Time was that a trip to Lincoln City in the Carling Cup would have been an occasion for a club of Derby's pedigree to let a few senior players put their feet up and give the youngsters their head. Safe to say there will be no such thoughts in Paul Jewell's game plan when he takes his players to Sincil Bank on Tuesday evening. One game into a new season, the Derby manager is already feeling desperate to see any victory as something to celebrate, even against a team likely to struggle in League Two.
Of course, it is not just one game that is weighing on Jewell's mind. There is also the matter of the 24 he supervised in the Premier League last season, none of which Derby won, along with three in the FA Cup, in which their solitary success came in a penalty shoot-out. And even though Jewell has signed 13 players since Derby finished last season with the lowest points return in Premier League history, the stench of defeat remains.
"Even though we had seven players making their debuts today, everyone is aware of what happened last season, much as we would like to forget it," Jewell said. "There was a nervousness about the stadium that you could sense and the only way we will get rid of that is by winning. It is only three points lost – we can probably lose 42 more this season and still be promoted. Unlike last season, I know there are teams in this division that we can beat but we just need one win to get us started, even if it is a scruffy win."
Derby will not suffer a season as bad as the last one, something even their most cynical supporter will acknowledge. Yet none of that will make their supporters feel that Derby's relaunch in the Championship was not a painful let-down.
Doncaster, promoted from League One via the play-offs, engineered a victory that was nothing less than they deserved. Neat in midfield, where Brian Stock and James Coppinger stood out, brave and industrious at the back, where Matt Mills and Sam Hird were undeniably in charge, the Yorkshire team marked their first steps in the second tier for half a century by displaying a spiky edge up front too, capping a well-rounded performance with the only goal, by Lewis Guy, after 59 minutes.
With a raft of new arrivals, Jewell might argue that his collection of players needs time to become a team. But this was emphatically not the start that the team's fans were prepared to stomach on the opening day. Their reaction at the final whistle was noisily forthright.
Doncaster controlled much of the game, working hard to win possession and then keeping the ball for long periods, to the loudly voiced pleasure of the 3,000 they had in their corner.
Derby had chances. Rob Hulse hit the woodwork in the first half and Kris Commons set up a decent opening for Martin Albrechtsen as well as testing Neil Sullivan a couple of times himself. As Jewell suggested, had one of those gone in, the outcome might have been different.
Yet Doncaster's defending merited a clean sheet at half-time and their confidence grew from that. They pushed forward boldly enough at the start of the second half that when the goal came it was not unexpected.
Stock rolled a free-kick to James O'Connor near the half-way line and the full-back's low, driven cross from the right was given a wrong-footing flick by striker James Hayter before Guy, who revelled in his role behind a front two, swept the ball beyond Roy Carroll's reach.Reuse content