Throughout the season, Derby maintained a decent defensive record, which was unfortunately undermined by their difficulties with defending set plays. This was in part down to having a relatively small, slight midfield and frontline who struggled to mark bigger opponents.
About one third of league goals Derby conceded were from corners and free kicks, which is beyond annoying, because the amount they conceded from open play – 30 – was among the lowest in the division.
The latter fact was at least in part due to the excellence of the goalkeeper, who swept the board by taking all the available awards this season. And with only three senior centre backs on the books, three specialist left backs and two right backs with completely different styles, there are plenty of important recruitment decisions for Rowett to make in this department.
Scott Carson (31)
No arguments with his Player of the Year award. Carson has done a terrific job this season. Goalies can go on almost forever these days and hopefully, in Carson, we have a dependable long-term number one.
Richard Keogh (30)
A part of the furniture at Derby – and that may not be such a good thing, given the need for a refurbishment. Still only 30, Keogh will hope to survive any squad cull, but his recent struggles against (for example) Jota, Colin Quaner and Nouha Dicko did not bode well. Not the quickest and not the strongest – Rowett needs to decide whether Keogh is the man to captain his side to promotion, or whether fresh leadership is required at the back instead.
Alex Pearce (28)
Became something of a cult hero on the back of his unusual career trajectory at the club and deserves credit for his determination to work his way back into contention, after spending so long in the wilderness. However, his limitations began to show after a run of games. He lacks pace and this is an issue – note how clumsy he was made to look in conceding crucial penalties against Cardiff and Blackburn – plus he never looks at all comfortable on the ball, which is not an added extra in the modern game.
Cyrus Christie (23)
A player who divides opinion like no other at the club. I’ve also thought he has real potential, whereas others, including some observers whose opinion I absolutely respect, think he is hopeless.
For what it’s worth, my (amateur) reading of the available statistics make him look like one of the best full backs in the Championship, in terms of all-round impact. To compare, here is the radar for the much-hyped Leeds left back Charlie Taylor, who is roughly the same age as Christie and is currently being linked with a move to West Brom:-
Christie hasn’t featured much under Rowett so far and is down to the final year of his contract, so the manager needs to decide whether to cut him loose, or show faith. This may ultimately depend on what kind of interest there is from other Championship clubs – if he is available, I expect that this will be considerable.
Chris Baird (35)
A player who won over many Rams fans this season, his ‘Indian summer’ a rare positive from a generally glum year. Despite the pressing need to make room for his own signings and also for fresh blood – younger, quicker players with more energy – Rowett made positive noises about Baird’s versatility and chose to keep him around.
However, as he reaches the end of a very solid career, Baird isn’t going to provide the ‘athleticism’ that Rowett says he wants and I would expect him to be a back-up option – either Christie or somebody else will probably play the majority of minutes at right back, with Baird acting as cover when required.
Marcus Olsson (28)
Put bluntly, he isn’t a strong defender and isn’t particularly impressive going forward either. Given the emergence of Max Lowe and the pending return of Craig Forsyth, the unspectacular Swede seems a likely candidate for the exit.
Max Lowe (20)
Long considered the next cab off the Academy rank, Lowe finally featured in the first-team picture in earnest this season. If we are serious about youth development, then bringing through the unicorn of an actual English left back should be our top priority – not only does he has the potential to be our first choice in this most vexed of positions long-term, he could also become a serious asset for the club, if his current trajectory continues.
Jason Shackell (33)
If fit, Shackell is a fine centre back and unquestionably our most talented defender – a “Rolls Royce”, as Shaun Barker memorably described him.
The problem is that Shackell was signed with immediate promotion in mind, but the deal he was given was daft – too long and, if what I was told from the Burnley end is right, too lavish. Injury destroyed his season and it’s not clear whether Shackell will be a part of Rowett’s plans – but also not easy to see how he could be shifted before the end of his contract in 2018, if he isn’t.
Jamie Hanson (21)
Jamie had plenty of defending practice at Wigan, whose season ended in disaster. His effort has never been in question, as JJ from Wigan blog The Three Amigos attests:-
In the January window, Wigan’s beleaguered manager Warren Joyce made thirteen new signings, including seven loans… Sadly Joyce’s signings were unable to steady a sinking ship and he was dismissed in mid-March. Graham Barrow took over as caretaker manager, but was unable to prevent relegation… It is only fair to look at Hanson’s loan at Wigan in this context.
It was never going to be easy for a young player coming in on loan to a struggling team. In fact, some of the loanees hardly featured. It is to Hanson’s credit that he went on to make more appearances than any of the other loanees – 14 starts, plus 3 as a substitute.
Hanson was used as both a holding midfielder and a full back. At times, he would distinguish himself with excellent tackles and interceptions. He frequently took set pieces, for which he often showed good vision and technique. However, like many young players, he could be good one minute, but making errors the next. Hanson might well have been playing to orders, but he seemed reluctant to push forward…. One time he did that very effectively was at Brighton, when he put in a superb cross for Nick Powell to head home.
Hanson established himself in the team as much as any of the January signings did. He could not be faulted for effort. Whether he will ever graduate to become a top player at Championship level or above remains to be seen.