Most supporters and Sky Sports love the play offs but that does not deny their intrinsic injustice. So when Derby, who finished 11 points ahead of Brighton and beat them twice, won at the Amex last night justice was done – but not totally the job. The Amex is a rousing place and whilst the modern out of town bowl is not always – to quote a cliché – ‘a cauldron’, in the case of Brighton it has a rocking atmosphere. This probably explains why Brighton made the better start , scoring through Jesse Lingard after a period of pressure. Gradually Derby, the superior side, came into the game. They were awarded a penalty which top scorer Chris Martin converted. Their second, and winner, had a large measure of luck when the shot struck the underside of the bar, rebounded off Thomas Kuszak and into the goal. The score stayed at 2-1 largely because of two fine saves by Derby’s keeper Lee Grant.
Derby’s manager Steve McClaren never recovered his reputation after the England spell. The press love to attach labels and “the wally with the brolly” stuck. He did well at Holland with Twente, less so at Wolfsburg, but since taking over from Clough junior the side have performed consistently well. Surprisingly, their main star – the young Will Hughes – was on the bench but they are a cohesive outfit.
Oscar Garcia has also done well post Poyet. His best player is Matt Upson, although he did give away a penalty. The loanee Jesse Lingard is skilful but they need a more effective strike force.
I could not see either side do anything but struggle in the Premier. I met Alan Tanner after the game and assured him that I thought Fulham would get straight back. They have four distinct advantages: a rich owner who can only recover his investment in the Premier – Newcastle, Birmingham and West Ham had wealthy owners too, and got back immediately. Secondly, they have much better players. Thirdly, their youth team stars are ready to step up to the plate. Fourthly, they have the parachute payment . Their main problem will be adapting to a division where you have to scrap, something they were not very good at last season.