Championship strugglers Derby County, with new manager Nigel Clough watching from the directors’ box, beat Manchester United 1-0 in the semi-final, first leg of the League Cup on Wednesday.
Kris Commons 30th minute left foot shot past United keeper Tomasz Kuszczak was enough to claim victory against the World, European and Premiership champions in Derby’s first major semi-final since 1976.
It ended the Red Devils’ 14-match unbeaten streak dating back to Nov. 8 when Arsenal beat them 2-1 at the Emirates stadium.
Clough chose not to walk on the pitch and acknowledge supporters at Pride Park before kick off. A publicist he is not, but he surely played a part in creating what he hopes to be the second Clough dynasty at Derby County after his new team embarrassed the might of Manchester United.
United boss Alex Ferguson has more than a grudging regard for Derby County’s new manager and stated as much when the pair clashed in the FA Cup just over two years ago when Clough was manager of non-league Burton Albion. Little did he know they would turn out to be so prophetic.
The presence of Paul Jewell’s permanent successor in the directors box had the predictable effect on the team languishing in 18th place in the Championship, but even he could not have envisaged the fact that he will renew combat in two weeks time with a first leg lead, thanks to Commons.
Only eight months ago, Derby were relegated from the Premier League with a miserable 11 points.
Despite bravado from Derby players, claiming they wanted to test themselves against the best United had to offer, prior to locking horns with the World club Champions, the sight of a United side with containing only two genuine regulars in Serbian defender Nemanja Vidic and the vastly experienced Paul Scholes, further energized the hosts and they can be assured to face a far more menacing line-up for the second leg.
Clough was not due to meet his squad of players until yesterday but he “popped” his head around the door of the home dressing room to wish them well and he clearly has a touch of his father’s magic and sense of occasion.
Without the calming influence of Rio Ferdinand, Vidic and Tomasz Kuszczak were subjected to early moments of discomfort as United were unable to find any of their customary rhythm and it was hardly against the run of play when Derby deservedly broke the deadlock.
Reaching the semi-final stage cost Commons almost £1,000 (US$1,500) in purchasing tickets for his friends, but the fulminating 25m shot he guided beyond United’s Polish keeper after 30 minutes was pure gold dust for David Lowe, elevated from youth team coach to temporary Derby manager for the evening.
United were so unconvincing that Ferguson’s plans to rest all his key players ahead of Sunday’s Premier League meeting with title rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge had to be abandoned after an hour.
They had barely registered a shot against their former keeper Roy Carroll’s goal when Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were introduced to cure the lethargy that gripped the overwhelming favorites.
What his dad Brian, who died in 2004 from stomach cancer, would have made of it all was a question Clough was expecting: “I haven’t got the foggiest to be honest. He might have said don’t be so stupid, but I hope it would have been a positive response. I just wish he was still around to give me some advice.”