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The Camden Cad
Aug 24, 2004
North London
There was a point in the proceedings at Pride Park when this odd football match crossed an invisible line between disaster and farce. An Arsenal cross looped into the home penalty area, but drifted a little too far and looked to be heading out of play. Derby's wardrobe-shaped Darren Moore lumbered into view and recklessly attempted to keep it in. In his own penalty area against one of the best teams in Europe, he actually tried to bring a ball that was heading out for a goal kick, back into play. With one voice, the entire home crowd screamed, "Leave it! Leave it!" Moore obeyed them, the ball swirled out of play and he turned to applaud them for their advice. Perhaps if the crowd had been this helpful all year, Derby wouldn't be in so much trouble. Now that I come to think about it, perhaps if someone from the crowd had actually been playing instead of Moore, Derby wouldn't be in so much trouble.

It pains me to draw attention to Moore's shortcomings because I know from personal experience that the enormous defender is one of the nicest footballers in the game, a consumate professional, generous with his time both for fans and for a number of charities. To make up for it, let me stress that you could have replaced almost any member of this side, bar the goalkeeper, with one of the crowd and it would have made little difference to the final score. Derby are simply the worst football team I have ever seen in the Premier League, and that includes Swindon Town.

Strangely, they actually started really well. Tyrone Mears fired in a series of good crosses from the right wing that young goalkeeper Lucasz Fabianski struggled to deal with and, had Emanuel Villa been more alert, he might have scored an unlikely opener.

"In the opening stages Derby gave everything," said Arsene Wenger afterwards. "They didn't look like a team with no confidence. They were dangerous on every set-piece."

For the first twenty minutes, possibly due to Arsenal's mistaken belief that they could turn up and win with their eyes closed, he was absolutely right. Sadly, when Robbie Savage played a simple ball to Moore's feet in the 25th minute, it all went wrong. You see, Moore is essentially a mobile obstacle for opponents, not an actual footballer, per se. He lost control of the slow-moving sphere, Nicklas Bendtner stepped in, lent it to Robin van Persie for a moment and then, upon completing the one-two, stroked it home to an audible sigh of resignation from the home fans. It was their entire season encapsualted in a single passage of play.

When a team scores six goals away from home, regardless of whether they are Arsenal or Accrington Stanley, it seems churlish to pick faults, but the gulf in class here was so vast that the Gunners should be wondering why they didn't score twelve. At times it was like a training exercise, but a really worthless, one-sided exercise designed either to break the hearts of the defenders or artifically raise the morale of the strikers. Roy Carroll deserves credit for a number of excellent saves, but that's it. I can't find any other positives. Robert Earnshaw briefly brought the scoreline to 2-3, but any praise derived from that act was instantly squandered when he celebrated, very much alone I might add, with a bizarre Irish jig. A SG$9m striker scoring his first league goal at the end of April should not, for shame, be dancing.

The only source of pride for Derby fans is looking back at them from the mirror every morning. It must have been a soul-destroying 10 months, but they still turn up and fill the stadium, they still sing their hearts out and they still back their boys, even the hapless Moore who they love, quite rightly, regardless of his limitations. They will be there in August when the season begins again at a lower level. Paul Jewell will be keen to ensure that most of this starting eleven are not.