Football: Cowans rallies behind leader

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Derby County 2

Grimsby Town 1

DEMANDING menace with money, a prerogative of the predecessor who lavished millions on unproven attacking talent, is not an option for Roy McFarland as he strives to rectify Derby's wretched start. With this victory, however, he may have bought himself time.

It is standard practice to refer to 'Derby's pounds 12m team', and bracket them with Wolves among clubs adhering to the Blackburn blueprint. But amid all the speculation about Graeme Souness et al taking over at the Baseball Ground, replacing the present incumbent in much the way Kenny Dalglish did Don Mackay, the fact that they are not McFarland's team is overlooked.

Of the players who beat Grimsby to record Derby's first win, only Gordon Cowans was bought (for a paltry pounds 75,000) by the former England defender. Apart from Steve Hodge, who is on loan from Leeds in a deal reflecting the straitened 'circumstances' to which McFarland obliquely referred in the programme, the rest were purchased by Arthur Cox with loans from the club's owner, Lionel Pickering.

What is more, McFarland has been in charge only 11 months, during which time Derby have been to the brink of the Premiership, only to lose unluckily in the play-off final. Yet on Saturday, 27 years to the day after Brian Clough gave him his debut, he woke to find, as he put it, 'one or two obituaries had been penned' about his tenure. Cowans, for one, saw them as unfair and premature.

'The season's only five games old and already two managers, Kenny Swain and Kenny Hibbitt, have gone,' the Derby captain said. 'They're not getting a fair crack of the whip. If we're still near the bottom by Christmas then maybe something needs sorting out, but you've got to give people time.'

According to Cowans, McFarland had 'deflected most of the flak away from us'. While the ex-Aston Villa midfielder could land a ball on Pickering's cheque- book from 30 yards, passing the buck clearly comes harder. 'Once the gaffer has picked his team,' he added, 'it's up to us.'

A sense of that responsibility was belatedly evident against Grimsby. Gary Charles, whose name was greeted with the parochial disdain Derby fans reserve for former Nottingham Forest players, volleyed a stunning opener after 62 seconds. The transfer-seeking Mark Pembridge, also turning jeers to cheers, plumped up a two-goal cushion after the interval.

Feeble finishing and fragile confidence, the latter facilitating Clive Mendonca's fifth goal in six outings, meant they could never sit on it. Indeed, the Grimsby striker looked set to equalise - and, in all probability, unwittingly add to the list of managerial casualties - before Darren Wassall halted him in injury time with a tackle reminiscent of a certain Derby centre-half from times past.

Whether McFarland is himself into time added on now depends on the players' response to their predicament, Pickering's patience and no little luck. His Grimsby counterpart summed up the feeling of impotence that goes with this precarious profession. 'I roused 'em up at half-time,' Alan Buckley sighed, 'yet straight away they went and conceded again.'

Goals: Charles (2) 1-0; Pembridge (47) 2-0; Mendonca (61) 2-1.

Derby County (4-4-2): Taylor; Charles, Wassall, Short, Forsyth; Harkes (Simpson, 80), Cowans, Hodge, Pembridge; Sturridge, Kitson. Substitutes not used: Kavanagh, Sutton (gk).

Grimsby Town (4-4-2): Crichton; Croft, Lever, Futcher, Jobling; Childs (Agnew, 57), Groves, Shakespeare, Gilbert; Livingstone (Woods, 68), Mendonca. Substitute not used: Sherwood (gk).

Referee: A Flood (Stockport).