Savage rapping and a not very bright striker - it's all going wrong for Derby

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Fan protests, a manager publicly blasting players and a team steadily sliding down the Championship table. Welcome to a month at Derby County.
To use the phrase ‘a season of two halves’ would be quite some understatement. This is a Derby side who were on the cusp of the automatic promotion places in November, but who now stare nervously over their shoulders in 17th place.

It’s been quite a turnaround at Pride Park. A team which was surprising one and all with a blitzing opening to the campaign has capitulated spectacularly, picking up just five points from their last 12 league fixtures, while the football on offer is less appealing than an Anne Widdecombe strip-tease.

So where did it all go wrong? Well, a useful place to begin would be Turf Moor, where things went particularly pear-shaped. On a frosty November afternoon the Rams took the lead midway through the first-half through Luke Moore, but two goals in the final ten minutes from Burnley condemned Nigel Clough’s side to what was then a rare defeat.

The equaliser - courtesy of a free-kick from ex-Ram Tyrone Mears - proved the catalyst for a dire run of form which included just one win against bottom-of-the-pile Preston. Derby supporters have not experienced a winning feeling at Pride Park in almost three months.

All is not well in this corner of the East Midlands. Fans gathered prior to the Rams’ home fixture with Leicester last weekend to demonstrate against the club’s American owners, furious at the lack of investment which they believe is simply stagnating the squad.

It is easy to empathise with club’s supporters, who see the likes of Nottingham Forest and the Foxes themselves climbing the table just a mere stone’s throw away. The match against Sven-Goran Eriksson’s side saw the Rams hopelessly outclassed in a first-half which failed to produce an effort on goal from the home side. Derby fans’ frustrations were dealt a killer blow as Eriksson’s stellar signing Yakubu sent Leicester on their way to a comfortable victory.

"No, idiots - the actions to YMCA go like this..."

As a fallen Premier League side themselves, Derby supporters, perhaps rightly so, do not see their club in the selling mould. The Rams allowed talismanic striker Rob Hulse to depart to Championship pace-setters QPR in the summer, while this season’s top scorer Kris Commons also bid farewell to Pride Park last month, jumping the border to join Celtic.

Their exits were irksome enough, but the fact that Nigel Clough failed to sufficiently replace either player was a grievance too far. Even when Clough found reasonable short-term successes in the likes of Luke Moore and Shefki Kuqi, their departures were once again addressed inadequately, if at all.

Moore made a loan switch to Championship rivals Swansea when his deal at Pride Park expired, while Kuqi was left to remain a free agent despite some useful outings leading the Derby line. The football world may have spat out their tea with hilarity when Alan Pardew snapped up the bustly forward for Newcastle, but Derby fans were left wondering why it hadn’t been them.

A half-fit Chris Porter has been left to fill the void of lone ranger up front, but with most still unconvinced by the former Oldham man, the tumbleweeds in front of goal may have to continue rolling for a while yet. Spanish summer capture Alberto Bueno (who, it should be noted, isn’t really a 'natural' striker) looked a promising acquisition at the beginning of the campaign, but with just four league goals under his belt this term, Derby hopes of a saviour have all-but dried up.

Clough’s striker headache was eased on Thursday by the capture of Sheffield United striker Jamie Ward on loan until the end of the campaign, after his attempts to land both Martyn Waghorn and Conor Sammon both failed. "They've said they want to keep him (Waghorn) for now on the bench and use him for the last five or 10 minutes," Clough grumbled.

Frustrations at managerial level were unleashed in the aftermath of the team’s 1-1 draw at Fratton Park two weeks ago, when Clough took out his anger on Polish forward Tomasz Cywka. "We would like some players who, in the 89th minute, don't lose the ball 20 yards outside their own box, which is what Tomasz Cywka did and which is what led to us conceding a goal,” the Derby chief fumed, before ‘reasoning’ that the Pole was “an inexperienced and not very bright footballer.”

This is a player who was, naturally, signed by Clough in the summer - why doesn’t say much for his judgement if his latest analysis is accurate. And no prizes for guessing who was dropped to the bench for the next game.

The simple fact of the matter is, Clough’s squad is alarmingly thin. Options up front are worryingly sparse, and so-called replacements for the clubs departed players are simply not up to the standard for mounting a decent promotion charge. The youth policy has yet to really bare fruit, and the lower-league hopefuls snapped up in the summer have soon become exposed as being a fair way from ready to mix it at Championship level.

The Rams are still some way above the relegation zone - six points as it stands - but they will not fancy sustaining their dreadful run of form going into the tail end of the season. Confidence is at an all-time low, the playing squad is thread-bare and the manager is seemingly losing his nerve. And to top it all off, Robbie Savage has officially lost the plot

A trip to Scunthorpe’s Glanford Park awaits on Saturday, where the Rams hope to re-ignite their campaign once again. Ian Baraclough’s men pulled off a shock win over high-flying Forest on Wednesday evening, but Clough knows it the matches against their fellow strugglers which will define their Championship campaign.

The clock is ticking at Pride Park for Clough, just a year into his three-and-a-half tenure. At the beginning of the campaign keeping the Rams up was priority, but even that task alone looks like being far from straightforward.

Derby supporters are losing patience with their club at all levels. But with a statement released earlier in the week insisting the club is not for sale, they may have to wait longer than expected for their wishes to come true.