Hull teach Derby the need for physicality


Hull 3-0 Derby –

On Friday night, we saw Sheffield Wednesday win their play-off semi-final first leg by out-passing Brighton. They showed composure, movement and quality in a fine performance of possession football. Hull did things a little differently at Derby, but to the same or even better effect. They showed experience and defensive qualities to come away with a 3-0 win.

Nine of the 11 players that started in the East Midlands have played Premier League football and it showed. Steve Bruce’s side managed the game well, defending stubbornly whilst showing tactical shrewdness and aggression. Centre-backs Michael Dawson and Curtis Davies were outstanding at the heart of the defence, well protected by a disciplined midfield.

For all the money Derby County spent last summer, they still have a soft centre and big game frailties that have plagued them in recent years. The injury to George Thorne meant that they lacked physicality in the middle of the park, thus allowing Hull’s Tom Huddlestone to run the show.

Will Hughes showed flashes of talent, particularly in the first 25 minutes which Derby dominated. If the 21-year-old is to fulfil his potential howevver, he needs to play alongside more battle-hardened midfielders who can intimidate opposing players, given him the space to dictate play.

Derby’s long-held problem is that they rely too heavily on what they do in possession, which was evident in their substitutions. Head coach Darren Wassall, or perhaps director Harry Redknapp who made phone calls to the dugout from upstairs, neglected the importance of defensive balance. Bradley Johnson might have been having a poor afternoon, but he was Derby’s only midfielder with a degree of upper-body strength. He came off for Jacob Butterfield, who although is good going forward and had the Rams first shot on target, is another player who is not the most forceful out of possession.

Johnny Russell had not been fed the ball too often but when he did get it, he did make a couple of quick runs to draw committed tackles from the aggressive Moses Odubajo. The Scotsman was replaced by Nick Blackman, one of Derby’s many expensive signings that is yet to deliver. Wassall kept throwing on forward-minded players in hope of them changing the game, without looking as though he had a structural plan. For example, putting on a holding midfielder might have allowed creative talents more attacking freedom. Although Thorne’s injury means options were limited in that position, with Chris Baird having performed poorly since joining from West Brom.

It is clear that Derby’s manager next season, be that Wassall, Redknapp or somebody else – a power struggle that this blog has covered – will need to sign a holding midfielder. They require an experienced leader who will focus solely on breaking up opposition attacks, because Hughes lacks the physicality to play as deep as he did without support in big games. Derby’s East Yorkshire opponents, by contrast, had the right balance. They were solid for long spells but they also possessed plenty of energy, as full-backs Odubajo and Andy Robertson showed when they combined for the third goal. Sheffield Wednesday (or Brighton) – Hull are coming for you.