Au­to­matic hopes over as ten-man Wat­ford hit back

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Chris Dunlavy

DERBY manager Steve McClaren ad­mit­ted his side’s ti­tle bid has be­come a battle for the play­offs af­ter a sui­ci­dal sec­ond­half lapse al­lowed ten-man Wat­ford to snatch a point.

Top of the ta­ble just four weeks ago, the rick­ety Rams have failed to win any of their last seven games and are now cling­ing to sixth place.

It is a dis­as­trous run at the worst pos­si­ble time – and this lat­est dose of mis­ery was en­tirely self-in­flicted.

Be­hind to Matej Vy­dra’s op­por­tunist opener, Derby were dealt a promis­ing hand when Marco Motta was sent off for felling Johnny Rus­sell on the stroke of half-time, al­low­ing Dar­ren Bent to equalise from the spot.

And when Tom Ince then weaved through Wat­ford’s back four to make it 2-1, the home side looked set to run riot.

But as the killer blow failed to ma­te­ri­alise, Derby’s nervy play­ers shrank into their shells and Odion Ighalo cap­i­talised to net a lev­eller that keeps the Hor­nets in the ti­tle hunt.

“We should have won,” said McClaren, whose side travel to strug­gling Wi­gan to­mor­row. “No ifs, no buts. No ex­cuses. We’ve only got our­selves to blame for not get­ting back in the race.

“At 2-1 we were con­trol­ling the game. The plan was go­ing great. Then we stopped. We should have been go­ing for a third and a fourth but we played like it was the last two min­utes of the game. Wat­ford were never go­ing to al­low that.

“It must be so frus­trat­ing fol­low­ing us at the mo­ment. There’s cer­tainly anger and frus­tra­tion in the dress­ing room. But we can’t feel sorry for our­selves. We’re not in this sit­u­a­tion be­cause of bad luck or ref­er­ees or any­thing like that. It’s be­cause we keep con­ced­ing bad goals.

“We’ve got six games to get our­selves out of this mess and the im­por­tant thing is that at the end of the sea­son we make sure we’re there in the play-offs.”

That Derby were be­low par is in­dis­putable, but their fail­ure to col­lect three points also had much to do with an im­pe­ri­ous dis­play from Wat­ford’s vet­eran keeper Heurelho Gomes.

The first of four world-class stops came just a few min­utes in, as the ef­fer­ves­cent Ince picked out Bent

for a de­flected shot that Gomes stopped with his legs.

There was, how­ever, no stop­ping Wat­ford’s opener, the re­sult of a dou­ble-blun­der from Rams’ right­back Cyrus Christie. At­tempt­ing to atone for los­ing pos­ses­sion on half­way, the 22-year-old raced back into po­si­tion only to thun­der a pan­icky clear­ance straight at Ighalo. Vy­dra, lurk­ing eight yards out, glee­fully ac­cepted the gift to vol­ley his 13th of the sea­son.

Bereft of real pen­e­tra­tion, things looked bleak for Derby. But when Ben Wat­son was robbed by Jeff Hen­drick, Ince played a fab­u­lous ball to Rus­sell and Motta dan­gled a leg that sent the Scot sprawl­ing.

Would Craig Cath­cart have made a cov­er­ing chal­lenge? Ref Kevin Friend didn’t think so and pro­duced Wat­ford’s sev­enth red card of the sea­son. Hor­nets boss Slav­isa Jokanovic was less con­vinced. “It was a foul,” he said.“But not enough for a red card. Un­for­tu­nately the ref­eree had a dif­fer­ent opin­ion.”

When Ince then slalomed in from the right wing to put Derby ahead, it looked a mat­ter of how many. But that was to un­der­es­ti­mate a gritty Wat­ford side who played on the break and snatched a de­served lev­eller.

Fif­teen min­utes from time, Ighalo found Ad­lene Gue­dioura on the right, and the Al­ge­rian capped a tire­less dis­play with a sen­sa­tional no-look re­turn pass that took out the en­tire Derby back­line. Ighalo couldn’t miss from eight yards.

Gomes then per­formed more hero­ics, sav­ing from the clean-through Bent and tip­ping over in stop­page time as Wat­ford made it six un­beaten on the road.

“I am very proud of my play­ers,” said Jokanovic. “We be­lieved we could change the sit­u­a­tion. Three thou­sand sup­port­ers be­lieved it.We have shown we will fight to the end.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

DEADLY DUO: Wat­ford’s Matej Vy­dra cel­e­brates scor­ing their first goal with Odion Ighalo

LEV­ELLER: Odion Ighalo coolly scores the Hor­nets’ equaliser 15 min­utes from time

INCE-PER­FECT: Tom Ince scores Derby’s sec­ond

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