Derby looking to build from the back
Ahead of the new season at Pride Park, there is a sense of realism among Derby County fans. After a disastrous Premier League campaign, now three seasons ago, and an equally inept first season back in the Championship, which was only bearable through the two fabulous wins against Nottingham Forest and the appointment of Nigel Clough, Rams supporters have come to terms with the long road back to where they feel they belong.
Nigel Clough was installed as manager on 6th January 2009. It was made clear to him at the time by the club’s owners that he would be in it for the long haul, something most managers are told when they are appointed. And yet most somehow end up on the managerial scrapheap shortly after.
This could quite easily have been the situation for Clough after a heavy 4-1 defeat to Scunthorpe United last December. Some fans were questioning whether he was good enough and others were indeed calling for his head.
Unlike a lot of clubs, the Derby board stuck with the manager and were, to some extent, rewarded. Derby finished 14th by the end of the season, the clubs third highest finish in the past ten years.
At the time of writing, Clough has already brought in five new players to tackle the 2009/10 season and centre-back Russell Anderson has agreed a contract extension for another two seasons.
From the start, Clough has known that there are not millions of pounds to spend and has therefore targeted young up-and-coming players from the lower leagues, using a similar model to that of promoted sides such as Burnley and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
All change at full-back
Money is no longer being thrown away on transfers as it has been in the past few seasons. Budgets are tight and players have to be moved out before other players can be brought in. Paul Connolly has departed to Leeds United on a free transfer and Jay McEveley’s contract was not renewed, both on very decent wages considering their inconsistent spells at the club.
Derby have signed John Brayford and James Bailey from Crewe, in addition to recruiting Gareth Roberts from Doncaster Rovers to replace McEveley.
Brayford, a 22-year old right back still making his way up the footballing ladder, was managed by Clough during his time at Burton Albion and had been a Derby target for over a year.
Clough has said that he should have made more of an effort to sign Brayford last summer. If that was the case then maybe Derby would not have had the problems they endured with the right-back position last season, using at least five different players.
Left-back Roberts has had two steady seasons in the Championship with Doncaster and is a “seven out of ten man” according to Derby midfielder Robbie Savage. This kind of reliable consistency is something that Clough’s defence will benefit greatly from.
A solid foundation
The back line has taken shape over the past year. Goalkeeper Stephen Bywater has been a mainstay of the starting XI, only missing a handful of games due to injury or suspension.
Defender Shaun Barker has justified his £1million price tag by becoming the club’s Player of the Year and formed a strong partnership with the newly re-signed Anderson at the heart of the defence in the latter half of last season. Brayford and Roberts will hope to become regulars in the full-back positions.
There is also Dean Leacock, outstanding at this level when fit, and Jake Buxton, who will more than happily put his head where it hurts if it aids the cause. Buxton is technically limited, but you cannot fault his heart and, as a fourth or fifth choice centre back, Derby fans can ask for little more. Dean Moxey provides adequate cover at left-back.
So with the defence pretty much sorted, it is now the midfield and strike force that needs to be put right at Pride Park with Derby fans hoping there will be further transfer activity in the coming weeks.
Clough’s squad is taking shape for the forthcoming season and the target must be more steady progress. A focus on long-term development makes for a refreshing difference in the cut-throat world of the Championship. Derby may just reap the rewards.
Written by: Joel Clyne