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Derby County: Steve Nicholson says tempo wasn't right in defeat by Middlesbrough

By Ashbourne News Telegraph  |  Posted: April 09, 2014

Derby County's Jeff Hendrick shields the ball against Middlesbrough.

Derby County's Jeff Hendrick shields the ball against Middlesbrough.

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HITTING the right tempo is important to this Derby County side.

Like the England national team, Derby are nowhere near as effective when they play at a slow pace.

Such an approach falls into the hands of the opponent, as we saw against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday.

Promoted Leicester City and second-placed Burnley have been the best two sides in the Championship this season by some distance,

Derby have shown themselves to be more than a match for the rest, especially when they play with energy, urgency and purpose.

All those ingredients were missing at Middlesbrough.

They appeared to wait for something to happen rather than making something happen.

What materialised was a disappointingly flat display and it was no surprise that they returned empty-handed.

A key to this season's march to the play-offs has been the manner in which head coach Steve McClaren has been able to energise and improve the team's performance by making changes from the substitutes' bench.

He has regularly used 14 players rather than just the 11 who start matches – and there have been many examples.

Although Derby were quick starters in games in the first half of the season they have not, in general, been particularly sharp out of the blocks since the turn of the year.

They had scored in the first half in only one of their previous 14 matches before they blitzed Nottingham Forest last month.

In many of those games McClaren has made attacking substitutions, tellingly in the wide areas, where Jamie Ward, Simon Dawkins, Johnny Russell, Patrick Bamford and Mason Bennett battled for the two places.

Two start and two or three of the others are usually on the bench. This has benefited the Rams many times.

Derby did not have such options on Saturday.

Russell and Bamford started. Both have had better afternoons in a Derby shirt and both were replaced.

But there was no Ward, Dawkins or Bennett to call on.

Ward missed a third game with hamstring trouble, Dawkins has now sat out four matches due to a groin problem.

Bennett would have been fifth in line for a wide role but the 17-year-old is on loan at Chesterfield.

So options in the search for a spark, for greater energy in the final third, were limited.

Of the six outfield players on the bench, three were defenders – Zak Whitbread, Mark O'Brien and Lee Naylor – and one a holding midfielder, John Eustace.

Striker Conor Sammon was introduced and gave his all, as always, but is better down the middle.

Will Hughes also came on but the midfielder is at his best when orchestrating Derby's tempo and passing, not when the team is chasing the game.

"Normally, we can change and energise the team but we couldn't do that," said McClaren after the Middlesbrough defeat.

"Everything the team tried and we (the coaching staff) tried didn't work – that's football."

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