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Derby County must find their shooting boots says Steve McClaren

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 14, 2014

POWERS OF CONCENTRATION ... Derby County goalkeeper Lee Grant.

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TWO games, two wins, and a positive start to the season but head coach Steve McClaren believes Derby County can do better.

McClaren has seen the Rams win their Championship opener against Rotherham United and book a place in the second round of the Capital One Cup by beating Carlisle United.

But newly-promoted Rotherham and League Two opponents Carlisle pushed Derby all the way.

McClaren has called on his team to be more ruthless in front of goal, to kill sides off earlier.

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"We will get better and the rustiness around goal is something we need to improve on," he said.

In fact, last season's top scorers in the Championship with a whopping 84 goals have had their goalkeeper and backline to thank for a 100% start to the campaign.

Clean sheets in both matches were key, and McClaren described holding narrow leads going into the closing stages of both games as "very dangerous".

McClaren added: "We have had the same scenario in both games when we've gone into the last few minutes 1-0 up – that shouldn't have been the case – but we got through it thanks to our back four and Lee Grant, who made some good saves."

Both games showed that defending is still an important part of the game, thankfully, because there was a real concern that the World Cup in Brazil would colour all thoughts on how the game should be played.

Yes, it was a World Cup of thrills, spills and goals.

It was also a World Cup of pretty dire defending at times, and this made a significant contribution to the amount of goals scored.

Perhaps ironic, then, in a World Cup of goals-a-plenty it was won by a team (Germany) that kept a clean sheet in the final against a team (Argentina) that kept four clean sheets in six matches en-route to the final.

Derby conceded 52 goals in 46 league matches last season. The three promoted teams conceded fewer – Leicester City (43), Burnley (37) and Queen's Park Rangers (44).

The Rams might need to shave about 10 goals off the 52 conceded last season if they are to challenge for one of the two automatic promotion places this time round.

Successive clean sheets is an encouraging start to the season although there will be tougher tests ahead, with all due respect to Rotherham and Carlisle.

Grant made excellent saves at key moments in both games, highlighting how crucial concentration is for goalkeepers, especially in matches when they are not overly worked.

His reactions proved razor-sharp when he dropped to his right to keep out Paul Green's firm header as Rotherham pressed for an equaliser.

At Carlisle, Derby almost rued their failure to take chances when, with the game still goalless, David Symington's sweetly-struck free kick from 25 yards was arrowing in until Grant tipped the ball onto the bar.

Centre-backs Richard Keogh and Jake Buxton stood firm when Rotherham threatened.

Buxton had barely trained in the build up to the game and McClaren felt the defender's display epitomised the determination within the squad.

Buxton was rested at Carlisle, Zak Whitbread came in and alongside Keogh helped to secure another shut out. It was only Whitbread's fifth appearance since first joining the Rams on loan in October and then permanently this summer.

"It was great to see him out there," said McClaren. "He was composed, very intelligent, and made great use of the ball."

Full-backs Craig Forsyth and Cyrus Christie have caught the eye with the forward forages but both have defended solidly when asked, and in one-on-one situations.

The art of one-on-one defending, when mastered, is a joy to watch.

I do not see enough of this in today's football, particularly in the full-back areas, and especially at the highest level. England's full-backs have struggled in such situations for too long.

Maybe coaches should spend more training-ground time working with players on this part of defending.

Forsyth's game certainly seems to have benefited.

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