The opening day of a new season tends to have its optimism and expectations from football fans up and down the country. This was no different to both sets of fans at the iPro Stadium for Derby County versus Brighton & Hove Albion.
Derby, under the stewardship of former Leicester City manager Nigel Pearson for the first time competitively after an efficient pre-season, are hoping that the no nonsense former central defender could take the club that extra mile where his predecessors, Steve McClaren, Paul Clement and Darren Wassall had failed. Brighton on the other hand had to try and live with expectations left on by coming so close to automatic promotion before being brought back down to earth in their own play-off semi final experience against Sheffield Wednesday.
Pearson has started to make his mark upon the squad he inherited in the summer mostly by working his players harder and a change in the formation from the 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 employed since the 2013-14 campaign which saw the Rams reach Wembley only to be dented at the eleventh hour to a 4-4-1-1 formation. He also decided to go with players he felt could offer a solid performance and left the creative midfielder Will Hughes and top goalscorer from the previous campaigns Chris Martin on the bench and giving fresh starts to Chris Baird (playing in a left back role due to the absence of Craig Forsyth, who had rushed to be at the side of his wife ahead of the birth of their first child), Nick Blackman and Darren Bent.
The buzz and energy that Nigel Pearson demanded out of his side was evident early on, chances rained upon Brighton’s goal and testing David Stockdale. Bent and Ince going close within the first few minutes. However, it is part of the Seagulls game play to hit their opposition on the break, slick midfielders in Beram Kayal, Anthony Knockaert & Jiri Skalak all hoping to feed and create chances for the towering strikers of Israeli Tomer Hemad and returning to Sussex Glenn Murray.
Despite this both goalkeepers were strong and formidable when called upon.
Half Time: Derby County 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
The Seagulls were quick out the blocks as the second half began Hemad, top scorer for Brighton last term stung the fingertips of Scott Carson, experienced midfielder Steve Sidwell saw a shot go wide and Murray’s header wasn’t on target.
Cyrus Christie and Jason Shackell also were alert as Brighton demanded more as Pearson made his changes, bringing Hughes on for Bradley Johnson on the hour mark, Chris Martin on for Blackman a few minutes later forcing Derby to switch formation once again into a 4-4-2 diamond shape.
Knockaert, well known to Rams manager Pearson after the Frenchman was signed by the 52 year old’s stint at Leicester nearly found the target himself before Pearson’s last switch Jacob Butterfield made his impact and caused a late storm of opportunities which were foiled by the opposition.
Full Time: Derby County 0 Brighton & Hove Albion 0
Nigel Pearson admitted there is still plenty to do but was satisfied with the work ethic of his side in preventing an opening day loss. He was quick to remark that Brighton’s expectations are similar to Derby County’s this season so both sides will feel they could have done more but feels progress is being made and was happy with the attitudes of those who he didn’t name in his starting eleven and despite late set backs to his plans there were things to take from the point.
Twelve months ago, Derby had a goalless draw at Bolton’s Macron Stadium which in reflection didn’t appear to be setting the club in the right direction and took Paul Clement awhile to get his feet under the table in the SkyBet Championship. Pearson on the other hand is very wise to this division and taking two points off Brighton on the opening day might be a bonus come May when both sides look for reaching the top flight after their long absences.