After the performance on Tuesday night, it was always going to be a big ask hitting those heights again, and it proved so. But at least we got another point on the board. Truth be told, it could have been worse.
It was obvious we weren't gonna win this game. Absolutely nailed on. It isn't what we do; we don't beat the struggling teams at home. They can be rock bottom, not scoring, unable to defend, no chance of survival, and yet they're always guaranteed something when they make the trip to Oakwell. Every time I've thought about this game, all week, I've been feeling more and more like we weren't gonna win.
When I met up with the old man to set off to the game, I could see he was thinking the exact same thing. I blame this alarming lack of faith in our own team on Simon Davey.
Not that Derby are all as bad as that. They've had a bad start to the season, much like ourselves last time out. But the fact remains; when you're in the bottom three, no matter what time of the season, there's no better ground to travel to than Oakwell, because you're guaranteed we won't turn up.
As we headed to town, the sky was grey and the whole day felt like it was gonna be a let down. There's been so much positivity all week since the events of Tuesday, and many people thought that Derby would turn up simply to lose against us, but the closer we got to kick off, the less I fancied us.
We got to the Gatehouse at half 1, just in time to see Kylie Minogue's Greatest Hits on the telly. We've been going there for ages now, every other week, but the decision to get rid of Sky Sports is a poor one. Saturday afternoon is football time. There's a time and a place for Kylie and it just isn't right. Sadly I think it's time to change pubs on a Saturday afternoon. No Sky Sports = no sale.
Luckily we managed to find some entertainment by attracting the drunkest man in South Yorkshire over to our table. He was a Derby fan, and he had many questions for us; where was the nearest pub with the football on (he ignored our answer), how far the ground was from town (he ignored our answer), who our biggest rivals were (he ignored our answer) and how we felt our season had started (he ignored our answer). It wasn't all one way traffic though, we asked him how he felt about facing Jay McEveley again (he ignored the question), whether he though Nigel Clough was up to the job (he ignored the question), and how he thought the game would go (there was a pattern forming by this point). Sadly, the sizzling conversation had to end when the fella emptied his pint glass, and he left wishing us good luck, not before having a bizarre rant about how much he hates 'npower' and tripping over the step in the Gatehouse behind him. At least it provided an insight into just what I look like when I'm slightly worse for wear in some pub when we're away from home. I might take it steadier in future.
There were plenty of away fans milling around as we headed towards Oakwell but the atmosphere was flat in comparison to Tuesday, which we all expected to be fair. No disrespect to Derby, but it was a hard game to get excited about after such a gripping Yorkshire derby match.
So, the sky was still grey, the day was still miserable, and Oakwell was back to its 11,000 or so die-hards who were hopeful that we could take advantage of a side in poor form, and put ourselves into a playoff position by the end of the day.
The teams entered the field and took their positions for the start of the game. MR had gone with the same side that dismantled Leeds days earlier, whilst Derby made a couple of changes, including dropping Savage, which I was a bit gutted about. Giving Savage some stick when he comes to Oakwell is one of the moments in the season you take for granted, but miss when it's taken away from you. I hope he plays at Pride Park.
The game kicked off and Derby started in a similar way to Leeds, winning an early corner. Luke Steele gave us a brief glimpse of how his day was going to pan out, leaving his line and getting nowhere near the ball. Derby let us off this time, but we would be punished later.
In the opening exchanges, we looked good going forward, full of confidence, but we were giving them plenty of time on the ball and they looked dangerous. The goal, when it came, was soft for so many reasons. A cross hit Hassell in the face and span through to Steele, whose options were A) kick it as hard as he could up field, or B) pick it up, since it clearly wasn't an intentional backpass. Somehow, he managed to let the ball spin under his foot and out for a totally needless corner. To compound his misery, he then flapped spectacularly at the resulting delivery, and Kuqi put the ball back into the danger area, allowing Leacock to float a header over the stranded Steele and into the bottom corner. Steele laid on the floor with his head in his hands, his erratic behaviour costing us yet another goal. He knew what he'd done.
Moments later, Kris Commons had a goal disallowed for offside, but I was fearing the worst already.
As the half wore on, we weren't playing too badly, and as half time arrived we could easily have been level, with only some desperate Derby defending keeping our ArismendiHammill from a Jay McEveley corner. But at half time it was 0-1, and it was starting to feel like it just wasn't going to be our day.
At half time, the place seemed subdued, flat and unimpressed with what we'd seen. But we were still in the game, and only a bit of bad luck had kept us from equalising.
We managed to find the goal we needed after a couple of minutes of the second half, and it was Hammill again who got it, with a superb curling shot from just inside the area. Not long after, a low cross from Butterfield caused confusion in the box, but the ball was eventually blocked as Jim O'Brien lurked with an open goal gaping.
From then on, Derby were probably the better team, but it was the sort of game which really could've gone either way. Both sides had chances, both were wasteful. The vast majority of the second half was spent trying to guess what the referee was gonna do next. For both sides he was inconsistent, and the game became scrappy and untidy as both sides seemed to lose energy. By the end, both gaffers seemed to accept a point, which was probably fair on the whole, although Derby might disagree.
Steele did his best to donate another goal to the Derby cause when he spilled another routine cross, this time onto the post. McEveley eventually managed to get the ball clear, and through some miracle we remained level. I'm beginning to agree with the masses, we need another keeper. Preece is no competition for Luke, and he is constantly allowed to make these mistakes with no fear of punishment. Maybe if he knew his place was up for grabs he'd improve, but I doubt it. Unfortunately, as good a shot stopper as he is, he has cost us goals against QPR, Rochdale, Bristol City and now Derby. We're only two months into the season, and he's making it difficult for us. Yesterday I hated seeing the ball go anywhere near him, and every time Derby had a set piece, we looked nervous. Sorry Luke, but maybe a spell on the bench is the kick up the arse you need.
By the time the whistle had gone, a point had been inevitable for some time, and I was happy enough to take it and go home.
Butterfield was given MOTM and that was a fair decision, because he had a good game in the middle of the park, and will be unlucky not to keep his place ahead of Nathan Doyle or Hugo next week if MR decides to go defensive at Reading. Other than him, everyone else had quiet games, apart from Steele who was dreadful. But it was just one of those days, I never fancied us to win, and we never threatened to really. As my dad rightly pointed out after the game though, we probably would've lost that game last season, so progress is being made.
I don't think the table is being fair to Derby, they looked better than their position suggests. Certainly not the worst team to come to Oakwell this season. But they look shaky, low on confidence and seemed to panic when we got at them, which we just didn't do enough. I don't think they'll go down this season, although reading some of their forums, it would seem they don't agree with that.
Onwards to the Madejski then, home of Michael Parkinson's beloved Reading. It's a tough game to predict. They've not started too quickly this season, but then again, neither have we away from home. They're without Brian Howard after he was sent off yesterday, but have the potential to have a good season. The worry is whether MR will go there to the Madejski with a defensive mindset, with two defensive midfielders, and try to stop them playing rather than concentrate on getting us going. We've proven that we can beat teams if we get at them, I hope MR shows that faith in his players.
One thing is for sure though, we need to pick some points up on the road, because the more games we lose away, the more pressure we put on ourselves to keep winning all our home games. That said, I'd be happy to take 4 points from the next 2 on our travels, and keep pushing up the table.
Thanks for reading.