What is Derby County’s Strongest Eleven?

nathanmorley.co.uk reviews DCFC’s strongest side.

An often thing discussed in the stands, who would you play if you picked the team? Here’s my views on the matter, what I believe is The Rams’ strongest team based on what I’ve seen. Selections based on a fully fit squad and the basic traditional formation of 4-4-2.


It’s fair to say Frank Fielding is cemented as Nigel Clough’s number one, which I can’t disagree with. I’d be surprised if anyone disagrees. Frank is a good shot stopper, who, I feel has improved his distribution. Should the former-Blackburn ‘keeper not had that successful loan spell at Pride Park in 2010, then maybe Stephen Bywater would still be a Rams player.

Adam Legzdins is definitely second choice, although we haven’t seen much of him I think he is better than Irishman Saul Deeney. Ross Atkins has made one first team appearance but doesn’t look like he’ll be a Derby number one in the near future as Frank Fielding is just 24. Atkins is spending a second season on loan at League Two Burton. Mats Morch is another goalkeeper on the books, the young Dane has a lot of competition ahead of him though.

My Choice: Frank Fielding. Sub: Adam Legzdins


In John Brayford, I believe, Derby have one of the best full-backs in the league. There’s no doubt he deserves a place in the side. When he signed from lower-league Crewe in 2010 we’d have never imagined him to be such a good player and even play in every minute of every game in his first season and win player of the year.

Gareth Roberts cemented a place in the starting line-up last season, when he improved a lot from his first campaign as a Ram. The former Doncaster left-back is certainly first choice. At 34 he doesn’t have too long left in him so Clough brought in young Michael Hoganson to hopefully be is successor is a year or so’s time.

Michael Hoganson was brought in after a successful trial but is unlikely to get much first team action this season, likewise with Kieron Freeman except he was brought in from local rivals Nottingham Forest. Tom Naylor impressed last season when he stepped in for the then injured John Brayford but has recently been told he can leave the club on loan, which could help him. His only appearance this season came as a sub against Scunthorpe in the cup, he had a nightmare of a game.


My Choice: Right Back- John Brayford. Left Back- Gareth Roberts.


After Jason Shackell’s departure we all hoped his replacement would be a good one, I think we’ve got that in Richard Keogh from Coventry. Cardiff were one of the clubs interested so to capture him is pretty good. Being made captain in Shaun Barker’s absence obviously puts him down in the starting eleven.

Jake Buxton began the season as first choice but was unfortunately ill and missed the Bolton game, during and since recovering from his illness James O’Connor has stepped in. O’Connor has looked impressive in the games he’s played. The former Aston Villa trainee is, by trade, a right-back that also plays left-back or centre-back! Nigel Clough has played him in the centre of defence, that’s why I’ve put him in this section. I, personally, prefer Jake Buxton to partner Richard Keogh. Bucko hasn’t really done much wrong for The Rams, he always gives a decent accomplished performance when he plays. Because we signed him from Burton in the Conference (well, he won promotion with them), he seems to carry the tag of ‘non-league rubbish’- he isn’t and I’ve always found him to be a good player in the side. The former Mansfield centre half also offers more of an ariel threat than James O’Connor. However, I’d definitely pick O’Connor as a sub as he can play anywhere across the back four.

I’ve not included club captain Shaun Barker due to his long term injury but should he be fully fit it may be a different story team selection wise. Mark O’Brien was very impressive for a teenager when he played last season, unfortunately an injury forced him to end the season early in December. When fit, he’d definitely get a place on the bench for me. The experience in front of him counts against him but maybe a loan spell would do him good?

I saw Valentin Gjokaj in a couple of pre-season friendlies and he looked a brilliant player, comfortable on the ball and a difficult nut to crack at the back. The first-team may be a bit soon for him but a bit more progress and he could be up there, the under-21 league will help benefit him. Centre-backs and first year professionals Josh Lelan and Stefan Galanski (currently on loan at Corby) will also be helped in their development with the newly introduced under-21 league.

 Billy Sharp and Jake Buxton - Derby County v Doncaster Rovers - FA Cup 4th Round

My Choice: Richard Keogh and Jake Buxton. Subs: Mark O’Brien and James O’Connor.

Wide Midfielders

Paul Coutts looks a brilliant signing from Preston. He has a nice delivery, bags of energy (but not the quickest) and positivity on the ball- running at opponents. He’s most certainly one of the first names on the team sheet.

Will Hughes and Jamie Ward can play on the left-wing but that isn’t their main position so I’d go for summer signing Michael Jacobs. He looks another good deliverer of the ball and has pace to get past players. Jacobs hasn’t started since the Scunthorpe game because I believe Clough won’t drop Hendrick so forces Hughes out wide, leaving no space for Jacobs.

Jamie Ward played out wide for some of last season but I think he’s much more affective as a striker. Nathan Tyson has also played out wide but is certainly a forward not a winger.

I’ve not included Ben Davies in the squad as he doesn’t appear to be in Nigel Clough’s plans at the moment and hasn’t been in any league squads. 16 year-old Mason Bennett can also play wide-midfield but is a preferred striker. Young American Conor Doyle, also a striker, is another option but has never impressed me.

My Choice: Right Midfield- Paul Coutts. Left Midfield- Michael Jacobs.

Central Midfielders

Craig Bryson and Will Hughes would get my pick. Bryson has bags of energy and is brilliant at chasing down the ball and threading neat passes. Will Hughes is just incredible for his age, an amazingly talented lad. His vision and wonderful passing is delightful to watch, the 17 year-old definitely poses a huge threat for oppositions.

While Jeff Hendrick is a fantastic player I just think Bryson and Hughes edge it. I don’t think the Irishman offers as much to his game as Bryson and Hughes.

I’ve not included James Bailey as he looks like he is totally out the first team picture and am trying to pick players for this article in Clough’s plans, however I am disappointed to see that and think James Bailey is still a very good player.



When someone (well, at this level!) signs for £1.2million you expect him to do well. Let’s hope Conor Sammon does well and solves The Rams’ clinical scorer problem. With the creativity in midfield Sammon should no doubt be given the service, weather he’ll deliver – only time will tell. I’m certainly backing him to do so, “Feed the fish and he will score!”

I’d pick Northern Ireland international Jamie Ward to partner Sammon. Ward is so far the league’s leading assist maker so can help create and convert chances.

Nathan Tyson would most definitely be in that line-up should Sammon not have been brought in but I’m sure he’ll get plenty of chances in the side and I hope he takes them.

Theo Robinson has found himself on the bench a lot this season and even not in the squad for the Bolton game but has certainly every chance of getting a run in the side should he take his chances on the pitch.

England youth international Mason Bennett has proved he can compete at this level, a super talent with loads of potential.

Jamie Ward Jamie Ward of Derby County looks on during the pre season friendly match between Derby County and Sunderland at Pride Park Stadium on August 8, 2012 in Derby, England. 

My Choice: Jamie Ward and Conor Sammon. Subs- Nathan Tyson, Theo Robinson and Mason Bennett.

My Overall Choice: Derby County’s Strongest Eleven-

Frank Fielding

John Brayford, Richard Keogh, Jake Buxton, Gareth Roberts.

Paul Coutts, Craig Bryson, Will Hughes, Michael Jacobs.

Jamie Ward, Conor Sammon.

Subs- Adam Legzdins, James O’Connor, Mark O’Brien, Jeff Hendrick, Mason Bennett, Nathan Tyson, Theo Robinson.

Please remember this is just my opinion as The Rams’ strongest eleven. Comment yours below or if you agree or disagree on something!

Twitter- @NMtherams

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One Response to What is Derby County’s Strongest Eleven?

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