Thursday 18 December ~
“He's stuck by me through the worst year of my life – it's been a complete nightmare and I'll be glad to see the back of it.” This could be a starlet tearfully complimenting her footballer boyfriend on helping her cope with failure in a TV talent show. In fact it’s Paul Jewell expressing his gratitude today to Derby County chairman Adam Pearson. Some newspapers predicted that Jewell’s torrid 13 months at Derby – who have won only six of 47 League games since he took charge – would come to an end if they lost at Charlton on Monday. They came within a minute of doing so but grasped a draw thanks to Nathan Ellington’s 94-minute equaliser, which some Derby fans seem to have celebrated in a rueful manner.
That was only the team’s second point in six matches so even if Jewell stays in a job through Christmas, he is still among the front-runners to be the first manager sacked in 2009. He could even be gone before his club play in their first cup semi-final since 1976. Carling announced today that they have extended their sponsorship of the League Cup until 2012. Derby host Manchester United in the last four of this year’s competition on January 7. Their opponents have reached this stage without fielding a first-choice team and are unlikely to do so now given that they play Chelsea in the League four days later. Carlos Tevez and his teenage team-mates saw off Blackburn without any difficulty in the last round and so will be hot favourites to defeat Derby, who edged past Stoke thanks to a debatable late penalty in the quarter-finals.
The other Championship team in the semi-finals, Burnley, have had a much more impressive run with a shootout defeat of Chelsea, then a surprisingly comfortable victory over Arsenal’s next generation at Turf Moor. But they will surely be facing the strongest team that the holders Spurs can assemble, allowing for the fact that some of the signings Harry Redknapp is planning to make will be cup-tied. In contract to Paul Jewell, Burnley manager Owen Coyle is surfing on a wave of goodwill with his side placed fourth in the Championship – a successful run that will only have heightened the sense of panic at neighbouring Blackburn in recent weeks; Rovers haven’t been in a division lower than Burnley for 29 years.
Robbie Savage was bought from Blackburn during Jewell’s unsuccessful restructuring of the Derby squad in January but hasn’t been selected for the first team since August. Indeed, goalkeeper Roy Carroll is the only one of the eight signings Jewell made during the last transfer window to have featured regularly this season – and he is now of out of the team after a dressing room row with his manager two weeks ago. In the midst of praising Adam Pearson for his patience, Jewell also claimed that there are “one or two people trying to cause mischief, people inside the club or connected with the club”. When a manager suggests that he is beset by conspiracies it’s a sure indication that he has only a short time left in his job. One of the unnamed sources that Jewell had in mind told the local press that clubs enquiring about loan deals for Derby players were told to call back after the Charlton game. They can now expect to be held in a queue until after Watford have visited Pride Park on Saturday. Still, Derby fans inclined to spare a thought for those worse off than themselves over the festive season will be aware that they will end a “nightmare” year several points above Nottingham Forest.