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The official website of horror and fantasy writer Stuart Hughes.


Derby County 0-2 Stoke City

Posted by Stuart Hughes on January 29, 2012 at 2:30 PM Comments comments (0)

In the end the 4th round F.A. Cup tie between Championship Derby County and Premiership Stoke City turned out to be something of an anticlimax.

Stoke City started brightly and took the lead after just 4 minutes when Cameron Jerome struck from a corner. Jerome was clearly offside but the officials either ignored or missed that important fact. Offside or not, Derby County should have defended the corner better. Robert Huth sealed the victory with an 81st minute goal, again from a corner.

Derby County can take some credit from this game, particularly a purple patch in the closing 20 minutes of the first half when the Rams passed the ball around magnificently and penned the Premier League side in their own half.

But for all the pretty passing, the Rams failed to force Potters’ goalkeeper Asmir Begovic into making a single save during the entire 90 minutes.

The injury to Theo Robinson meant Derby County started with a lone striker up front in teenager Callum Ball. Fair enough, maybe, but I’d always start two strikers at home.

Disappointingly for me though was the manager’s lack of substitutions as the game fizzled away. Trailing at halftime, needing a goal to stay in the cup competition, and with attacking options on the bench, Nigel Clough stuck with the same starting-11 that had failed to test the goalkeeper all game.

Striker Nathan Tyson finally entered the fray on 78 minutes but Clough’s final two substitutions saw central defenders Jake Buxton and Tom Naylor introduced.

Rams Star Man – difficult to pick any one player out because Stoke City were the better team and from the moment they took the lead the Potters cruised the rest of the game in 2nd or 3rd gear. For me, James Bailey, Craig Bryson, Jamie Ward and Shaun Barker didn’t look out of place alongside the six foot plus Premier League players of Stoke City. If I had to single one Rams player out, I’d go for Shaun Barker for the way he out jumped 6’6” Peter Crouch all game and kept the former England striker quiet.

Referee Watch – I expected better from Premier League referee Mark Clattenburg and his team of top flight officials. The first goal was offside, plain and simple, and the assistant referee should have seen that. Jamie Ward was clearly fouled when breaking clear and heading towards the penalty area but not according to Mr. Clattenburg. The referee also took an inordinate amount of time over awarding a Stoke City corner and clearly didn’t know which way to give it. All in all, I wish one of the excellent Championship referees we’ve had of late had been in charge for this game.

Published in the Derby Telegraph on Monday 30th January 2012.

Derby County v Stoke City preview

Posted by Stuart Hughes on January 29, 2012 at 2:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Saturday’s 4th round F.A. Cup tie at home to Stoke City is exactly what the F.A. Cup – in fact all cup competitions – are about.

A home game against a team from the next division up – in this case the Holy Grail of the Premier League. An opportunity to test yourself against a team who play in the division you are aspiring to get promoted to. An opportunity to provide a cup upset and become a giant killer.

I’m very happy with the draw and am looking forward to the game. After we beat Crystal Palace at home, I said I’d take anybody at home. Well we were drawn out first to play at Pride Park Stadium. Ideally I would’ve liked a lower division team or a fellow Championship side as that would’ve offered a better chance to progress in the competition.

But Stoke City can be beaten, particularly if their manager Tony Pulis opts to pick a less than full-strength side. Hopefully Stoke City view this game as a potential banana skin, whereas Derby County have nothing to lose and should be full of confidence on the back of a six-game unbeaten run that includes five wins and five clean sheets.

Stoke City are now a well-established Premier League side with some very good players, but this is the F.A. Cup and on any day anybody can beat anybody.

We can beat Stoke City and I hope there’s a big crowd of Rams fans in Pride Park Stadium on Saturday to cheer the Rams on.

Prediction: Derby County 2-1 Stoke City.

Potters Danger Man: This is a difficult one because there’s a lot of players in Stoke City’s squad that would start for Derby County if they were in our squad.

I’m going to go for Peter Crouch, even though I suspect he will be on the bench at best with any two from Cameron Jerome, Kenwyne Jones and Ricardo Fuller more likely to start against us.

Shaun Barker and Jason Shackell have formed a formidable central defensive partnership and I would love to see how they get on against 6’ 6” Peter Crouch.

Previous Encounters: The first game I ever watched live was against Stoke City. Showing my age it was way back in the 1971/72 season. Obviously pre-arranged, my Dad’s friend from work turned up out of the blue one Saturday morning and asked if I wanted to go and watch Stoke City v Derby County at the Victoria Ground. I was six or seven and so excited. To be honest I don’t remember much about the game itself but the record books tell me it was a 1-1 draw with Alan Durban scoring our goal.

Published in the Derby Telegraph on Friday 27th January 2012.

Derby County 1-0 Crystal Palace

Posted by Stuart Hughes on January 29, 2012 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

A solitary goal from Theo Robinson as early as the 8th minute was enough for Derby County to knock Crystal Palace out of the F. A. Cup on Saturday.

Overall I thought the Rams deserved to beat the Eagles, particularly in the first half when we were on top for long periods. The second half was more even and we were put under pressure in closing minutes.

The foundation for the victory once again came from the back five who hardly put a foot wrong all game. For the third time in four games a clean sheet at the back meant that one goal was sufficient for victory. The defensive performance was outstanding but elsewhere the team were below par.

Up front, Robinson’s poor first touch conceded possession far too easily causing attack after attack to break down; out wide, the usually influential Jamie Ward found himself well marshalled by Mustapha Dumbuya; and in midfield James Bailey and Paul Green were wasteful in possession.

But a win is a win and Derby County are in the 4th Round of the F. A. Cup. The attendance of 10,113 was disappointing but, for me, the F. A. Cup has always been, and will always be, special.

By the time you read this, the Rams will know their 4th Round opponents. I’m already looking forward to the draw, the 4th Round game, and the exciting possibility of a good cup run with a Premiership scalp or two along the way.

Rams Star Man: The back five of Frank Fielding, John Brayford, Gareth Roberts, Jason Shackell and Shaun Barker were all very impressive in keeping Crystal Palace at bay.

For me though, our skipper Shaun Barker was simply outstanding. He mistimed a header in the first minute and after that he did absolutely nothing wrong. Barks never missed another header or tackle all game, he was calm and composed, and he showed a fine touch and distribution when on the ball.

Our captain now looks to be fully recovered after injury, back to his best, and his central defensive partnership with Shackell seems to be living up to expectations.

Referee Watch: I thought referee Darren Drysdale had a very good game with the whistle. Drysdale allowed the game to flow, was decisive when he needed to be, and kept his yellow and red cards in his pocket for the duration. I hardly noticed him to be honest and, when that happens, you know the referee has had a good game. Well done, Mr. Drysdale.

Published in the Derby Telegraph Monday 9th January 2012.

Derby County v Crystal Palace preview

Posted by Stuart Hughes on January 29, 2012 at 2:20 PM Comments comments (0)

As a Rams supporter Derby County delivered the perfect Christmas and New Year present over the festive period with three wins out of three. Home victories over Leeds United and West Ham United followed up with an away victory against Hull City was beyond my wildest dreams.

On Saturday attention turns to the third round of the F.A. Cup and Derby County must surely go into the home tie against Crystal Palace brimming with confidence. The squad is virtually at full strength with, arguably, Steven Davies and Jeff Hendrick the only injured players who might make the starting eleven if everybody was fit.

What we’re seeing now with the first choice back-five available is a much more solid, resilient, and hard to break down outfit which means one goal (although I’d like to see more, obviously) can win a game as we saw against Leeds United and Hull City.

It also helps to see a more threatening front line with Theo Robinson and Nathan Tyson available again and the superb Jamie Ward supporting from wide. Most pleasing for me though is the sight of young Callum Ball taking his opportunity with strong performances and goals too.

For me there remains something very special about the cup competitions. The prospect of a good long cup run excites me as does the opportunity to draw a Premier League club at home. And as one of either Cardiff City or Crystal Palace themselves will demonstrate in the League Cup (Carling Cup) it is possible with good form and favourable draws for a Championship side to reach Wembley for a cup final.

It’s my Mum’s birthday on Saturday and two days later she undergoes replacement hip surgery. I’m confident Derby County will earn a place in the fourth round of the F.A. Cup as a birthday present.

Eagle’s Danger Man: There’s been a lot of talk about Crystal Palace’s young striker Wilfried Zaha and I’m looking forward to seeing how Shaun Barker and Jason Shackell deal with him. He is described as being fast, strong and full of tricks.

Previous Encounters: There’s only one previous encounter I could possibly include here. One of my proudest moments – if not the proudest moment – of my life as a Rams supporter. 28th April 1996 [please check date] at the Baseball Ground. Win and Derby County are in the Premier League. Early in the first-half Dean Sturridge sprints through to give the Rams a 1-0 lead. The Eagles equalise midway through the first half. A draw isn’t enough for promotion but our superb captain Robin van der Laan rises highest to head home a second half corner. The Rams hold on for 2-1 and Derby County are in the Premier League.

Published in the Derby Telegraph on Friday 6th January 2012.

Crawley Town 2-1 Derby County

Posted by Stuart Hughes on January 11, 2011 at 11:22 AM Comments comments (0)

Obviously the defeat to Crawley Town in the 3rd round of the FA Cup was a huge disappointment, more so because of the poor level of performance put in by the Rams players, but I don't think we should get too carried away by it or over react.


Yes it was a bad result, but Derby County have no given right to expect to beat teams like Crawley Town. Cup shocks happen - there were plenty of giant killings in the 3rd round this time - and the Rams have themselves been giant killers in the past.


You have to earn the right to win any game of football and Derby County, quite frankly, didn't do enough on the night. Had Kris Commons converted the penalty, had Chris Porter scored when he only had the goalkeeper to beat, then the result may have been different but, in all honesty, Crawley Town deserved their victory. The home side wanted it more, worked harder, passed the ball better, created more chances, and crucially scored more goals.


The important thing is how Derby County react to this and the away trip to Watford followed by a home game against Nottingham Forest are both winnable games.


Remember that famous Ronnie Radford goal for non-league Hereford United that knocked Newcastle United out of the FA Cup all those years ago? Well, in Newcastle's next game they went to Old Trafford and beat Manchester United 2-0 - the last time Newcastle United won there.


Let's not forget that the Rams are on course to improve on last season's position in the npower Championship and that would meet pre-season expectations. Furthermore the overall performances in the league have been much improved on last season. The current bad run of form looks worse because of the earlier good run that saw Derby County flying high in the playoff positions.


Derby County lost a cup tie against a team they should've beaten but it wasn't a complete surprise. The Rams are on a poor run and low on confidence, Crawley Town are flying high and their last defeat was way back in October. It was always going to be a potential giant killing and so it proved.


The Rams are low on confidence and booing (particularly during games) will not help the players grow in confidence. Now is the time for Derby County supporters to get behind the team and the manager and the coaching staff.

Published on Derby County Mad 11th January 2011 and RamZone 13th January 2011. An edited version was published in the Derby Telegraph on 12th January 2011.