It’s been another season of ups and downs for the Rams but there have been a few players that have shone at points during the campaign and with player of the year voting under way it’s time to consider who has actually been the best. I can’t say that anybody sticks out as having a massively super season but there have been players who’ve had some fantastic spells and some who’ve maintained steady consistency throughout the campaign.
For me, player of the year has to be defender Richard Keogh – Mr Consistent. After arriving in the summer from Coventry and effectively replacing the departed Jason Shackell he’s come in and captained the side well, in the absence of long term injury absentee Shaun Barker. The 26 year-old has been ever present and has, in fact, played every minute of every game (as of before Blackpool on 27/4/13) – just demonstrating how important he’s been to the side. Keogh’s goal return, so far, of 5 is also a decent return for a defender. He looks a particular threat to head in from corners and free-kicks alike. I’ll admit that he has had occasions where he’s not been at his best but who hasn’t? In terms of consistency, nobody matches Keogh, some are close though.
Maybe the most effective player has been Jamie Ward, who’s unfortunately missed a large chunk of the season due to a niggling hamstring problem. As it stands, the ex-Blade’s record is 12 goals from 24 matches. It really does make me wonder how many more he’d have got if he’d not been injured for so long. Not only can he be the scorer, the international has also chipped in with 8 assists this campaign.
John Brayford has further proved that he’s one of the best full-backs outside the top flight this campaign and there really is now surprise that speculation is rife about the 25 year-old. Attacking runs, aided by Paul Coutts down the right hand side, are fantastic to see, making Brayford very much part of the attacking play as well as his defensive duties. Rams reporter Steve Nicholson believes his performances often go unnoticed, which I suppose demonstrates how supporters have grown accustomed to what he does on the pitch.
Midfielder Jeff Hendrick had a stuttering start to the season but, after being left out of the team, came back to play an essential part of the team. The young Irishman’s displays, which has seen him prove himself as a real presence in the side, even caught the eye of Roberto Trapattoni, who gave him his first senior international cap earlier this year. The club have every reason to be proud of Hendrick, who’s a product of the club’s academy, who are developing a glowing reputation themselves.
Craig Bryson is another player to add to this list. His non-stop running drives the midfield forward. It was even published that the midfielder covered 13 kilometres in just one single game against Burnley. Significantly, the Scotsman has marched on despite frequent injury concerns. When in the side, he really is an irritating player to come up against for the opposition, the Rams often aren’t the same without him and it continues to baffle me that he’s been overlooked time and time again for the Scotland side.
Recently turned 18 year-old Will Hughes is undoubtedly a top contender for young player of the year. The academy product has dazzled the league and is a name that we’ll surely be hearing a lot more of in times to come.
One player that also deserves a huge amount of praise is defender Jake Buxton, who’s secured cult hero status with the Derby County supporters. The central-defender wears his heart on his sleeve and would put his head where other wouldn’t put their feet. This season Bucko’s proved he’s a good defender at this level, with his important goals just adding to his ever-improving game. Buxton is only really starting to get the credit he perhaps deserves.
Paul Coutts is a player who’s proved as a bargain after signing from League One side Preston in the summer for a fee thought to be around £150,000. The ex-Peterborough midfielder has also adapted his game to playing more frequently as a winger as opposed to being a central-midfielder, like he was mainly at his previous clubs. Without Brayford in the side too, many believe he’s not quite the same, which seems to have been the case quite recently.