Albion tread the survival course

WBA 0 Derby County 0 Attendance: 15,265
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THEY HAD to turn the floodlights on well before the kick-off here yesterday as winter gloom returned with a vengeance - but Derby County would probably have preferred to turn the clock back three months. This draw effectively ended both teams' seasons, but while the point secured Albion's safety from a late surge by Swindon or Bristol City, it almost certainly ended Derby's hopes of gaining a play-off place.

By the end of a sporadically exciting game, the general conclusion was that Albion were too good to go down and Derby not good enough to go up. However, this would have masked the reality that of the 22 players on view, only Ian Hamilton for the home side, and the immaculate Craig Short for Derby, looked worth the attention of Premiership cheque-books.

A boxing promoter might have billed the game Fear v Ambition, given the respective priorities of the two sides, but Reading's win over Bolton on Friday night looked to have robbed Derby of much of their enthusiasm.

In contrast, Albion played vigorously throughout, prompted by Hamilton and Stacy Coldicott in midfield, and created by far the greater number of chances, particularly in the first half. The barrel-chested but fleet- footed Lee Ashcroft created most problems for Derby's defence, hitting the bar with one cross and driving just wide with a fierce right-foot shot on the run. Derby also needed a good save by Russell Hoult, their on-loan goalkeeper, to deny Gary Strodder's header from a corner, and a goal-line scramble to keep out Daryl Burgess's flick.

Derby produced very little in terms of attack and even their attempts at break-aways petered out on the rain-sodden surface. Two more chances for Albion - Caldicott's volley dipping just over, Hamilton's left-footer squeezing just wide - confirmed the home team's greater momentum. But then the news of Wolves's 1-0 half-time deficit seemed to revive Derby in the second half, as they pushed forward in greater numbers and began to challenge Albion's previously dominant midfield. Paul Raven's mistake seemed to have gifted Marco Gabbiadini a golden chance but the forward rushed his attempted chip and produced an easy save for Stuart Naylor. Then, on the hour, Paul Williams's plunging header from a corner flashed just outside Naylor's left-hand post. Gabbiadini had one more chance, before Derby's challenge began to fade.

Indeed, in the last dynamic action of the match, Bob Taylor's flying header at the far post looked to have won the game for Albion, but Hoult soared to turn the ball over. Thereafter the match dribbled away, much as the season has for both clubs, in a profound, rain-splashed anti-climax. "That's it, it's over," Roy McFarland, the Derby manager, concluded succinctly.

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