed quite some character on Saturday, and has surely silenced any doubters there may have been about his ability. The headed miss shortly after the hour mark was remarkable. I had about as perfect a view as you could wish for and still can’t believe Hendrick headed wide from 2 yards. The significance of the moment escaped no-one in the ground. The entire ground was to be proved completely and so sweetly wrong. The move that led to the miss was by far our best in the game up to that point and from this moment we continued to press.
In the build up to the winner, the ball seemed held on a string by the baying sheep behind the goal. It seemed to stay for an age in and around the Forest box. I was as unsighted as Lee Camp when the shot was struck but when the net rippled I was overcome. This was the summit of football fandom. A winning goal, against the odds on the patch of your greatest enemies. Celebrated by me like no other goal will be this season, and I guarantee you that.
I am still resigned to mid table obscurity for Derby this season, and will be pleased with anything more than that. But it’s moments like Hendrick’s winner which mean that football will always be the most thrilling, visceral, depressing and bowel worrying activity I can think of voluntarily partaking in.