Ups and downs have been the story of the campaign which means only one thing, another mid-table finish.
The campaign began, in what went on to be typical Derby style, with a 2-2 draw to Sheffield Wednesday – the Rams were two goals up but unfortunately couldn’t maintain it. In one word, that seems to be used on many occasions when discussing all things the Rams, the campaign has been frustrating. Despite the seemingly ever-present frustration there’s been some positives that hopefully the club can take forward.
The Rams finished 10th with 61 points, last season they finished 12th with 64 points. Despite the less amount of points it’s fair to say progress has been made again. 3 points isn’t a massive difference, particularly considering under 70 points can snatch a place in the play-offs this time around. This season just 7 points separates Derby from the top 6 and 7 points from the bottom 3. Last year a more distant 11 points were the difference between Derby and a spot in the play-offs. It’s with ease that anybody can find 7 extra points that the Rams could quite easily have achieved. A defeat to Crystal Palace at Pride Park should never have panned out like it did, the 2 bitterly disappointing draws to Sheffield Wednesday, the robbery at home to Ipswich and the defeat at Huddersfield were all things that shouldn’t have happened- and that’s just to name a few!
Out of the first team picture, it’s been encouraging to hear news of youngsters in the club’s academy excelling. Whilst it may be slightly irrelevant to the club’s league table finish, it’s important that this continues and it consequently does become almost as pivotal as the first team. The likes of Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick, who even became a full international earlier this year, are certainly reasons for the club to be proud. Hopefully this can attract more of those talents to the club. The FA Youth Cup run, narrowly losing to giants Chelsea in the quarter-finals, will be another cause for optimism.
Back onto the first team stage, the fantastic home form has been something that’ll hopefully lay the ground for further improvement. The home form is that of a top 6 side, the below stats confirm that.
— Steve Nicholson (@SNicholsonDT) May 5, 2013
— Steve Nicholson (@SNicholsonDT) May 5, 2013
At home the side have played some very good football and, looking back, few sides have come to Pride Park and dominated proceedings. Defensively they’ve been, on the whole, pretty good. It’s easy to recall chances missed but actually the Rams have scored the second most amount of goals on home soil (43). Derby are quite possibly one of the league’s best footballing sides, some displays have been a pleasure to watch rather than endure like in previous campaigns that are slowly becoming more distant memories.
So it’s been a good season to watch football in Derby, it’s a shame that wasn’t emulated on their travels. A miserable season on the road has gathered 4 wins, 6 draws and 13 defeats, which, let’s face it, is awful. 18 points isn’t a good return and, in addition to that, 2 of the 3 relegated sides have better away records. The second worst away record in the league balanced with the terrific home form can only mean mid-table. It’s not as if the performances away from home have been particularly bad, it’s mostly down to the dreadful finishing that’s followed the club hand-in-hand on the team bus. Nevertheless there has been away matches where the Rams simply didn’t turn up, along with careless defending.
Will Hughes has been a real shining light in the side, playing the majority of the season aged just 17, and has dazzled the Championship, becoming one of the country’s youngest hot properties in the process. His step up from academy football to week-in week-out second tier football has been made easily, looking like a player who’s been playing in the league for a number of years. There was a spell where he was short of his best, and with perhaps his age and the amount of games contributing to that, it was followed by a short spell out of the side through injury. However, his performance against Leeds back in December was sighted as one of his best.
Richard Keogh has been amazingly consistent throughout the campaign and didn’t miss a single minute of action, John Brayford and Craig Bryson have also been up there as Derby’s most reliable performers. Looking at Jamie Ward’s goal record, 12 goals in 26 appearances, is a decent return, particularly for a player who’s been scarred by a troublesome hamstring injury. Surely if he’d have played more matches then he’d have found the net on more occasions and subsequently won the Rams more points. 9 assists also demonstrates his eye for turning provider, which is an attribute, along with his goal record, the club’s most effective player. When fit, is he the man that’ll solve the 20 goals a season striker absence? No. Ward often looks more in place as a winger anyway. A proven goalscorer must be on their way through the entrance door at Park Park, which would hopefully complement Conor Sammon’s game more.
Experience to carry the squad through some situations is another area highlighted as something that needs sorting. It’s in the midfield area that requires experience most. Yes, there are already some quality players in that position but who’s to say they’ll all be definitely here next season? Even if they are, having the experienced player may be more of as a squad player because it’s become evident that better squad depth is another issue. The goalkeeping department is set to face a re-shuffle whilst the defensive area will be an area to look at.
It’s clear that preparations are already in full flow for next season, with players already being reported to be on their way. Foundations have been put down for a more exciting season. Just a few extra bodies and I believe the Rams will be up in with a shout of being in the top 6, there’s no reasons why it shouldn’t be the case – particularly given the encouraging signs we’ve seen this year. Nigel Clough came with a plan of steady building and hopefully we’re just seeing that edge closer to the time when the club are in a position to push on much further. The Rams are seemingly a team on the rise, let’s hope the club, as I’m sure they’ll be doing, take the positives from this season and identify and solve the problems to create a team that can make a more sustained challenge to the top.
Up the Rams!
Finally, if you’re missing the Rams in action already you can re-live every single goal below, courtesy of Derby Goals.