Rory Delap admitted Derby County Under 21s’ 2-1 defeat to Arsenal was a ‘bitter pill to swallow’.
Stephy Mavididi struck the Gunners in front after 15 minutes, before Charles Vernam stepped off the substitutes bench to equalise seven minutes before the interval.
After Ben Sheaf saw red, however, the Rams pushed to find a way in front, but Kaylen Hinds’ strike off the underside of the crossbar won it for Arsenal, who closed the gap on Delap’s side to just two points at the top of the Barclays U21 Premier League – Division 2 table.
The Gunners, though, have two games in hand – against Swansea City and West Bromwich Albion – meaning they will just need to win one of those fixtures to claim the one and only automatic promotion spot.
Delap, the club’s Professional Development Phase Coach, says his side lacked a ruthless touch in the final third against a stubborn Arsenal backline.
He told Rams Player HD after the game: “There is a bit of frustration, a bit of disappointment and we probably didn’t do enough to win the game.
“We played well in patches, we had a lot of possession and we were just a bit of quality away from getting in behind their backline, but we didn’t manage to do it enough.
“They sat in when they went down to 10 men, did very well, and in the last 10 minutes we made a few changes and went a little bit longer and that’s something we are not used to.
“The balls we were trying to play into Faz (Farrend Rawson) and Charles (Vernam) were too close to the ‘keeper.
“In the last 15 minutes of the first half we were in the ascendency, so it was important in that first 10 minutes of the second half that we came out and tried to frustrate them when they had the ball.
“They sat in, made it difficult for us, and we just needed a bit more quality in the final third to break them down.
“We had so much possession, but I also need to take some of the blame tonight because I should have changed it sooner.
“It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but we need to dust ourselves down and, depending on results, get ready for the play-offs.”&amp;gt;
As Delap eluded to above, should Arsenal win either of their final two games, Derby will have to settle for a place in the Division 2 play-offs.
They are guaranteed second place whatever happens between now and the end of the season, meaning the Rams will have home advantage.
Delap says the squad will have time to ‘learn’ from their meeting with Arsenal, insisting that, should it come down to it, they will be ready for the play-offs.
He added: “They were all disappointed in the dressing room afterwards, but we have got a couple of days now and we won’t find out what our position is going to be until next week now.
“We will get them in on Thursday, evaluate the game, look at what we did well – which there was a lot of – but also look at things we need to do better and learn from it.
“It’s always nice to be at home, but whatever we do and whoever we come up against, we have got to make sure that we use this and perform to the level that we know we can.”
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