In a tussle replete with historical sub-plots, most of them surrounding the Clough dynasty, Derby last night achieved what no club had managed in 21 years when they ruined Leeds's unbeaten record on the opening day of a new season that stretched back to a 5-2 thumping at Newcastle in 1989.
The result, after a rousing end-to-end contest which the Leeds manager, Simon Grayson, justifiably noted could have brought a win, draw or defeat for his newly promoted side, was extremely gratifying for Nigel Clough. Following in the daunting footsteps of his father Brian as Derby's manager, he claimed afterwards that the Leeds groundstaff had prevented his "little lad", 12-year-old William, from joining him in the pre-match stroll on to the pitch 75 minutes before kick-off.
"They said it was against club rules," Clough Jnr said, suggesting it was there, rather than any revenge for how his father was treated during his 44 days as Leeds manager, where the vindication lay. "I get more pleasure from that than something which happened 36 years ago."
Clough added: "It was encouraging, especially in the first half when we got the ball down and played. Without giving a silly goal away we could have made it more comfortable for ourselves. Kasper Schmeichel made some superb saves – even in the six-yard box he was stopping them – but we've been a little concerned about the number of chances we create away from home, so it was pleasing, though we have to put them away."
Grayson's disappointment was evident in his opening remark – "It was very entertaining, I suppose" – but the manager was not unduly downcast. He knows Howard Wilkinson's team recovered from that drubbing on Tyneside to win the Second Division, and that with 45 games to go it is too soon to read anything into results.
"It was always going to be tough for us because Derby have got some decent players," Grayson added, "but we probably played more with our hearts than our heads. Kasper made some decent saves but we hit the bar twice and had one kicked off the line, so it could have gone either way."
Derby, who struck first through the ex-Leeds striker Rob Hulse, did not allow Luciano Becchio's swift riposte for Leeds to disturb their greater fluency. After the game's outstanding performer, Kris Commons, had restored their advantage from the penalty spot, they showed their mettle to resist a strong home fightback. At the same time they ensured that Schmeichel, son of Peter and freshly arrived from Notts County, had ample opportunity to impress with some stunning saves. His father would have been proud to claim the double stop in the closing stages from Shaun Barker and Hulse.
Brian Clough encountered resentment over his desired radical changes in personnel, among other things at Elland Road, which lent a touch of irony to the fact that Leeds included eight of Grayson's nine new signings in their 18. When they hugged and high-fived before the start one wondered whether they might also be reminding one another of their names.
A lack of familiarity appeared evident in Leeds's early defending. Commons seemed to have the run of midfield, carving through for a shot which flashed over. When Paul Green made a similar incursion, Leeds again backed off hesitantly. Hulse timed his supporting run to perfection and produced an angled finish to match.
However, Leeds were level inside three minutes. Jonathan Howson burst through the Derby ranks in similar style to Green and was equally selfless in feeding the ball inside for Becchio to sidefoot home. Richard Naylor, with a close-range volley, and Neil Kilkenny, from a header following a free-kick, both struck Derby's goal-frame.
But sandwiched in between came a second Derby goal, Commons deftly converting a 27th-minute penalty after Lloyd Sam had cut down Tomasz Cywak. As half-time loomed, Commons set up Green for a shot which Schmeichel kept out with a fine reflex save, while the keeper also denied Commons at point-blank range.
Robbie Savage, who was due to dash straight to a BBC microphone to co-host a phone-in after the match, attracted a booking of a different kind after a two-footed challenge on Federico Bessone.
As the sunshine of the first half gave way to lashing rain, the Derby contingent chanted: "Brian Clough's a football genius". The son he used to call simply "The No 9" at Nottingham Forest has yet to earn the right to such an epithet, but this was another step in the right direction.Reuse content