Stylish welcome for Clough
Derby County 1 Manchester United 0:Nigel Clough's Derby County tenure got off to the brightest of starts, with a 1-0 Carling Cup semi-final first leg win over Manchester United at Pride Park. With only a watching brief, Clough will claim no credit, but academy manager David Lowe and his players deserve all the plaudits they get after a dominant performance against the European and English champions, some of whom may as well have been seated in the stands with the new Rams boss.
The first task facing Clough before the second leg at Old Trafford may well be hanging on to Kris Commons, whose goal after half an hour gave Tomasz Kuszczak no chance. He continued to torment Nemanja Vidic and co for the much of the game before very nearly doubling the lead with minutes remaining.
At the other end, former United goalkeeper Roy Carroll had very little to do as Derby carved out all the best early chances.
Much like Manchester City, 'going down with a billion in the bank' according to the Red Devils faithful, against Nottingham Forest at the weekend, United suddenly found a famous East Midlands club punching above their weight.
Steve Davies must have thought he would score when, after Kuszczak had saved his initial close-range shot, he met the rebound with venom, only for stand-in captain Vidic to slide in and make a magnificent block.
When Vidic strained to head away from the penalty spot, Mile Sterjovski was given far too much room to line up a volley which was flying towards the bottom corner when Jonny Evans stuck out a leg to turn it away.
With the opportunities came the confidence Clough needs to instil in his players on a more consistent basis as Derby began to string passes together and United continued to struggle.
There was a brief interlude, during which Paul Scholes screwed a couple of long-range efforts wide before John O'Shea, racing onto Nani's return pass, flicked an intelligent shot which would have had former team-mate Roy Carroll in trouble if Paul Green had not been on hand to turn it away.
But largely it was Derby dictating the game, Derby who looked more assured. United making all the unforced errors.
So it was no surprise and certainly well deserved when Commons struck.
United did not heed the earlier warning about giving opponents too much room and failed to close the Scotland international down as he collected Sterjovski's short pass.
With the visitors having invited the shot, Commons obliged by drilling a low effort into the right corner that gave Kuszczak no chance.
Little was seen of Carlos Tevez, whose Old Trafford future has been a major subject of interest over the past few days.
But the biggest disappointment was Nani who, since the arrival of Zoran Tosic from Partizan Belgrade last week, has the most pressing need to impress.
A speedy charge out of his area by Carroll prevented the Portugal wing man seizing on a loose ball at the start of the second half. But entrusted with set-piece duties, Nani wasted the lot.
Such was his fitful contribution that it was a surprise the men to give way were Paul Scholes and Danny Welbeck when Ferguson cashed in his hefty insurance policy after 63 minutes and brought on Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Not that it changed much as Davies flashed a shot narrowly wide.
Ronaldo did the same at the other end, by which time Michael Carrick had been introduced as well, in time to see the brilliant Portugal winger send a free-kick whizzing just past Carroll's post.
But if that was a near thing, Derby came even closer 10 minutes from time as Kuszczak pushed away Commons' low shot.
To be fair to Hulse, the rebound came at him lightning fast. Yet if the striker had only been able to keep it down rather than scoop it over, the Clough family really would have had reason to rejoice.