Bolton Wanderers v Derby County – Preview piece for The Lion of Vienna

Bolton blog the Lion of Vienna sent me the following questions yesterday….

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Derby County finished in the dead centre of the Championship table last year. Why was it such an average season for the Rams? Do you expect them to improve on it this year or finish similarly?

12th in the Championship may sound average to you, but it was in fact our best finish since we were relegated from the Premier League in 2007/8.

Last season’s improvement came about when the owners invested a modest amount in pre-season signings, allowing Nigel Clough to put together the nucleus of his own team.  Essentially, a lack of squad depth meant we couldn’t sustain our form for long enough to threaten the play-offs, but there was a feeling that a little more investment this summer could help us to push on up the table.

Unfortunately, the owners decided not to make any more money available to Clough, unless he sold players to raise it.  Consequently, Jason Shackell soon left, among with a few other squad members.  The replacements are younger and cheaper, but Clough has a pretty good track record in the transfer market and hopefully they will be good enough to cope at this level.

Defensively, we will miss Shackell and the club captain, Shaun Barker, who suffered a terrible knee injury last season which means he is unlikely to play again until 2013/4.   We also didn’t score enough goals last season and although the midfield has been bolstered by two new wide players and the emergence of the seriously promising Academy product Will Hughes, I would be pleasantly surprised if the Rams improved on last season’s mid-table finish.

The club brought in a lot of players from the lower leagues over the summer while losing the likes of Shackell and Green. Of the new boys, is there one (or more) that you expect to do well? How do you rate the moves?

Richard Keogh will have to do well at centre back, because he is taking over the captaincy and is now our key defender.  Paul Coutts looks a good replacement for the outgoing Green, who was playing out of position on the right by the end of his spell at Pride Park.

Conor Sammon signed today from Wigan Athletic, some 18 months after the Latics gazumped our attempt to sign the striker from Kilmarnock.  He replaces our joint top scorer from last season, Steve Davies, who has gone to Bristol City, so we’ll need a good goal return from him.

Why have Derby struggled so much following relegation from the Premier League? Is there a warning you’d hand to Bolton fans? 

I will spare you the essay I could write about Derby’s difficulties – which actually started in the January of the Championship promotion season of 2006/7, when manager Billy Davies made a raft of shocking signings in a doomed attempt to strengthen the squad.

Davies’ signings in the summer before the Premier League campaign were even worse.  His successor Paul Jewell made a series of similarly appalling and very costly buys, before ‘leaving by mutual consent’ with relegation to League One on the cards.  Nigel Clough was handed the task of clearing up the mess.  The Rams were forced to pay many of the Jewell and Davies players to leave and as a result of this financial wreckage, Clough has never really had a free hand in the transfer market.

The key for any relegated club is to get promoted again before the Premier League parachute payments run out.  Owen Coyle knows this division and can probably be trusted to get you back out of it again, unless his confidence has been totally destroyed by last season’s experience.  I think with Kevin Davies up front, along with players of the calibre of Martin Petrov, Mark Davies and Chris Eagles to call upon, you should be fine.  Derby came down in an absolute mess and you’ve certainly come down with a better team than we did.

Walk us through Derby’s Sheffield Wednesday opener for a little. What positives and negatives did you see from the match? Is there a player Bolton Wanderers should be on the lookout for?

Against Wednesday, we cruised into a 2-0 lead and for half-an-hour, it looked so easy.  Unfortunately, Chris O’Grady scored a belter not long before half-time and it seemed to completely inhibit the Rams, who were hesitant and negative thereafter, until finally conceding a 90th minute equaliser.  Perhaps exhausted from extra-time and penalties against Scunthorpe in the league cup last Tuesday, we were arguably quite lucky to hold out for a point in the end – with six defenders on the pitch.

As for tomorrow, Sammon is on debut and will therefore be itching to impress.  The other player likely to catch your eye – with his bleached blond hair and his ability to deliver a killer pass – is Hughes.

Finally, do you have a prediction for Tuesday’s match?

In all honesty, I don’t think we’ll get anything, so am travelling in hope more than expectation!

At the moment, we seem to be struggling to find the right balance between playing attractive football and being solid.  We’ve got some ability in the side, but perhaps lack a little experience and nous in midfield, which can lead to us being a little naïve in our attacking play and open to the counter.  This was why Clough tried to set us up to play ‘anti-football’ in the second half of the game against the Owls, but it didn’t work.  I think he would have been better served switching to a midfield three and it’s possible he could opt for that shape tomorrow night.

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