THREE games without a win and a goal. This is a deeply frustrating time for Derby County.
They were held to goalless draw by Bolton Wanderers at the iPro Stadium last night to follow back-to-back defeats against Burnley and Millwall
As hard as they tried to break down Bolton’s stubborn resistance, Derby could not find that one moment of quality to make the difference.
Nor did the ball drop for them in the box, and sometimes you need a lucky break in tight contests.
Derby dominated for long, long spells. They deserved better than a point but things are not going for them just now.
Teams are coming to the iPro and sitting in, and sitting deep.
One point from the last nine is a stutter in the promotion race and leaves the Rams third on 62 points – nine ahead of Brighton who sit just outside the play-off places.
Brighton beat Queen’s Park Rangers and Reading, Derby’s next opponents, won at Leeds while there was a draw for Nottingham Forest.
The tussle for a top-six finish increases in fascination by the game and the Rams could do with a win to spark them again.
They made three changes to the team that lost to Millwall.
Top scorer Chris Martin returned following suspension, experienced midfielder John Eustace was recalled after being left out on Saturday, and Jamie Ward came back in.
Out went Conor Sammon, Will Hughes and Patrick Bamford. Hughes was absent due to a “knock” he suffered late in the Millwall game.
“We don’t think it is going to be a long-term injury,” said first-team coach Paul Simpson. “He was touch and go but we are not prepared to take any chances.”
Derby have not been settled in the wide areas since the turn of the year with Simon Dawkins, Johnny Russell, Bamford and Ward fighting for the two roles.
Head coach Steve McClaren opted for Dawkins and Ward who, with Martin, formed a tried and tested front three during the run of seven consecutive wins in November and December.
The biggest disappointment of the defeat by Millwall was Derby’s lack of quality in the final third and the first couple of opportunities they had to deliver from wide positions saw Craig Forsyth and Andre Wisdom send teasing centres into the near post.
Bolton defended them, just about, and Zat Knight’s height at the heart of Bolton’s back four was important in the opening 15 minutes.
Martin saw a low shot gathered by Adam Bogdan and then forced a fine save from the goalkeeper, although the flag was up for offside.
Derby continued to probe and pushed the visitors back by winning corners and free kicks. In the opening half hour it was difficult to see how Bolton had thumped Leeds 5-1 at Elland Road at the weekend.
Thirty one minutes had ticked by when they had their first strike at Derby’s goal, a fierce drive from distance by Andre Moritz that Lee Grant pushed out.
The Rams’ response saw them create two chances. Ward exchanged passes with Dawkins in the area and his firm shot whistled inches wide.
Martin drove a low shot straight at Bogdan as Derby’s bright movement and intelligent interchanging troubled Bolton.
Dawkins, Bryson, Ward and Hendrick bemused their markers by popping up in different areas of the pitch, and Bolton’s defenders spent much of the time hacking the ball away.
Wisdom, up from right back, pulled a shot wide and Bolton were pleased to see the first half come to a close.
However, Derby did not trouble Bogdan enough in the opening 45 minutes and 230 minutes had passed since their last goal, the late free kick from Martin that sank Bournemouth on February 22.
The Rams came out with the same tempo and purpose after the break. More inter-play around the edge of the box ended with Bryson’s strike being parried by Bogdan.
Derby’s industry without the ball was also a key feature of their performance. They refused to allow Bolton to settle.
Grant easily collected an effort from Lukas Jutkiewicz in a rare Bolton foray. At the other end Forsyth’s rising drive cleared the angle of bar and post.
A few groans of frustration could be heard as Derby started to try and force matters, which led to wrong decisions on the ball and mistakes.
Bamford was introduced with the hope he could prove a super-sub once again following his heroics against Brighton and Blackburn but it was Bolton who threatened next, Neil Danns’ strike being saved by Grant.
On came Sammon to join Martin up top. Add Bamford and Dawkins to the equation, and the Rams had four forwards searching for the breakthrough.
Sammon had a sight of goal when he met a centre from another of the substitutes, Russell, but could not direct his header on target.
After Grant had spilled and then collected Danns’ effort there was a chance for Sammon to win it, but he scuffed his shot straight at Bogdan from 15 yards.
Frustrating ... it was that kind of night.