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This season has been one of the toughest - 25/03/2003

   Darren Huckerby

This has been the toughest season I have known as a professional footballer. So many things have happened both on and off the field. It has been a testing time for everybody at the club. I canít remember it being so tough even back in my days with Maidstone United. The two defeats by Bradford City and Nottingham Forest stretched our run without a victory to eight matches before todayís trip to Sheffield United. Bradfordís winning goal at Pride Park a week ago summed up our season. The game is deep into stoppage time, a shot is parried by the goalkeeper, a cross hit somebody on the shoulder, I clear the ball off the line and it smacks one of my team-mates in the face and bounces into the net! You donít get much more bizarre than that. It was a real sickening feeling. It felt like the world had come down on us. We should have settled for a point at that stage of the game. Thatís not to say we would have been happy with a draw, but it all helps when youíre on such a poor run.

There would have been no better place to bounce back than the City Ground on Wednesday. The game was played in a cracking atmosphere and I thought we settled well in the opening 10 minutes. Losing the first goal was bad enough, but it was a real body-blow conceding the second two minutes later. Even though we were two-down at half-time, we still felt we had a chance if we could score the next goal. But the penalty decision straight after the restart killed us off. How the referee could give handball against Steve Elliott from his position and not his assistant, who was looking directly at the incident from 10 yards away, Iím not sure. We tried to keep going and stuck together as a team.

I thought Izale McLeod was a threat down the right with his pace and he just needs to find that final bit of quality at the right moment. Tommy Mooney also had a decent first game of his loan spell. Heís an old-school professional. He wants to get involved straight away and will put himself about in games. Iím sure he will do well for us. Itís never nice to lose to your close rivals and weíll have to live with that until we meet them again.

Darren Huckerby caused us a few problems on Wednesday night. I know Darren because he was at Newcastle United in the mid-Nineties but made only one League appearance. I think the position he played for Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night, just behind the front two, suits him. He can find time and space, allowing him to run at the back four. When heís up front, it is easy for him to run offside. Darren didnít really get a look in at Newcastle but he always had that blistering pace. He is a very good player in this divison.

Nottingham Forest have impressed on both occasions we have faced them this season. They play good football and are not afraid to bring it out from the back. The young centre-half Michael Dawson looks a player, Darren Huckerby has got goals in him, and David Johnson and Marlon Harewood are a handful. It helps that a number of their players have been playing regular first-team football with the club for the past 18 months to two years. Hopefully, it will be the same for some of our young players as they blossom next season. The end-of-season play-offs should be interesting. Sheffield United are having a fantastic season, Reading are something of a wild card and Wolves have the disappointment of missing out last season to drive them on. Forest are a good footballing team but how will they fare if they come up against a strong, physical outfit like Sheffield United? Weíll have to wait and see. Itís just a pity that we are not involved.

Derby Evening Telegraph

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