United Manager Chris
"There is more right here than there is wrong. We’re disappointed
again, but only by the result.
"It wasn’t the performance – the performance in the large part was fine.
On the majority of occasions that would get you a win.
"We certainly had
enough chances to win the game. That was evident for everybody to see. They
came and played well, did Derby, and were very spirited.
"They defended well
enough, although they had the rub of the green. Sometimes you get that and
sometimes you don’t, but I couldn’t fault the performance of my players.
"We’ve hit the
woodwork twice and Ryan Taylor’s had a one-on-one where the keeper made a
"My first reaction to
Nile’s chance was that it was in and it must be a goal. But it wasn’t to
be. The emotions after the game are one of real frustration.
"The positives are
it’s another clean sheet and we haven’t lost a game. It will be a season
like this when there will be odd results.
"Look at Cardiff’s
result and that typifies this league. That’s what this league is like.
We’ve played two teams at the wrong end of the table in two days and
haven’t got the points we’d like to have got."
bade farewell to 2009 by extending their unbeaten run to eleven games, but
it was a Tayl of two sitters at SJP against struggling Derby.
Both Ryan and Steven Taylor missed gilt-edged chances to make the
breakthrough, as Chris Hughton's side were held for the third time in their
last four outings.
After a sloppy opening spell at Hillsborough on Boxing Day, the Magpies
looked in the mood from the off in front of another sizeable Gallowgate
crowd of over 47,000.
With Marlon Harewood's loan spell now over and Shola Ameobi dropping to the
bench, Andy Carroll and Peter Lovenkrands were selected as our front
Fit-again Alan Smith returned in place of Nicky Butt, while Ryan Taylor took
over from Danny Guthrie in right midfield for his first start in that role
since early November.
Chances came and went in a first half of almost total domination from the
home side, with Carroll putting two headers narrowly wide and Lovenkrands
putting one shot across the face of goal from a tight angle.
Ryan Taylor had already smacked one free kick off the Rams crossbar, before
his well-timed run to split the visiting defence was spotted by Jonas
Gutierrez. One on one with 'keeper Stephen Bywater, Taylor chose to shoot early and saw
his effort blocked, when it had seemed feasible to continue his forward run.
the other end however, Steve Harper was called to make an instinctive
close-range block from DJ Campbell -who once scored here in the colours of
After the break the chances became less frequent but it looked like United
would finally take the lead in the move of the game - when a fine crossfield
ball from Gutierrez found fellow countryman Fabricio Coloccini.
He played in Carroll who set up Steven Taylor, but the defender opted for
power rather than placement and his header from six yards was straight at
Shola Ameobi replaced Carroll but the ambling substitute never looked likely
to maintain his goal-a-game record, unlike fellow replacement Nile Ranger.
With two minutes to go, Kevin Nolan crossed to the far post and Ranger did well
to hook the ball back on target only to see Bywater make an instinctive save
onto the bar, the ball bouncing down on the line before being cleared.
And there was almost a sting in the tail, when Nolan conceded a free kick in
a central position outside the United box. The much-abused Robbie Savage
stepped up, but thankfully punted his effort high into the Gallowgate End.
There was still time for Jay McEveley to receive a second yellow card and
leave the field but some poor late corners and crosses failed to test the
visiting defence further.
Our record of not ending the year with a victory was therefore extended to
seven, but the Magpies go into 2010 with a six point lead over their nearest
challengers, West Bromwich Albion.
The Baggies are next up at SJP, by which time our lead could have been
trimmed to three points with a home game against Forest up next for Roberto
di Matteo's side and United away at Reading - with both our previous
competitive visits to the Madejski ending in defeat. (Albion also have a game in hand - away at Blackpool).
However it's not just ourselves who have failed to collect expected
victories over Christmas - eg Cardiff City's 4-4 draw at Peterborough, after
leading 4-0 at half time.
The talk from club sources has been of the "speculate to
accumulate" variety in the January transfer market, rather than looking
to continue our player sales.
In real terms though the squad has shrunk in recent weeks and with Simpson's
loan period up after the Baggies game, signings are needed to retain our
challenge - even without the injury problems that we've largely avoided thus
Taking stock on what has been something of a traumatic year, for this club
to be top of the table halfway through the season is something of a minor
miracle - and for us to start and end the season with the same manager is a
novelty in itself.....
It's been a learning curve both on and off the field for players alike -
with pre-season thoughts that our collection of nice haircuts would be
bullied by roughhouse defenders in this league soon dispelled, along with
another misconception - that referees at this level would cock a deaf 'un to
our "big time" moanings.
In reality we've been the footballing equivalent of royalty coming to open a
new bus shelter, with home sides releasing DVDs of our defeats. Opposition
players and fans have mostly been in awe of us (with a couple of exceptions)
while officials have at times been almost intimidated by their being on the
Inevitably the TV cameras have lapped it all up - perhaps initially
turning up to witness more Magpie misery, but rapidly seeing that guaranteed
bums on seats and the sense of occasion generated by our appearances made
good box office. We've actually had more games on live TV so far this season
than in recent top-flight campaigns.
On the other side of the coin though, the absence of a full TV crew from
some games has caused issues for some - we've had numerous enquiries from
punters desperate to know which channel our game is on, unaware that the
sole coverage from some away games has been one bloke with a camera - shades
of the 1980s, before wall-to-wall coverage was the norm (and when the "Going
Up" ITV programme didn't have footage of the promotion clincher at
Huddersfield - unimaginable now).
And at SJP, the so-called 12th man has been not only the largest home crowd
in the Football League but also the ground itself, week after week playing
host to players and supporters for whom it seems to be the equivalent of a
trip to Wembley - arrive early, walk around craning neck, buy something from
the club shop, get photo taken in front of stand/statue/arch, sample local
brews etc. etc.
Much has gone from what was familiar before, from high-profile
under-performers in the side to loyal club servants who paid the price for
relegation with their jobs. Our international roundup certainly takes up far
less space, now that Senegal, England, Ireland and Nigeria are no longer on
Shearer ends the year as he started it - on the outside looking in - while
the old-fashioned pleasure at winning matches has been rediscovered after a
gradual decline over three or four seasons.
But what remains is effective at this level: we don't have a number nine,
but there's a goalscoring midfielder on double figures in our squad. The
prawn sandwich brigade have voted with their feet, but the numbers of fans
we're taking to many away games are limited only by the tickets made
Our concerns about what happens at the end of this season remain massive,
while a look at previous Championship seasons when the new year
table-toppers have failed to gain promotion is a timely reminder that the
work is not done by any stretch of the imagination.
Not getting out of this league at the first attempt remains utterly
unthinkable. But if nothing else, there's a sense that the rot has been
stopped round these parts and rock bottom was reached in May 2009.
Who knows, we may even get an end of season highlights DVD of our own, come