BUILDING match fitness through minutes on the pitch and avoiding injuries are the main aims of pre-season, especially in the early friendlies.
This was the exercise for Derby County at Matlock on Thursday and again at Ilkeston on Saturday when they played out a goalless draw at the New Manor Ground.
One goal settled the contest at Matlock, but the Rams were unable to find a finish at Ilkeston, despite going close on a number of occasions first half.
The many changes in personnel at half time – Ilkeston made seven and Derby 11 – did not help the flow and the game quickly deteriorated in the second half, not surprisingly.
Rams’ first-team coach Paul Simpson called it an “extension of our training”, before adding: “We accept it wasn’t wonderful free-flowing football although I thought first half we looked very lively and created some really good opportunities.
“We should have got a few goals.
“There were a few signs of rustiness, which is expected after just a week of training, and also signs of things we need to continue to work on.
“It is difficult when you make so many changes and that is why pre-season games are always a little bit scrappy, but we were delighted with the workout.”
Pre-season is also an opportunity to cast an eye over trialists.
Six featured in Derby’s squad, of which five played a part.
Derby fielded two different XIs in each half. In total, they used 25 players and the majority played 45 minutes.
The side first half featured more first-team regulars and the front three of Johnny Russell (pictured), Chris Martin and Jamie Ward all went close.
Russell’s free kick curled narrowly wide, Ward’s low drive cannoned back off a post and both Russell and Martin were denied by Ilkeston goalkeeper Jordan Smith, who also tipped over a cracking volley from new signing Alban Bunjaku.
Bunjaku formed part of a midfield trio along with Jamie Hanson and Scott Allan, a 22-year-old trialist who was released by West Bromwich Albion at the end of last season.
Hanson, a defender in the youth team last season, filled the holding role in front of the back four and it was good to see him, Banjaku and Allan looking comfortable in possession and using the ball well.
Ilkeston, managed by ex-Rams striker Kevin Wilson, stuck to their task throughout.
They looked to pass the ball and build attacks, to their credit, and the Evo-Stik League NPL Premier Division side had a great chance to take the lead, only for Kelle Roos to thwart striker Kane Richards, a former youth team player at Derby.
Roos has started the first two friendlies of pre-season while Rams’ number one Lee Grant works his way back from a minor operation on a knee.
Will Hughes, John Eustace, Craig Bryson and Paul Coutts were not risked due to “niggles” – nor were Richard Keogh, Jeff Hendrick and Simon Dawkins in the squad.
New signing Afeles Santos was, and he played on the right wing in the second half while Derby handed 19-year-old trialists Eros Medaglia and Mo Shariff run outs. Medaglia is a right back from Argentina and Shariff a forward who was with Queen’s Park Rangers.
Conor Sammon saw his low shot kept out by former Rams keeper Ross Atkins before another trialist was introduced, 18-year-old ex-Peterborough United striker Shaquille McDonald.
Atkins produced an excellent save to deny Tom Naylor from close range although substitute Courey Grantham had a chance to win it for Ilkeston late on.
An error by the experienced Lee Naylor gifted the ball to Grantham, whose shot was beaten out by Ross Etheridge.
Naylor picked up an injury in the incident and was replaced by another trialist, 18-year-old former Arsenal defender Arinse Uade.
Atletico Madrid midfielder Ivan Calero, 19, was an unused substitute. He is training with Derby.
ILKESTON FC: Smith (Atkins, 46); Gordon (Baker, 46), Reid (Burrows, 61), Wright (Togwell, 46), Maguire (Smith, 61), R Wilson (Graham, 61), Morgan (Goddard, 61, Johal 78), L Wilson (Bako, 46), Richards (Grantham, 46), Adams (Shaw, 46), Chettle (Hopkinson, 46).
DERBY COUNTY (first half): Roos; Freeman, O’Brien, Buxton, Forsyth; Allan, Hanson, Bunjaku; Russell, Martin, Ward.
DERBY COUNTY (second half): Etheridge; Medaglia, L Naylor (Uade, 88), T Naylor, Rawson, Whitbread, Shariff (McDonald, 78), Lowe, Sammon, Santos (Thomas, 78), Bennett.
Other sub: Calero.