Derby County v West Ham United

He's now returned from the unlucky branch of his family that drew the short straw to have him stay over Christmas. By the looks of things he brought their drinks cabinet with him. Internally. So, for the last time this year, we welcome (and we use that word quite wrongly)Preview Percy and his usual weird musings on this weekend's trip to Derby County. Sensible stats courtesy of John Northcutt....

And so with half the season gone we face our first return fixture of the season as we schlep up the M1 to face Derby County for a 1pm kick off at Pride Park. Allow yourself a decent amount of time to get up there if you're driving - there's a looooong stretch of the M1 that rather tediously has a load of cones and a 50mph average speed limit.

Since we last met at the end of November, Derby have continued form best described as "mixed". The five matches since we beat them 3-1 at the Boleyn have seen them win two, both at home where they beat Bristol City 2-1 and Leeds 1-0. Their defeats came at home to Brighton and away at Ipswich, both 1-0 whilst the draw came at Palace where they picked up a 1-1 courtesy of a 75th minute og. These results leave them in 14th place, which is exactly where we left them at the end of November. They currently have 31 points from their 23 games with a -5 goal difference, leaving them the second highest team in the division to have a negative GD. (Brighton in 11th with -3 in answer to your unasked question). Their last six home matches have seen three wins and three defeats, though they have won their last two at Pride Park.

There have been a couple of changes on the personnel front since last we spoke of matters Ram-related. Scottish international defender Russell Anderson, who signed for the Rams in January 2010, had his contract terminated "by mutual consent", the hamstring injury sustained by the player in November's 3-0 defeat to Cardiff being a knock too far for all concerned in a year that was blighted by injury. Similarly, defender Chris Riggott will be on his way (officially from 1 January). Having done well in pre-season, the defender was given a one-year deal but injuries prevented him from making a single appearance in what was his second spell at the club.

Another unlucky one at Pride Park has been the 19 year-old defender Mark O'Brien. O'Brien was a late sub in November's match at the Boleyn but will miss the rest of the season having done his cruciate ligaments in training last week. Meanwhile, out of favour ex-Hammer Stephen Bywater may have played his last first XI game for the club. His loan spell at Sheffield Wednesday has recently ended and, although the player featured in a behind closed doors friendly with Burton Albion last week, the Hillsborough club have been making noises about making the deal permanent if something can be agreed.

One of the reasons behind Bywater's lack of opportunity at Pride Park has been the emergence of Frank Fielding. Fielding gained rave reviews and, in some quarters, MOTM plaudits for his performance in the Boxing Day win over Leeds. Fielding's heroics prompted the Rams to their first clean sheet since September.

A (relatively) new face in amongst the starting line-up against Leeds was striker Nathan Tyson. The match represented Tyson's first start in a Derby shirt since his summer move from Nottingham Forest, groin problems being cited as the cause of his absence. Recent interviews state that the player has been embarrassed by his Derby career to date, though for embarrassment purposes he'll have to go some to top waving a Forest flag in front of the Derby fans as he did a while back when on the books at the City Ground. That little stunt cost him ?5,000.

Jaimie Ward was their goalscorer against Leeds. He was paired with Tyson for the first time in that match, though his regular striking partner, when fit, has been Theo Robinson. With six goals - 5 in the league - Robinson is their top scorer. Robinson spent a spell on loan at Millwall towards the end of 2011, the deal becoming permanent in the January 2011. Within a month Robinson tired of being surrounded by pond life and after a loan spell with the Rams until the end of the season the deal was made permanent during the summer.

The other option up front is the on loan Tamas Priskin. Priskin made his debut in the corresponding fixture at the Boleyn, netting the Derby goal in the process. However, his status as an emergency loan covering a number of injuries was underlined as, with permanent players such as Tyson & Robinson returning to fitness, Priskin's role seems to be on the bench and it remains to be seen whether or not any deal is struck to make the move permanent once the current loan runs out in January.

We, of course have our own selection issues. At the back the ludicrous booking picked up by McCartney at Birmingham - the ref seemingly being more concerned with microseconds than little things like handball - could leave us very short indeed, particularly in the middle of defence. Official sources however suggest that Winston Reid may be in for a welcome return. How much of that would be down to his being ready and how much to necessity remains to be seen.

Also unavailable will be the skipper - who had nothing to complain about with his yellow at St Andrews, Faubert and Collison who comes to the end of his three match layoff. The injuries & suspensions may mean returns for Lansbury - who came on from the bench at Birmingham, Sam Baldock and Gary O'Neil. Baldock has been much missed up front as the attack looks a bit one dimensional without him. As for Gary O'Neil, given what he's endured over the past year or so it'll be pleasing in the extreme to see him starting again - though as with the other injury returnees the good news of the return is tempered with the worry that things are being rushed a bit.

We've gone off the boil a wee bit of late. Birmingham away summed up our season really. A goal for in the 4th minute - we seemed to have scored a lot in the 4th minute (but probably haven't) - and a goal against in the last ten (we definitely have). The problem seems to be that with only Cole, Piquionne and Carew to choose from up front we don't really have a plan B and the longer that a game goes on the easier it becomes for an opposition to cope. If he is indeed fit to return, the introduction of Baldock will give a variety to the attack, though with us being short handed I suspect we'll be going with the "three up front but only one really" formation that would see Baldock on the bench at the start.

Predictions? Well I can see this one going the same way as the Birmingham game to be honest. It's not what I want but I reckon that this may be a match that sees us relinquish second place for a bit. 1-1 then (though if we grind out a 1-0 it wouldn't surprise me).

Enjoy the game - and Happy New Year!

When last we met: Blimey - even with my advancing years I can remember us beating them 3-1 at the Boleyn a few weeks ago. Didn't we?

Referee: Jon Moss - Following his much-publicised affair with the highly irritating Boy George ("Do you really want to hurt me? Yes unless you bloody stop "singing") he was promoted to the Select Group this summer. Another one of the "never refereed West Ham" bunch - his promotion coincided with our relegation.

Danger man: Jamie Ward - goals tend to come in bunches for forwards and he scored against Leeds last week....

Daft fact of the week: Comedienne Lucy Porter once got into bother by saying said that everyone in Derby "looked like a rapist". She did apologise, though since the apology went out on BBC Radio Derbyshire it remains to be seen whether either of their listeners were placated.

Stat man John: Northcutt's corner


Did you know? In May 1925 the two teams met in a pre-season friendly in Holland. The Hammers lost 3-2 to the Rams in Amsterdam's Ajax Stadium.


Martin Allen (h, League Cup) 1989-90
Julian Dicks (a) 1992-93
John Hartson (h) 1997-98

They Played For Both

Derek Hales; Stephen Bywater; James Tomkins; Vince Blore; Peter Shilton (though he never made a first team appearance for the Irons); Igor Stimac; Dave Swindlehurst; Tyrone Mears; Paulo Wanchope; Robert Lee; Paul Goddard; John Harkes; Chris Powell.

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