The new football season is just around the corner. It is time once again for the Rams to do battle in the Championship. Last season’s bitter end was tough to overcome for supporters but now it is time to look forward to what many believe could be a successful season.
Here I have sought the views of Derby fans Charlie McGrath of Rams Ramble, Jonathan Rodgers of Facing Two Ways and Simon Hudson of Steve Bloomer’s Watching, who have kindly agreed to answer my questions for this preview.
What effect will the events of last season have on the players in the new campaign?
Charlie: I think they’ll be hungry. Hungry to right the wrongs of last season. No one will be wanting to end up in the play-offs again, and hopefully this will spur them onto automatic promotion.
Last season was a great learning curve, as most of the squad had never been involved in a promotion push before. This time around, they’ll have more experience and be better adapted to cope with the stresses and strains that come with that.
There’s a danger that after a very good season, players think it’s set in stone for them to be up there next campaign, too. It’s an old cliche associated with this league, but nothing can be taken for granted and the squad will have to work incredibly hard to be in with a shout come May.
Many have tipped Jeff Hendrick for a great season, who do you feel will be the most pivotal for the Rams?
Jonathan: It looks like Jeff has carried on his fine end of season form into the pre-season games. If he can keep that up I think we’ll be looking at a player of the year award and 15 or so goals come next May.
Like last year, I think Chris Martin will be also be crucial to the team again. If he gets injured, loses form or comes up against someone like Richard Dunne again (as per the play off final) I think we might struggle. We just don’t have a Plan B without Martin and McClaren is not going to change from the 4-3-3 formation (or 4-1-2-2-1 as I think it is).
Do you think the Rams should dip into the loan market like last season or does the squad have enough depth as things stand?
Simon: I think we have better squad depth than we’ve had for quite some time, but with the lack of right-back cover and the injury to George Thorne, I think a look at the loan market is definitely needed. McClaren’s standing in the football world seems to open all sorts of doors for us, and I think we’d be daft not to leverage that and see who we can get from one of the bigger PL clubs. A few names have been bandied around but I guess we’ll just have to see who’s available once the PL squads are announced.
I’d like to see any loan signings handled in the same way as last season – a sprinkling here and there to compliment the core of the squad, rather than bringing in lots of players simply to beef up the numbers available to us. Quality, not quantity.
What do you make of the club’s transfer dealings so far?
Charlie: I have to say I’m very impressed. Hughes, Hendrick, Forsyth and Buxton have all signed new deals, which can only be good news. Not to mention Bryson, who looked set for Burnley. The fact that Derby were able to convince him to stay, despite the lure of Premier League football (and probably better wages), is a testament to Bryson. Most would have accepted in a heartbeat, but not him. He would rather battle it out at a club he loves and one that loves him, rather than just jumping ship – as so many modern footballers do nowadays.
Obviously, the signing of George Thorne was the best news anyone could have hoped for this summer. I was pleased to see how passionate he was to come to Derby, handing in numerous transfer requests in an attempt to force a deal. But that joy soon turned to dispair with the tragic news he had been ruled out for 9 months. Football is a cruel game and things don’t get much worse than that.
We’re on a different level when Thorne plays, he lifts the team in a way only the best players can. There’s no doubt, he’ll be a huge loss. However, with all the doom and gloom around, people seem to be forgetting that we already have one of, if not the best midfields in the Championship.
Yes, having Thorne would be great, but with Hendrick, Eustace and Bryson all being capable to play in his role, it would be ridiculous to say our season is over (as some people have been claiming on Twitter).
Cyrus Christie has joined to fill the void left by Andre Wisdom. It will be interesting to see if the former Coventry man is up to scratch as a first choice right-back. At just 21, I don’t think anyone can say for sure.
Personally, I would like to see a striker brought in. Martin is brilliant, but if he were to ever get injured, we would be left with Sammon…and that wouldn’t be good at all.
The midfield system was integral to last season’s promotion push, how would you set it up with whom this time around?
Jonathan: Now that Thorne’s out of the equation, I’d set up the midfield with Eustace in the holding role, then Hendrick and Hughes would be my first choice in the attacking midfield roles. I’d probably rotate Bryson with Hughes. I’d like to see Jamie Hanson given a chance in front of the back four, possibly in cup matches at first. I appreciate he’s inexperienced but we need to blood these young players. I’d like to think that Hughes and Hendrick had the ability and adaptability to play the holding role now and again but both struggled doing that job last year. I thought Hughes was wasted in that role in the Notts County friendly and was brushed aside a few times.
Is the centre of defence a position of concern to you and would you change anything?
Simon: I’m a huge fan of Jake Buxton and I think the praise he gets for his work rate and heart-on-his-sleeve attitude actually does him a great disservice by ignoring his superb passing range and reading of the game. Keogh on the other hand, worries me sometimes. He has a general aura of mild panic about him whenever he receives the ball and never looks 100% comfortable in possession. His passing always appears to be too heavy and often the receiving player has to re-adjust their body position to control the ball. Whilst I don’t think Zamora’s goal at Wembley was entirely his fault (Forsyth and Buxton both had opportunities to stop the danger before the ball came into the box), he does seem to be the most affected by it and the big test will be whether or not he carries that into the new season.
I think we can manage with the pairing we’ve got now, but I’d like to see another CB brought in as competition. I think Whitbread is good as cover, but perhaps we need a slightly bigger “name” to keep Buxton and Keogh on their toes.
Lastly, where do you think the Rams will finish the season?
Charlie: This could make me look foolish come the end of the season, but I’m feeling optimistic. We’ll be up there again, and I think we could just scrape 2nd place.
Jonathan: My tips are always a bit ropey (I thought Watford would be Champions last season). I’ll plump for second place and automatic promotion. I think that the squad and the management team have the talent to do it and I honestly believe the bigger crowds at the iPro will have a real positive influence too.
Simon: I’d like to think we’ll use the momentum and success of last season to go one better and get promoted automatically, but I fear we’re no longer an unknown quantity and we’ll find it harder to impose our passing football on other teams as they will be more savvy in terms of snuffing us out. We might also suffer from a Wembley hangover, so it’s all about how the young players pick themselves up and dust themselves off.
Another third place finish, play-off final and this time a win for the Rams.
My thanks go to Charlie, Jonathan and Simon for taking the time to answer the questions for this preview. I do urge you to check out their Rams blogs.