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The official website of horror and fantasy writer Stuart Hughes.


Derby County 0-2 Hull City

Posted by Stuart Hughes on January 29, 2012 at 2:15 PM Comments comments (0)

The 2-0 defeat against Hull City on Saturday was hugely disappointing in front of a 30,391 Pride Park crowd.

The Rams started well, applied pressure deep in Tigers territory, and won a string of corners. On the front foot as manager Nigel Clough is so fond of saying. Slick passing, good movement, it looked very promising … but fifteen minutes in, about the time the plane made its flyover pulling the banner designed to taunt Nottingham Forest fans, the game changed.

Theo Robinson pulled up with a recurrence of his hamstring injury and was replaced by Chris Maguire. Maguire would go on to have the only Rams goal attempt of note I can remember all game, an acrobatic overhead kick when we were already 2-0 down but otherwise Maguire, and virtually whole side except for Jamie Ward offered very little.

Suddenly the Rams couldn’t pass, couldn’t beat the first defender with their crosses, and lost the ability to run into space. I just don’t get it. How can a team play so well for 10 minutes and then so poorly for the remaining 80 minutes.

When we didn’t have the ball we were even worse. There was no closing down, no tackling, and Hull City players were allowed to run with the ball at will. Both Tigers goals came because players were allowed to run and run unchecked – first Liam Rosenior to set up Matty Fryatt and then Cameron Stewart to score on his own.

A big crowd and a disappointed crowd. Those Rams fans without season tickets won’t be in any hurry to return.

Rams Star Man. Jamie Ward was the exception to the rule today. He never stopped working, never stopped running and at times almost single-handedly tried to get the Rams on the front foot. He played up front, but had to go looking for the ball in midfield and out wide. He tackled, fought for the ball, and even provided cover for the rusty John Brayford at right-back.

Referee Watch. An unfussy performance by Darren Deadman who went largely unnoticed for the majority of the game. Had a tendency to blow up too quickly instead of waiting to see if there was an advantage but otherwise a very competent and low profile performance.

Published in the Derby Telegraph on Monday 21st November 2011.

Derby County v Hull City preview

Posted by Stuart Hughes on January 29, 2012 at 2:10 PM Comments comments (0)

With Paul Green, Shaun Barker, Chris Riggott and Lee Croft all returning from injury to play for the reserves this week, and John Brayford likely to be available too, manager Nigel Clough will have a pleasant selection headache for a change.

After two straight losses, and three defeats in the last four games, it’s not as if the players who’ve been selected in those four games are nailed on for selection.

At least Derby County are likely to have a substitutes bench of senior players, rather than one filled with schoolkids. Nothing against the schoolkids – they are phenomenal prospects for the future – but it does show how stretched the Rams squad is at the moment.

It might be too soon for the likes of Green, Barker and Riggott to start but it would be a welcome sight to see them back on the bench. A fit Brayford would make a huge difference as he is the only recognised right-back in the first team squad and not only strengthens the defence but adds something to the attack too.

The biggest selection problem for Clough remains the forward line in the continued absence of Steven Davies and Nathan Tyson. Theo Robinson will surely start if he’s fit but neither Chris Maguire, Tomasz Cywka, Mason Bennett or Callum Ball have been able to claim a shirt in their own right yet.

Saturday’s game is an important one. Derby County are above opponents Hull City on goal difference but the Tigers have a game in hand.

Prediction: Derby County 2-1 Hull City.

Hull City’s danger man: Aaron McLean is a striker who always impressed me during his time at Peterborough United. A prolific goalscorer in the lower leagues, Hull City signed him in January.

Previous encounters: Last season Hull City left Pride Park Stadium with all three points following a 1-0 victoty. The solitary goal was scored by Gerrard. On the night Derby County created more chances but were unable to score. Rams fans will remember the game as the one in which Stephen Bywater was substituted following a back injury and young James Severn came on for his debut.

Published in the Derby Telegraph on Friday 18th November 2011.

Derby County 3-1 Portsmouth

Posted by Stuart Hughes on October 31, 2011 at 5:45 AM Comments comments (0)

After five games without a victory (three draws, two defeats), Derby County returned to winning ways when they defeated Portsmouth 3-1.

The Rams were out of the blocks quickly and Craig Bryson gave them the lead on two minutes. Chris Maguire doubled the lead after 13 minutes. Jamie Ward made it three on 32 minutes.

All three goals were superb team goals, created by sweeping passing moves, and Jeff Hendrick’s pass for Ward’s goal was exquisite.

Most fans would have started wonder kid Mason Bennett but Nigel Clough opted for the more experienced Maguire instead. Maguire repaid the manager with a goal. Bennett came on for 22 minutes to a rousing standing ovation and showed real promise.

Pompey pulled one back through Jason Pearce after 78 minutes as the Rams defended a corner poorly.

The scoreline flattered the Rams who rode their luck at times, Frank Fielding’s goal leading a charmed life, but Derby County took the three points and now look forward to the visit of Cardiff City on Wednesday.

Rams Man of the Match: I was tempted to say Russell Anderson who put in a brilliant performance playing out of position at right-back.

But I’m going to say Craig Bryson.

He was at the heart of everything, a real box-to-box performance, and set the Rams on the path to victory with a well-taken early goal.

Referee Watch: Referee Craig Pawson officiated the game in a low key way and I hardly noticed him.

Although it wasn’t a dirty game, he showed two early yellow cards for potentially dangerous fouls but was happy to hand out a mere talking to when fouls were routine. He turned down two optimistic Rams shouts for penalties but probably got those decisions right.

Published in the Derby Telegraph 31st October 2011.

Derby County v Portsmouth Preview

Posted by Stuart Hughes on October 31, 2011 at 5:40 AM Comments comments (0)

Against Middlesbrough last Saturday, Mason Bennett became the youngest player to turn out for Derby County’s senior team and was inches away from becoming the youngest ever Football League goal scorer. Not bad for a player who is still at school.

By all accounts Bennett will keep his place in the squad for Saturday’s home game against Portsmouth. Imagine the atmosphere inside Pride Park Stadium should a Derby schoolboy score his first senior Rams goal. I’m not sure I can imagine it, so I’d much prefer to experience it.

A run of five games without a win – three draws and two defeats – have seen the Rams slip to sixth in the npower Championship. Against a Portmouth team, who have yet to win away from home in the league this season, Derby County have a great opportunity to return to winning ways.

Prediction: Derby County 2-1 Portsmouth.

Pompey Danger Man: I’m hoping that Luke Varney doesn’t come back to Pride Park to haunt us. His time as a Ram didn’t really work out for him, although I’m not sure it was through any lack of ability. I rated Varney when we signed him and was disappointed that he was never given a chance to show what he could do. Varney has plenty of pace and scored some wonder goals for Blackpool in the Premier League last season.

Previous Encounters: Although it proved to be the worst ever season by any Premier League side, the 2007/08 season started promisingly when Derby County drew 2-2 at home to Portsmouth. I thought the Rams worked hard and played well that day and thoroughly deserved the draw. Matt Oakley gave the Rams a 4th minute lead and Andy Todd scored an 85th minute equaliser. Benjani (28th) and John Utaka (83rd) scored Pompey’s goals.

Published in the Derby Telegraph 28th October 2011.

Derby County 3-0 Millwall

Posted by Stuart Hughes on October 31, 2011 at 5:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Derby County made it six wins from eight games with a 3-0 home victory over Millwall at Pride Park Stadium.

The win lifted the Rams to the lofty heights of 3rd in the npower Championship with only Southampton and Middlesbrough above us.

It was an open entertaining game and for the first twenty minutes or so and Derby County rather rode their luck, more composure by a Lions side who haven’t scored a goal in five games now and the Rams would’ve gone behind.

Two very similar goals, passed into the back of the net by midfielders Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendrick, following good work down the right by Steven and Ben Davies, saw the Rams take the ascendancy and the result was never in doubt after that.

Steven Davies added a third in the second half, finishing off a flowing passing move by smashing the ball home from six yards.

Derby County are now a solitary point off top spot so the home game against Barnsley on Tuesday presents an excellent chance to push on even further.

Rams Man of the Match: Overall a very solid performance by the whole team with no weak links. I’m going to go for Ben Davies. He had a hand in all three goals, including two assists. His tireless workrate and quality set-piece delivery is starting to win over Rams fans and prove he can play at this level.

Referee watch: Referee Colin Webster had an unfussy game, kept his cards in his pocket for the most part, and generally went unnoticed. He seemed to lose concentration immediately after the restart when he missed a few fouls but soon settled in again. Showed a willingness to play advantage and then bring play back for a free-kick if no advantage materialised. Mr. Webster has now refereed Derby County six times and the Rams have won five of them.

Published in the Derby Telegraph 26th September 2011.

Preview: Derby County v Millwall

Posted by Stuart Hughes on September 24, 2011 at 3:55 AM Comments comments (0)

On Saturday Derby County entertain Millwall at Pride Park Stadium and I hope it’s not going to a case of after the Lord Mayor’s Show.

After giving our arch-rivals Nottingham Forest a one goal head start, plus a man advantage, and still winning away from home, the Rams will be full of confidence for the visit of the Lions.

Derby County are fourth in the npower Championship with 15 points from seven games. Millwall sit 16th with seven points from seven games. Away from home the Lions have won none, drawn one, and lost two.

The game represents a great chance for the Rams to consolidate their position in the Championship playoff positions.

It’s not going to be easy, no game in this division is easy, but if Derby County can produce the character and spirit they’ve demonstrated for most of this season, character and spirit that was there for all to see at the City Ground, then I’m confident the Rams can win again.

Score Prediction: Derby County 2-1 Millwall.

Millwall’s danger man: Well I’m not going to say ex-Ram Jordan Stewart that’s for sure.

For me it has to be striker Jay Simpson. He’s currently on loan from Hull City and has Premiership experience from his time at W.B.A.

He scored six goals for the Tigers last season.

Previous encounters: I’m afraid I can’t recall too many standout games against Millwall and, with apologies to the majority of Lions fans, the memories I have of past encounters are not good.

I remember Millwall fans ripping the seats out of the Normanton End at the Baseeball Ground and hurling them at other supporters.

I also remember the playoff 2nd Leg at the Den when Rams goalkeeper Martin Taylor had to run the gauntlet to get off the pitch unscathed.

Let’s just hope it’s a good and trouble free game on Saturday, remembered for all the right reasons.

Published in the Derby Telegraph and on Derby County Mad on 23rd September 2011.

Derby County 1-2 Burnley

Posted by Stuart Hughes on August 29, 2011 at 5:30 AM Comments comments (0)

There’s a saying that goes “You can’t win them all” and that was true enough on Saturday as Derby County’s winning start to the season came to an end following a
2-1 defeat to Burnley.

The Rams struggled to click up front and were second best in a first-half that saw the Clarets create the better chances.

Theo Robinson and Lee Croft replaced Steve Davies (back) and Jamie Ward (hamstring) during the break and there was more of an impetus to the Rams attacks.

Mistakes by Mark O’Brien and Frank Fielding allowed Charlie Austin a brace, the second shortly after Robinson had equalised.

Burnley hit the woodwork twice. Derby had two cleared off the line.

The Rams had further chances in the closing stages but it wasn’t to be.

Rams Man of the Match: Not an easy choice with few stand-out performances.

I’m going for John Brayford. The Rams looked at their best first-half whenever Brayford broke forward.

After the break, he combined well down the right with Croft and Craig Bryson to create numerous chances.

Couldn’t be faulted for either Burnley goal.


How did the ref do?

Referee Andy Haines didn’t have the best of games.

He started okay but as the game wore on his lack of authority saw the game threaten to get out of his control.

His tendency to either waive play on, or completely miss blatant fouls, often left more than one injured player strewn across the pitch as play continued.

Should’ve done more to clamp down on Burnley’s blatant time wasting tactics too.

Published in the Derby Telegraph 29th August 2011.

Rams Panel Preview: Derby County v Burnley

Posted by Stuart Hughes on August 26, 2011 at 12:25 PM Comments comments (0)

Victory over Doncaster Rovers meant Derby County started the season with four wins out of four. Unbelievably, a sequence Rams fans haven’t witnessed for over a hundred years.

On Saturday, Derby County have an opportunity to stretch their winning sequence to five games when they entertain Burnley. The Clarets have not won any of their three league games so far, drawing two and losing one.

If Derby County can reproduce the same level of commitment and effort as in previous league games, there’s every reason for optimism ahead of the international break. Prediction: 2-1.

Clarets danger man: Striker Charlie Austin made his name at Swindon Town where he scored 31 goals in 54 League appearances. Burnley snapped the striker up in January and he has already scored three goals this season.

Favourite Rams memory against the Clarets: I recall an F.A. Cup 3rd Round game at the Baseball Ground in 1992. I was working up in Accrington at the time. Some of my colleagues were Burnley fans and I drove them down for the game. The match was abandoned late on due to fog with the Rams winning 2-0, I think. At least when the game was replayed, Derby won.

Published in the Derby Telegraph 26th August 2011.

Derby County 3-0 Doncaster Rovers

Posted by Stuart Hughes on August 22, 2011 at 12:00 PM Comments comments (0)

Well who would’ve thought it? I certainly didn’t expect this start to the season when players were queuing up to limp or crawl into the treatment room during pre-season.

And even if the Rams manager Nigel Clough had a full squad to pick from, I still wouldn’t have expected it. After all, you have to go back to the 1905/06 season for the only other time Derby County won their opening four league games of the season.

But the league table doesn’t lie. Derby County are 2nd in the npower Championship – played four, won four, scored seven, conceded one, points twelve. Maximum points from four games. The league table makes good reading.

I think it’s a sure sign of what I’ve gone through as a Derby County supporter that I wasn’t optimistic ahead of a home game against Doncaster Rovers. After all, Doncaster Rovers are our bogey team. All I could think of was the unpredictable, inconsistent, Derby County I’ve supported down the years.

Played three won three against played three lost three … there’s only one way this game’s going!

But this sceptical Rams fan was wrong. Oh so completely, so wonderfully, wrong. Doncaster Rovers played like a team who had lost three straight and had both their main strikers out injured. Despite missing eleven senior players themselves through injury, Derby County played like a team who had won three on the bounce.

The Rams oozed confidence and were comfortable throughout the entire ninety minutes. Ben Davies had a tremendous game – his best for Derby County in my opinion – and showed why Nigel Clough was so keen to sign him. The former Notts County player was involved in all three goals, making two and scoring one.

The first goal, as early as the 6th minute, saw loan signing Kevin Kilbane head home a Ben Davies corner for 1-0.

For the second home game running, the Rams scored straight from the second-half kick-off. This time it took 25 seconds. Kevin Kilbane played the ball down the left flank, Ben Davies beat his man and delivered an inch perfect cross for Steven Davies to head his third goal of the season. 2-0.

Finally, fittingly, Ben Davies rounded off a man of the match performance in the 62nd minute with a 20-yard shot of his own, after good work by John Brayford, Steven Davies and Lee Croft. 3-0.

Ben Davies deservedly took the man of the match but the rest of the Rams team weren’t far behind. For me, it was the most balanced, rounded, composed and impressive Derby County team performance I’ve witnessed for a long time.

Published on Derby County Mad 22nd August 2011 and RamZone 23rd August 2011.

Derby County 2-1 Birmingham City

Posted by Stuart Hughes on August 7, 2011 at 4:20 AM Comments comments (0)

I have to be honest and admit that Derby County surprised me with their opening day 2-1 victory over Birmingham City in the nPower Championship. Surprised me because I wasn’t expecting it. Not in the least.

I’m usually an optimist on opening day – if you can’t be optimistic on opening day, when can you be? – but the fixture list fates had rewarded Derby County’s struggles last season with a home game against newly relegated Birmingham City. Our opponents, despite spending most of the summer wrangling with their neighbours over compensation for former manager Alex McLeish, had made a good managerial appointment in Chris Hughton and retained the majority of their Premiership players.

I’d been in Mallorca for 10 days, only getting back on the Friday before the game, and wasn’t too surprised to discover the Rams had a huge injury list.

The irony of manager Nigel Clough’s team selection wasn’t lost on me either – nine new signings to improve the side and the Rams were starting with last season’s forgotten man Lee Croft, a player who had an unsuccessful loan spell at League One side Huddersfield Town during the first-half of last season and wasn’t even given a squad number for the second-half.

Despite a bright opening ten minutes by the Rams, my pessimism appeared well founded when nobody picked up Curtis Davies’s run into the penalty area, allowing him to head home a 19th minute corner.

All of last season’s failings appeared to be resurfacing, most notably the uncanny ability to give the ball away to the opposition cheaply and an inability to defend set-pieces.

To their credit, Derby County didn’t let their heads drop and, lifted by a 27,210 Pride Park crowd, stepped it up. Jason Shackell, captain for the day on his debut, headed the equaliser on 26 minutes and Steven Davies hit a sensational long-range winner on 42 minutes that beat Blues goalkeeper Boaz Myhill all ends up.

Back to the forgotten man for a moment; Lee Croft was a revelation. I’m not going to say he put in a world beating performance because he didn’t. The former canary was more guilty than most for giving the ball away cheaply, but he did put in a real “shift” as Robbie Savage was so fond of saying. Croft’s performance was whole-hearted, hard working, and he never stopped running for 90 minutes. He hustled, he bustled, he closed players down, and he tackled – yes, you heard me right, Lee Croft tackled – and he was involved in much of Derby County’s attacking play. His total commitment to the cause helped lift the crowd and, in many ways, typified the overall team performance.

As for the three debutants, well central defender Jason Shackell proved a colossus at the heart of the Rams defence. I don’t think he missed a header or a tackle all game long and showed composure on the ball. On top of that he scored his first Derby County goal, and made two perfectly timed late challenges inside the penalty area to deny Birmingham City two almost certain goals. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it was the most impressive debut by a Rams defender since Paul McGrath pulled on a Derby County shirt at the Baseball Ground.

Kevin Kilbane settled into the game at left-back the longer it went on. In the first-half, when Birmingham City held the ascendancy, he was too easily beaten down the left-flank by Blues players who appeared to just run past him. In the second-half though, when Derby County were looking to see out the game for the three points, Kilbane’s experience shone through as he did the right things at the right times. Add to that a composure on the ball, and a willingness to overlap and contribute to the attack, and Kilbane should be a good loan addition to the squad. Whether he’ll be able to hold down a first-team place ahead of dead-leg victim Gareth Roberts remains to be seen though.

I thought Craig Bryson had a good game in central midfield but some of the fans around me were calling him for not getting involved enough. Personally, I thought they were being somewhat harsh. For me Bryson tackled well, passed the ball neatly and efficiently, and had a good “engine” as Robbie Savage was also fond of saying. In some ways I can see what they were getting at but I felt this was down to Bryson trying to get used to the 4-1-3-2 formation the Rams played. Bryson seemed more comfortable when defensive midfielder James Bailey was alongside him (in a more traditional 4-4-2 set-up) than behind him.

Finally, I have to comment on the outstanding performance of 18-year old Mark O’Brien. The youngster replaced Russell Anderson (groin injury) in central defence on 35 minutes and didn’t look out of place. For a young-lad he plays like an old school defender – no frills, no spills, just head the ball clear or kick it into the crowd. Like Shackell, I don’t think O’Brien missed a header or tackle and he threw himself in front of the ball to block a goal bound shot late in the second-half. A very assured performance by a young lad who underwent surgery to repair a valve in his heart in October 2009.

Birmingham City fans will no doubt point to a number of missed chances, and the fact that they had the better of things before the break, in saying they were unlucky.

I believe in the old adage though that you make your own luck. Derby County looked the more likely to score after the break, would’ve scored even more had Jamie Ward converted either or both of two very good second-half chances, and comfortably saw out four minutes of added time in Birmingham City’s half of the field.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Rams won their opening fixture in the previous two seasons and both of those campaigns ended in relegation dogfights.

That said, this was a hugely impressive team performance against strong opponents. With ten players unavailable due to injury, there was a balance and resilience to this Derby County performance that hopefully bodes well for the season.

Published on Derby County Mad 7th August 2011 and on RamZone 8th August 2011.