Duffers' Derby Diaries: Lampard solves midfield conundrum to great effect
Saturday's win over Birmingham City ticked another box or two in Frank Lampard's textbook as he learns to be a manager.
It revolved around how to solve the problem of having two key players missing in the centre of midfield, and how to replace them.
For the majority of the season, Mason Mount and Craig Bryson have complemented each other really well in the middle, with the likes of Tom Huddlestone, Joe Ledley or Bradley Johnson often deployed just behind them.
So with Bryson already out but the Rams having coped well without him in the games with West Brom, Middlesbrough and Chelsea, it was therefore a blow when Mount was declared unfit to face Birmingham due to an ankle injury.
Such influential players missing could easily have disrupted the Rams’ recent flow, particularly in such a key area, indeed that was the case in the first-half as they struggled to move the ball quickly enough through the middle.
The use of Duane Holmes in a central role was a bit of a shot in the dark from Lampard as, even though he’ll know the player’s attributes from having seen him in training, it was Holmes’ first start in a Derby shirt and he’s also been more often used in a wide role throughout his career, although he has been deployed centrally at times.
Harry Wilson was alongside him but his versatility has been shown throughout his time at Pride Park, including having played centrally to great effect. That said, it still made for an unfamiliar midfield.
Once the call for more mobility and tempo had been made at half-time, Wilson and Holmes proceeded to provide it and to great effect. Holmes suddenly looked more comfortable on the ball and Wilson seemed to drift around with a bit more freedom than before, helping result in a far more fluid display throughout the team.
Mount and Bryson will, for me, remain the first choice pairing in central midfield, but it was good to see Lampard has more than one decent back up plan should he need it.
One other talking point to come out of the Birmingham game revolved around the second Rams goal.
Much debate was sparked in the press box as to whether it should have been credited to Wilson, or whether, as was my opinion, that it should go down as a Lukas Jutkiewicz own goal.
My first instinct, given I was almost right behind the line of the ball, was that it was an own goal all day long, and it’s an opinion I stick by.
The initial cross or shot from Wilson may have been just about on target, but had Jutkiewicz not got such a big touch then goalkeeper Lee Camp or the post would have intervened.
It was more than just a deflection, as Jutkiewicz was attempting to clear the ball, or at least get a foot to it, and in doing so his heavy touch sent it over Camp and into the net.
I’m not sure if a ‘dubious goals panel’ convenes to decide goals in the Championship, but if they do then that’s one they’ll have to mull over!