Magilton makes the difference
YOU don't know what you got 'til it's gone. Thankfully Town's skipper Jim Magilton has not gone – despite what some of his critics say of his legs. He was merely being rested at the beginning of this FA Cup Third Round tie against Derby County.
YOU don't know what you got 'til it's gone. Thankfully Town's skipper Jim Magilton has not gone – despite what some of his critics say of his legs. He was merely being rested at the beginning of this FA Cup Third Round tie against Derby County, writes Derek Davis.
Also not starting was Blues striker Shefki Kuqi, whose stamina has never been questioned, unlike his quality. Both he and Magilton came off the bench to transform a game, which had started brightly but floundered hopelessly and lacked any sort of direction.
At the same time, these inspired changes made by Town boss Joe Royle highlighted differences between the two managers.
Derby boss George Burley – an FA Cup winner with Ipswich in 1978 and, of course, former Ipswich manager – was unable to bring about any sort of change in the County side to counter Town's new look. Meanwhile Joe Royle could probably write the manual on how to make successful substitutions. It is not the first time Royle has rung the changes to fruitful effect. West Ham is another recent example.
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The Blues boss had not wanted to use Magilton, whom he felt was in need of a rest. Indeed the Town skipper no doubt felt the effects of the festive programme after being called upon to play twice in three days. As hard as it is to face, and as fit as he is for a 34-year-old, with the amount of ground Magilton covers in a game, it is inevitable he will tire for the last 20 minutes or so of a match and will become less effective.
But there can be no doubting the quality he possesses and the influence he has on a game. Town's midfield – with Tommy Miller and Martijn Reuser both making rare starts – needed Jermaine Wright and Chris Bart-Williams to guide and inspire. That did not happen.
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Reuser was busy and has that ability to lift the crowd with his left-footed play. He may not be the quickest but he still has a great touch and a first-half free kick deserved to have had a better finish from Pablo Counago, who got up well but headed wide.
When the Spaniard did get two efforts provided by the Dutchman on target Lee Grant saved comfortably.
Town's young striker Darren Bent wasted a cross by stand-in skipper Fabian Wilnis by shooting wide and then headed another wide.
Matt Richards was also getting some joy on the left . With little to worry him defensively he got forward to good effect. He almost forced an own goal from Tom Huddlestone, who headed over, Derby's Youl Mawene handled another cross, but it was deemed ball- to-hand.
When all that early pressure came to nothing Town seemed to run out of ideas. So it was a relief when Magilton replaced the ineffective Bart-Williams while Kuqi went on for an injured Bent.
Magilton's first touch was to deliver a pin-point 35-yard, angled free kick from Town's right flank to the head of Richard Naylor who had timed his move perfectly. Such precision, honed on the training ground, broke Derby's fragile spirit.
Magilton then demonstrated his quality further by pinging in two 40-yard passes from the centre circle to find first Kuqi and then Counago.
When Tommy Miller played out wide for Kuqi to sprint 40 yards unchallenged into the area, the Finn pulled the ball back for the midfielder to finish first time. The fourth round was now inevitable.
Miller also tried his luck from distance but went wide, as did a curling shot from the outside of a boot as he played with some aplomb.
Kuqi claimed the third and last goal when Huddlestone fouled the lively Dean Bowditch to concede a late free kick. Reuser's left-footed delivery squirmed beneath England Under-21 keeper Grant's body and rolled over the line with the Finland international trying to get the final touch.
Derby had their moments.
Town keeper Kelvin Davis had made a wonderful tip-over save from Lee Morris and the first half and in the later stages saved from Manel.
The out-of-contract Spaniard, whose previous club was Espanyol, was making his debut after signing last week and hit the crossbar with a back-header after getting above the Town defence. But for the most part Derby struggled to make any impact on Town's defence with Naylor in particularly fine form, aided by the accomplished John McGreal.
The first half had been summed up by a Huddlestone shot which went out for a throw-in and the second by Naylor's finish from Magilton's class delivery. Overall it was not the best of games and Royle still has many things to tinker with.
But with a couple of reinforcements to support the sort of quality demonstrated by Magilton – a Cup run and a genuine promotion challenge are still very much on the cards.