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Everyone loves a Christmas challenge, but this isn't pulling crackers.... (a short-ish tale)


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The Daily Mail

Bottom of the league at Christmas with no manager...

While teams such as Charlton, Fulham and Everton will be enjoying their Christmases having avoided the ‘bottom at Christmas’ record, Derby County fans are now looking to a season down in the First Division - if not worse.

The Rams’ supporters are thinking ‘can anything get worse?’ Well, unfortunately, there isn’t a reply which will console the unhappy Derby supporters. Collin Todd left the club after finding his side bottom at Christmas - a milestone which has seen no Premiership team survive.

But, it’s even harder for the board, as one of the members explains. “ At the moment, we’ve got to have two plans (a survival and of course a relegation plan), both of which have to work and also we’ve got to find a manager who can do the job. All of this when we should be spending the Christmas period with our families.

“ We’re definitely going to appoint a manager by Christmas Day. We’re not going to spend ages finding a new gaffer, as we need results right now, beginning at Blackburn.â€

Derby are five points away from their nearest rivals, Charlton, and have got to double their points total to equal with Everton, who fill the last Relegation spot. But the daunting challenge is to get as past Sunderland, who are currently filling the position of safety on sixteen points.

Derby have been bottom of the league right from the word go, and have only started playing recently, picking up a few draws, and their first, vital win of the season against Charlton. Fabrizio Ravenelli’s goal five minutes from time was enough to disappoint the home Valley crowd, but that is the only result the club have to be proud of.

The most recent match, against Chelsea, was the game in which Todd resigned after. Despite a spirited performance, goals from Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink, the genius that is Gianfranco Zola and Icelandic International Eider Gudjohnsen were enough to send the club packing from Stamford Bridge with a three goal loss.

Todd, after the game, told the press: “ Enough is enough as far as I am concerned. Jim Smith had done a brilliant job here, and I’ve learned that this job should be his, rather than mine. I gave it my all, and we’ve certainly made an effort, but really, a new man has to come in to give this club life.â€

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The Daily Mail

Bottom of the league at Christmas with no manager...

While teams such as Charlton, Fulham and Everton will be enjoying their Christmases having avoided the ‘bottom at Christmas’ record, Derby County fans are now looking to a season down in the First Division - if not worse.

The Rams’ supporters are thinking ‘can anything get worse?’ Well, unfortunately, there isn’t a reply which will console the unhappy Derby supporters. Collin Todd left the club after finding his side bottom at Christmas - a milestone which has seen no Premiership team survive.

But, it’s even harder for the board, as one of the members explains. “ At the moment, we’ve got to have two plans (a survival and of course a relegation plan), both of which have to work and also we’ve got to find a manager who can do the job. All of this when we should be spending the Christmas period with our families.

“ We’re definitely going to appoint a manager by Christmas Day. We’re not going to spend ages finding a new gaffer, as we need results right now, beginning at Blackburn.â€

Derby are five points away from their nearest rivals, Charlton, and have got to double their points total to equal with Everton, who fill the last Relegation spot. But the daunting challenge is to get as past Sunderland, who are currently filling the position of safety on sixteen points.

Derby have been bottom of the league right from the word go, and have only started playing recently, picking up a few draws, and their first, vital win of the season against Charlton. Fabrizio Ravenelli’s goal five minutes from time was enough to disappoint the home Valley crowd, but that is the only result the club have to be proud of.

The most recent match, against Chelsea, was the game in which Todd resigned after. Despite a spirited performance, goals from Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink, the genius that is Gianfranco Zola and Icelandic International Eider Gudjohnsen were enough to send the club packing from Stamford Bridge with a three goal loss.

Todd, after the game, told the press: “ Enough is enough as far as I am concerned. Jim Smith had done a brilliant job here, and I’ve learned that this job should be his, rather than mine. I gave it my all, and we’ve certainly made an effort, but really, a new man has to come in to give this club life.â€

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The Daily Mail

Bottom of the league at Christmas with no manager...

While teams such as Charlton, Fulham and Everton will be enjoying their Christmases having avoided the ‘bottom at Christmas’ record, Derby County fans are now looking to a season down in the First Division - if not worse.

The Rams’ supporters are thinking ‘can anything get worse?’ Well, unfortunately, there isn’t a reply which will console the unhappy Derby supporters. Collin Todd left the club after finding his side bottom at Christmas - a milestone which has seen no Premiership team survive.

But, it’s even harder for the board, as one of the members explains. “ At the moment, we’ve got to have two plans (a survival and of course a relegation plan), both of which have to work and also we’ve got to find a manager who can do the job. All of this when we should be spending the Christmas period with our families.

“ We’re definitely going to appoint a manager by Christmas Day. We’re not going to spend ages finding a new gaffer, as we need results right now, beginning at Blackburn.â€

Derby are five points away from their nearest rivals, Charlton, and have got to double their points total to equal with Everton, who fill the last Relegation spot. But the daunting challenge is to get as past Sunderland, who are currently filling the position of safety on sixteen points.

Derby have been bottom of the league right from the word go, and have only started playing recently, picking up a few draws, and their first, vital win of the season against Charlton. Fabrizio Ravenelli’s goal five minutes from time was enough to disappoint the home Valley crowd, but that is the only result the club have to be proud of.

The most recent match, against Chelsea, was the game in which Todd resigned after. Despite a spirited performance, goals from Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink, the genius that is Gianfranco Zola and Icelandic International Eider Gudjohnsen were enough to send the club packing from Stamford Bridge with a three goal loss.

Todd, after the game, told the press: “ Enough is enough as far as I am concerned. Jim Smith had done a brilliant job here, and I’ve learned that this job should be his, rather than mine. I gave it my all, and we’ve certainly made an effort, but really, a new man has to come in to give this club life.â€

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The Daily Mail

Bottom of the league at Christmas with no manager...

While teams such as Charlton, Fulham and Everton will be enjoying their Christmases having avoided the ‘bottom at Christmas’ record, Derby County fans are now looking to a season down in the First Division - if not worse.

The Rams’ supporters are thinking ‘can anything get worse?’ Well, unfortunately, there isn’t a reply which will console the unhappy Derby supporters. Collin Todd left the club after finding his side bottom at Christmas - a milestone which has seen no Premiership team survive.

But, it’s even harder for the board, as one of the members explains. “ At the moment, we’ve got to have two plans (a survival and of course a relegation plan), both of which have to work and also we’ve got to find a manager who can do the job. All of this when we should be spending the Christmas period with our families.

“ We’re definitely going to appoint a manager by Christmas Day. We’re not going to spend ages finding a new gaffer, as we need results right now, beginning at Blackburn.â€

Derby are five points away from their nearest rivals, Charlton, and have got to double their points total to equal with Everton, who fill the last Relegation spot. But the daunting challenge is to get as past Sunderland, who are currently filling the position of safety on sixteen points.

Derby have been bottom of the league right from the word go, and have only started playing recently, picking up a few draws, and their first, vital win of the season against Charlton. Fabrizio Ravenelli’s goal five minutes from time was enough to disappoint the home Valley crowd, but that is the only result the club have to be proud of.

The most recent match, against Chelsea, was the game in which Todd resigned after. Despite a spirited performance, goals from Jimmy Flloyd Hasselbaink, the genius that is Gianfranco Zola and Icelandic International Eider Gudjohnsen were enough to send the club packing from Stamford Bridge with a three goal loss.

Todd, after the game, told the press: “ Enough is enough as far as I am concerned. Jim Smith had done a brilliant job here, and I’ve learned that this job should be his, rather than mine. I gave it my all, and we’ve certainly made an effort, but really, a new man has to come in to give this club life.â€

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BBC Radio Five Live

“ Derby County were boosted before this match against Aston Villa knowing they finally had a new manager. Euan Alexander was the name, and his face was first seen at Pride Park for his sides match against the Birmingham Club. It was always going to be a tough game for the club, especially with their confidence so low.

“ With no injuries troubling either side, Aston Villa set out with their best team, and Derby County went onto the park with Euan Alexander’s ‘selection’, although, judging by how new he is and how many times he had seen Derby, the backroom staff may have had quite a say in the matter.

“ Despite a bright start from the home side, Aston Villa scored a goal against the run of play to send the fans’ confidence to the bottom. Bosko Balaban laid the ball off to Paul Merson, and the midfield maestro crossed in towards Colombian Juan Pablo Angel. Leaping highest in the area, the South American nodded the ball beyond the Estonian Mart Poom in goals.

“ Fortunately, Derby didn’t lose their heads, and reverted to patient, cautious football. It paid off just three minutes later, as Malcolm Christie smashed home a vital goal. Similar to the Aston Villa goal, Eranio played it to Ravenelli, Derbys maestro, and the former ‘Boro striker laid the ball off to Christie, who smashed home.

“ Three minutes later, and it appeared Seth Johnsen had given Derby the lead. Carbonari, the Argentine defender, lofted a free kick from the half way line into the box, and Johnsen, one of the better players in a White shirt, leaped above Peter Schmeichael to nod the ball home. Malcolm Christie, however, turned from hero to villain, as the goal was chopped off due to his ‘involvement’.

“ Peter Schmeichael was lucky that time, but another error lead to Derby’s second goal. Craig Burley’s shot had been hit with some venom, but a goalkeeper of Schmeichael’s experience should have held onto it, as it was straight at him. The big Dane didn’t, and Eranio reacted the fastest, chipping the ball into the back of the empty net.

“ Minutes seemed like hours for Derby, although they were playing the best football the fans had seen all season. Knocking the ball around well, they had visibly adjusted to the new formation which new boss Alexander had set.

“ The match was sealed with only a few minutes to go as the goalkeeper made his second mistake of the match. Deon Burton, a half time substitute, knocked the ball past Schmeichael and was attempting to run onto it, although the Dane brought down the Jamaican striker. A penalty was awarded, and from the penalty spot, Chris Riggot converted the kick.

“ Euan Alexander simply said, ‘ That was the kind of performance we needed to start us off. We have a good team here, with a really good goalkeeper, midfield and attack, and I believe it isn’t over... I believe the record can be broken, and that we will survive the drop.’ â€

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The week in words, a managerial side of things...

Well, it’s my second week in the job, and the first week of the year 2002. It’s a shame that myself and the players have to work over the Christmas and New Year period, but that’s the way it is, and we’ve got to live with it.

That isn’t an excuse, however, for Craig Burley, to get sent off so early on in the new years day fixture against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium. The Scotsman was sent off after fourteen minutes for pushing ‘Boro striker Hamilton Ricard away.

It hindered our chances of picking up a result, but even so, we worked extremely hard, though we didn’t get the rewards. Alen Boksic, thirty-one minutes into the game, smashed a Jonathan Greening cross into the roof of the net.

Unfortunately for us, as we pushed forward, ‘Boro defended deep. They are a very good defensive unit, and even without the services of Ugo Ehiogu, who received an injury during the first few minutes, they were able to keep Malcolm Christie and co. away from their goals.

Another 1-0 result went our way three days later, as we played host to Second Division side Queens Park Rangers. Goalkeeper Chris Day for the away side was the man of the match, and made eight or nine fantastic saves. Even though our forwards were extremely unfortunate not to score, they didn’t get frustrated, and Malcolm Christie bagged the only goal of the game seconds before the half time whistle.

With the 1-0 victory, we were in the draw for the FA Cup Fourth Round, and received Leicester. Rather ironically, we faced the Foxes just a few days after the Q.P.R match.

Like my first game against Aston Villa, the away side took the lead early on. Ade Akinbiyi, who is not one of the best Premiership strikers, but still a good player, raced through on the end of a brilliant through ball. The Nigerian striker wasn’t going to miss, nutmegging the goalkeeper, and then making sure of the finish by hitting home.

Luckily for us, we have a few good strikers here at Derby. Five minutes after half time, Malcolm Christie took control of the ball, and slammed a shot beyond the England International Tim Flowers.

Branko Stupar, the Belgian striker, came on at half time, and caused endless problems. He got his goal ten minutes after the first, carefully picking out Christie, before receiving the ball back in plenty of space. Calming himself, the striker chipped the ball over the diving body of Flowers.

After the game I smiled to the media and I simply said, “ do you still believe the record is unbreakable? I think, even though we’re points behind our target, that we can survive... it’s a great start whatever you, the media, say!â€

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Inside the Dugout

Ipswich vs Derby, Portman Road, 3:00 pm

Early on in the match, which kicked off at three o’clock, Euan Alexander was showing signs of nervousness. Those nerves were calmed seven minutes into the match, as Fabrizio Ravanelli struck a vicious shot, which was parried away by Matteo Sereni. It wasn’t pushed out far enough however, as Powell reacted quickest and slotted the ball in the back of the net.

Shouts of “get back!†and “ come on lads, let’s defend!†from Powell’s manager might suggest something. They weren’t riding their luck however, but instead, were missing the chances they had and looked vulnerable to an equaliser.

George Burley spoke to “inside the dugout†twenty minutes into play, and he said: “ We haven’t started well, and Derby have had most of the play. We need to work the ball out to the wide areas, and try and swing a few balls into the box. Derby are doing really well but we’ve got to concentrate on our own game.â€

From the twentieth minute to half time, the game was played at a fairly slow pace, though swinging from one side to the other with a few long balls and direct passes. It wasn’t pretty - a relegation match, you could say, but it was certainly effective from Derby.

Shortly after the half-time break, Alexander finally spoke to us. “ Yeah, I’m sure George is worried at the moment! We’re playing some great football, and the game certainly seems in our control. We could probably take the game more to Ipswich, score the second goal, and then try to shut up shop. I don’t know what my plan is for the second half!â€

Alexander’s speech was probably the last exciting thing during the match (and that wasn’t even remotely exciting). Matteo Sereni made up for his earlier “error†by making several fine stops, but apart from that, there was nothing in the game.

Darryl Powell, the goalscorer, was delighted with his goal. “ I can’t say it was a cracker to be honest with you, but every goal is important for us due to our relegation position. The new manager has come in with a few ideas, and although not everyone is happy with him, his style seems to be working...â€

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The Daily Mail

A disappointing Leicester exit....

Despite Derby County’s poor league position, they were firm favourites for the Fourth Round FA Cup replay against Leicester at the old stadium Filbert Street. The Foxes’, however, performed well to see off the challenge of the Rams.

After a fiery tie at Pride Park, the match went into a replay. Like the league match only a matter of weeks ago, Ade Akinbiyi opened the scoring, this time thirty minutes later.

A few minutes after half time, Matt Elliot pulled down Malcolm Christie as he prepared to shoot towards goal. A penalty was awarded by Phil Dowd, an unknown whistler. Chris Riggot, who has already scored a couple of penalties for Derby this season, placed the ball beyond goalkeeper Tim Flowers.

Rather than Dowd showing inexperience, it was Elliot who was the sillier, making a rash challenge just nine minutes after his first booking. The brutal Scottish defender leapt into the ankles of central midfielder Georgi Kinkladze, and there was only one place Elliot was going to go, the changing rooms...

Derby had hoped to push for a winner, but were hindered as they themselves got a man sent off. Strupar, the Belgian forward, stupidly punched goalkeeper Tim Flowers in the face, and there was no where else but the Changing Rooms (with a healthy ban) for the striker to go to.

Inbetween the two Fourth Round ties, Derby played Newcastle. Carl Cort looked to have given Newcastle a victory with a sixty-first minute striker, but four minutes from time, Georgi Kinkladze knocked home a deserved goal.

But the most important match was the one today, and there was only one winner right from the word go. Trevor Benjamin turned thirty-five yards out on the fifth minute, and struck a superbly weighted strike into the top corner, way beyond goalkeeper Mart Poom. Even the Estonian giant couldn’t save it.

Branko Strupar, the Derby striker, who stupidly found himself sent off in the first game against Leicester picked up an injury thirty minutes into the game. With the pendulam swinging in Leicester’s direction, it was an unfortunate blow. Fabrizio Ravanelli came on, although the Italian couldn’t do much about Leicester’s dominace.

Benjamin’s opening strike was a topper, and he doubled the advantage with his second of the match. Scowcroft received the ball down the wing, and the big striker crossed the ball into the box. There was Trevor Benjamin, who leapt above everyone else to nod the ball past goalkeeper Mart Poom.

The ball was never at either clubs end, and the game was played mainly in the middle, where there was plenty of tackles flying in from every side. Even Kinkladze was joining in - the Georgian is usually seen chipping balls into the box, or showing off his skill - and it was becoming a blood bath.

Not entertaining viewing, as Alexander explained. “ We’re all very disappointed with the result today, but to be honest, we don’t have long to think over days like these. We were simply unfortunate... they caught us on an off day. Well done to Leicester, I wish them all the best for the rest of the FA Cup.â€

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A week in words, a managerial side of things...

The week started off with a fabulous victory against Tottenham, where we finally beat a team by a scoreline we should be winning by. I decided to play one of the younger players in the squad, named Tonton Mokouko Zola. He’s a Swede, with Ghanian origin, and seemed a real talent in training.

His talent in training was easily converted onto the pitch, as he looked like a player reaching his peak, rather than a player who has just reached the legal drinking age. He opened the scoring after ten minutes, jinxing in and out of the shocked Spurs defence, and slotting the ball into the back of the net.

Four minutes later, and the ‘haircut’ man Abel Xavier doubled the scoreline. Todd paid £2,200,000 for the Portuguese Internationals signature, and I’m beginning to see why he made the move. Paul Boertian, the full back, played a neat through ball through to the full back, and Xavier slotted the ball beyond the ‘keeper.

Injuries to players won’t help our season, and we’ll have to do without the services of Horacio Carbanari for a little while yet. He’s a good, solid defender, one of a few in South America, and we hope he’ll be back sooner rather than later.

Moukoko’s second was as good as his first, as his debut was capped with his second goal, and, later on, the man of the match award. Moukoko looked swarmed out by defenders, but one nutmeg, and a little flash of wonderful pace, saw him in too much space. From that position, he hammered the ball past Kasey Keller.

The match was sealed as Malcolm Christie, who starred alongside Moukoko though took none of the credit. His goal was good too, on another day, it would have caught all the headlines, but as it was, it didn’t. Cleverly beating a defender with a neat back heel, Christie hammered home from twelve yards out.

A vital relegation battle came next, against Fulham at the Craven Cottages. We started off brilliantly, with Georgi Kinkladze scoring yet another goal. The Georgian player curled a beautiful shot into the top corner from just outside the penalty area.

Minutes after half time, Malcolm Chrstie looked to have put Derby in a commanding position, with yet another tidy finish. Edwin Van Der Sar had a brilliant game, but he was unable to stop Christie’s flashing drive from ten yards out.

Fulham battled back, and got a goal back by Sylvain Legwinski. The defensive midfielder scored a belter, and Portuguese team-mate Louis Boa Morte squared things up, rather frustratingly for me, with a chip over the helpless goalkeeper Mart Poom.

A point was a fair result, but we did need something against Liverpool, something which we just missed out on. They’re not as good as they used to be, but Anfield is still a hard ground to play on. Robbie Fowler scored with barely seconds on the clock, and Emile Heskey scored the second of the game to secure a victory for the Reds.

After the game, I was visibally disappointed. “ We didn’t play well today, but at times, we should have scored. It’s the same with most of our games, we don’t put away all the chances which are actually gifted to us most of the time! We really need to start putting away the chances.... but survival is still not far away!â€

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Inside the Dugout

Derby vs Southampton, Pride Park, 3:00pm

“Inside the dugout†ignored the tempation of playing the Arsenal vs Leeds game or the Manchester Utd - Newcastle game, and showed live coverage of the Derby vs Southampton match. The relegation battle didn’t always look like a cracker, but after the game, football fans who watched the game thoroughly enjoyed it.

Judging by the last time the two sides met, Southampton should have steamrolled to yet another victory. Although struggling with relegation, they have picked up recently, and are now safely clear, bar some freak results. It’s the same story for Derby, although they are still in deep danger, and are second from bottom of the league.

The last game ended in a 5-1 victory for Southampton, and Euan Alexander, the Derby manager was predicting another high scoring games. “ It may not look the most attractive of matches, but both teams play high up the park, looking to score goals. I think ‘Inside the Dugout’ were right to show this game!â€

The manager would not have been happy with the way his side started. Matthew Le Tissier, now an old man at thirty-three years old, waltzed through the Derby defence with a couple of tricks and using all of his pace to beat them. He then slammed the ball beyond Poom for his first goal of the season.

Stefano Eranio pegged a goal back five minutes later, to square things up. The Italian played a neat one-two with fellow country-man Fabrizio Ravanelli, which earnt the midfielder time and space to set up his shot. In the end, it was a well struck effort from just outside the area, and already the fans were loving it.

Derby fans were in shock once again as the Saints set up another fragile one goal lead. Mark Draper, the experienced midfielder, used a neat dummy to confuse one defender, and an absolute belter of a shot ended up almost smashing the Pride Park nets in half.

At half time, Stuart Gray found some time to breath, and actually speak to the reporters! “ Oh, it’s been a brilliant first half for both teams I’d say... Derby are really going for it, but fortunately for us, we’re converting the chances and they aren’t. I have a feeling there’s going to be more goals in the second half...â€

Three minutes into the second half, and Derby pegged back the second deficit. Darryl Powell started the move which he eventually finished, spreading the ball from his natural left to the right-flank, where Eranio collected, waited, and then chipped the ball into the penalty area. Powell was there to nod the ball beyond Paul Jones.

Malcolm Christie, six minutes later, gave Derby their first lead of the match, but this time it wasn’t a brilliant goal. Paul Jones did well to first of all stop Kinkladze’s effort, and then reacted well to block Danny Higginbotham’s first of the season, but he wasn’t able to save Christie, who powered the ball into the net.

Time was ticking for Southampton to equaliser, and with seventy-three minutes on the clock Alexander had time to speak to us. “ It’s not comfortable at the moment, we need another goal... NOOOOOO!†Marian Pahars, the Latvian striker, had hit a shot out of nowhere which struck the post before nestling in the back of the net.

His speech changed a notch as he returned two minutes later. “ I was rudely interrupted there!†He laughed, “ we were doing pretty well up to there, but I mean, it was only a matter of time before they were going to score. It’s been a really strange match, as the team who have just had a set-back seem to go on the stronger.â€

The pattern continued, as eight minutes from time, Georgi Kinkladze powered home yet another goal. The Georgian picked up the ball midway through Southampton’s half, and then raced towards the goals. Beating one man with quick feet, he converted to the Maradona Twist to beat the second. Then, a shot out of nothing curved into the top corner, and the home side were delighted.

Match winner Kinkladze simply said: “ I don’t score as many as I used to, but they all seem to be pretty good goals. Todays was a great goal, I think, and also was so important! Hopefully now we can build from this and be the first team to stay up, like Euan (Alexander, the manager), wanted us to do!â€

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A week in words, the managerial side of things

After the great win against Southampton, we returned to action against Manchester Utd, though the match was less than successful. I had high hopes for the match - a win would have most certainly spelled safety as we would have built from the game. But, judging by our performance against them, a win against the Reds is going to be a few years away.

I don’t have them years though - I have a contract until the last day of the season, and so far, the board don’t want to renew it. I’m happy enough, as long as I can get another job in football. At the current time, however, I’m commited to keeping the club up, and there are no thoughts of movement in my mind at the current time.

The team totally collapsed against the ‘mighty’ Manchester side, and Silvestre took full advantage of that thirty-six minutes into the game. From there on in, it was how many would they score, rather than when would we get back into the match.

We actually had the better of the game, but Poom was in awful form. Dwight Yorke raced through our slow defence and notched a good goal in the Reds’ mind, and the match (as if it wasn’t before) was sealed courtesy of good work by Yorke and Cole, setting up the latter, and he finished well.

Thankfully, against Bolton at home, we reversed the score-line in another exciting match. Stefano Eranio opened the scoring sixteen minutes in, using the Italian flair to beat the defence, and then he converted at the second attempt past Bolton’s Finnish goalkeeper Jaaskalainen.

It then turned into the Malcolm Christie show, with the striker converting a further two goals. Shortly before half time, the English forward powered a header into the back of the net, and with three minutes left until full time, the same player scored a copy of the first, nodding the ball past Jaaskalainen.

We need to pick up points away from home if we hope to stay up, and that’s why the win against West Ham at Upton Park was so important. We had Stefano Eranio sent off twelve minutes in, and the hosts took the lead courtesy of Frederic Kanoute.

Just as my thoughts were drifting towards a defeat, Seth Johnsen scored one of his first goals of the season with a header in the box. Moukoko may not be as noticed as he was at the start of the season, but he’s still there, and is playing well. He bagged another goal twenty-four minutes into the game.

Horacio Carbonari finished off the match from a corner, as the Argentinian centre-back leapt highest in the area. It’s a much needed win, and hopefully we can take the form which has seen us rise recently into the away game against Leeds United.

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The Guardian’s “short interviewsâ€

Will they and can they stay up?

Euan Alexander cantered into the office, immiediatly appologising. “ Sorry I’m late,†he said, sorting out his suit and tie. The manager doesn’t look quite right in the outfit - the thirty-six year old is usually seen wearing a tracksuit, jumping up and down track-side.

At first, the manager doesn’t say much, but when the subject of the “Relegation at Christmas†comes up, he’s chatting like you usually see him doing within the media. “ You’re the first journalist not to ask me that first!†He smiled, before he continued.

“ I mean, at the moment, it’s a record, but records can be put to rest.... I suppose my job is to do that. I’m not in a long-term role or anything, so if I keep the team up, I will be known as the man who broke it.

“ I’ve got a good squad of players as well, but they had a negative attitude when I arrived. I’d say six players weren’t convinced that I could turn the club around, and now I think it’s gone down to two... two troublesome players (the players, for your information, are Chris Riggott and Paul Boertian).

“ Not many people believe we can do it, and I respect that. I actually think we were in the worst position a club has ever been in, we’d played half the games, and we had collected just seven points! But, I’m going to give it a bash, and so far, things are going well!â€

His side picked up a deserved point at Elland Road on Saturday. The Irish duo of Stephen McPhail and Ian Harte gave Leeds a comfortable two goal lead, but a quick change of tactics from Derby gave them a chance in the game.

“Alexander’s genius†as he called it started as Craig Burley scored a goal shortly before half time, and then fifteen minutes after the quarter of an hour break, Georgi Kinkladze notched home a vital equaliser. It could even keep them up, as Alexander explains.

“ It’s strange, being at a club in Relegation. As I look back on the season, we’ve had a lot of near misses, and also matches which looked out of our grasp. The points all build up, and you eventually get your total. If some of the good results you had never happened, then you could be down...

“ I mean, a point may not look too significant, but I bet you, if we stay up, it will be by one or two points, rather than three, six or nine points!â€

The question is, will, and can Derby stay up? My view is that they can stay up with a mixture of luck and good results, but whether or not they can actually do it is another thing... Alexander’s determination could get them out of this trouble, as, after the short Interview, I understand how he has the will power.

Derby are now preparing for Saturday’s game against Everton without the services of Mart Poom. The goalkeeper didn’t play in the last game against Leeds due to a poor performance against Man Utd, but Howarth is now expected to keep goal for the rest of the season.

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>

Two weeks in words, the managerial side of things

We started the game against Everton in high spirits, after a good result against Leeds Utd last week. Safety is ever nearer, and with the form we are showing (good enough for Europe, someone has informed me), we could just make it. Results like Everton would help as well, I tell you that!

Thirty-eight minutes into the game, Malcolm Christie volleyed us into the lead. The delight was short-lived, however, as fiery Italian Stefano Eranio picked up his second red card of the season. It was going to be a tall order with him, but a good tactical switch ensured we would win the game.

Shortly after the half time break, which was spent with only fifteen men, rather than the sixteen we had hoped for, Christie scored his second of the match. Similar to the first, the Englishman picked up a pass from Moukoko, and fired the ball on the half-volley into the back of the net.

Craig Burley scored his first goal for a good wee while ten minutes into the second half, and as David Weir bundled brace scorer Malcolm Christie over, the referee awarded a penalty. Chris Riggott converted easily from the spot, and the fabulous win was confirmed.

Thomas Graveson scored a late consolation for the away side, and to be honest, despite Everton’s efforts, I was never worried about conceding further goals.

Another vital relegation battle came against Sunderland at the brilliant Stadium of Light. It was the first time I had visited the stadium, and I have to say, it was brilliant. It would have been better if Malcolm Christie’s opener had lasted longer, but as it was, Julio Arca equalised two minutes after the goal.

There was a similar story as Danny Higginbotham scored the second goal for us. Minutes afterwards, however, Kevin Phillips bagged a goal. We really needed to get that break, but perhaps it was my fault... we should have put more effort into our defending after the goals.

For the first time in the match, Sunderland hit in front. A scramble in the box resulted in Steve Stone converting the ball into the back of the net. With five minutes to go, my team didn’t panic, and Craig Burley scored his second goal in as many games, which almost certainly rocked Sunderland’s survival hopes.

We then returned home against Charlton, and easily won the match. Malcolm Christie opened the scoring, and doubled it with an audacious overhead kick. His third was as good as the second, as he blasted home a twenty-five yarder.

Tonton Moukoko then converted from a far-out free-kick, and another set-piece resulted in the fifth - Christie was denied his fourth by a Charlton defender, but gave Chris Riggott the chance to convert from the penalty spot. I don’t think the penalties missed a penalty in his career, and he fired the ball home, once again, easily.

There is just one game left... can we stay up?

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The Relegation Watch

Here is a “minute by minute†guide to the third and final relegation place. Will Derby do the impossible? While Sunderland’s brilliant stadium be half full in the First Division? Or will Fulham go straight down after being promoted last season. Let’s find out, shall we......

9 mins: Goal for Sunderland!! 1-0 Riccy Scimeca’s cushioned header found Lillian Laslandes, the French International, and the player turned towards goal. A cross was deflected by Charlton defender Dominic Matteo, but it fell perfectly for dangerous striker Kevin Phillips. Although the player’s effort was saved, Julio Arca followed up, and rammed the ball into the back of the net.

(Sunderland will stay up, as will Derby, Fulham will go down)

21 mins: Goal for Fulham!! 1-0 A free-kick was won on the edge of the area by Steve Marlet, which John Collins went to take. The Scottish midfielder used his left foot effectively as the set-piece flew straight to the head of Louis Saha, who nodded home.

(Fulham will narrowly go down, Sunderland and Derby are still up)

29 mins: Goal for Chelsea!! 1-0 Marcel Desailly, a world cup winner, picked up the ball after a poor “attempt†at a Derby attack, and quickly laid the ball off to Di Matteo. The midfielder hit a brilliant thirty-yard ball up to fellow country-man Gianfranco Zola, and the small bright-spark lofted the ball over the despairing Russel Howarth.

(Derby are now down, Sunderland and Fulham will stay up)

37 mins: Goal for Sunderland!! 2-0 Julio Arca threw the ball back into play from a throw in, and Medina picked up, playing the ball back to the Left Back. The cross came in, and was cleared by Young. The header went as far as Medina, who chipped the ball back in, and there was Lillian Laslandes, who knocked in his eighth goal of the season.

(The positions are still the same, Derby will go down)

40 mins: Goal for Charlton!! 2-1 Fish collected the ball in defence, but was quickly closed down by Prutton, who slid in to challenge. The ball richoceted to Parker, who took control of the loose ball. He searched out Robinson, and the winger found Bartlett in the air, and the South African headed the ball into the back of the net.

(Again, no change in the positional sense, Derby look out of it at the current stage.)

41 mins: Goal for Charlton!! 2-2 Straight from the kick off, John Robinson picked up the ball, and ran at the Sunderland defence. He went by the challenge of Makin, before he jinked past the challenge of David Prutton. One-on-one with the ‘keeper, he slotted it beyond Thomas Sorenson.

(Sunderland are now down, Fulham and Derby will be delighted)

48 mins: Goal for Middlesbrough!! 1-1 Dean Windass took the ball forwards, and then chipped the ball forward towards Alen Boksic. The Croatian squared the ball to Hamilton Ricard, who was tackled by Alain Goma. He quickly scooped the ball up again, and squared towards Paul Ince. This time, the midfielder didn’t waste the opportunity, placing the ball beyond Edwin Van Der Sar.

(Fulham are down, Sunderland and Derby stay up)

55 mins: Goal for Middlesbrough!! 1-2 Festa, the Italian defender, won posession before turning it down the left wing for Pead. The winger delivered the ball to the near post in the direction of Mark Hudson, who knocked the ball down to Hamilton Ricard. Superb control by Ricard, and a neat bit of skill to bypass Boa Morte gave the striker the chance, and he drilled the ball into the back of the net.

(Fulham are down and out, while Sunderland and Derby battle on)

86 mins: Goal for Fulham!! 2-2 Luis Boa Morte took the ball over the halfway line, tracked by Festa. He played the ball past the defender, and then decided to continue with the run. Still on the ball, he reached the by-line, and crossed towards Luis Saha. The striker nodded the ball home for the second time of the match.

(The final whistle sounds around the three grounds, as Fulham fans leave Craven Cottages quietly, while Pride Park erupts despite defeat, and the Stadium of Light quickly lights up with a Fireworks display...)

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<BLOCKQUOTE class="ip-ubbcode-quote"><font size="-1">quote:</font><HR>

The Daily Mail

“We did it!†says former Derby manager

Euan Alexander, now a former Derby manager, spoke of his delight after leading his side out of relegation trouble. The Rams are now the first team in the history of the Premiership to survive after being bottom on the twenty-fifth of December.

“ We looked down and out at that point, but I came in, and I think, without trying to sound too full of myself, I did a fine job at the club. I hope they pick the right man for the job as I don’t want to see my, the clubs backroom staff and the players hard work count for nothing.

“ They are a great club, and I love the support the fans give the team. The debt has been wiped, and now, Derby should be looking to continue life as a mid-table club, or even higher up, rather than relegation fodder... as the team proved when I was there, they certainly have the talent!â€

Despite leaving just two days after keeping his side up, the manager doesn’t have a single problem with any of the board members at Derby. Infact, he praised the Chairman, Lionel Pickering. “ Well, he obviously gave me my big break in the managerial side of things.

“ I think he was a great chairman who gave me backing right until the end. He didn’t make a decision that I was going to leave the club, I simply signed a contract until then, and we came to an agreement that was better for me and the club if I left.â€

Derby came really close to relegation. In the final game of the season, Euan was fully wired up to the Fulham game, while his assistant manager, and friend, Billy McEwan, was wired up to listen to the Sunderland game.

As he explained, for the eleven minutes in which Derby were down for, there was alot of panick around the technical area. McEwan said: “ I was listening to the Sunderland game, and he was listening to the Fulham match, and then when Zola scored, we knew that we were down at that moment in time.

“ There was alot of panic, but thankfully for both our sakes, other results went our way, and we could afford that loss against Chelsea. It was such a bad season, which turned out to be such a good one!â€

Finally, Alexander admitted he’d like to work for another club in the near future. “ I’m going to apply for all the jobs I’m interested in, and hopefully one of them will come with a “yes†answer. I can’t wait to work at another club.â€

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The end of the Derby era... but will the same man return for another adventure? Who knows!

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