Pre-season optimism is a tradition as old as league football. Having not seen your team lose a game that matters for at least a couple of months, what fan can possibly avoid suspecting that better times are ahead for the new campaign?
It’s worth pointing out, then, that the fixture computer has provided Derby with a series of potentially difficult games right at the start of the season. Take a look at the first eight league games, with the equivalent result from last season in brackets…
(Key = Win, Draw, Loss)
4/8/13 BLACKBURN ROVERS (D 0-0)
10/8/13 Brighton & Hove Albion (L 1-2)
17/8/13 LEICESTER CITY (W 2-1)
24/8/13 Yeovil Town (L 0-1*)
31/8/13 BURNLEY (L 1-2)
14/9/13 Millwall (L 1-2)
17/9/13 Bolton Wanderers (L 0-2)
21/9/13 READING (D 1-1^)
* Equivalent fixture = Huddersfield Town (League 1 play-off winners)
^ Equivalent fixture = BLACKBURN ROVERS (Relegated from Premier League in 19th)
The first few home games contain some of the toughest we will face, especially promotion favourites Reading and the always strongly contested semi-derby with Leicester. Burnley have been a bogey side for us for a while now and a good home result against them this season would be very welcome indeed.
‘Early doors’ away trips to Brighton and Bolton, along with the archetypal ‘banana skin’ of the long haul to Yeovil, will be no picnics either. Bear in mind also that Nigel Clough will, in the early stages of the season, still be working out his best starting XI and formation, especially in the wake of the disruptive loss of key man John Brayford.
If our results this year exactly match those of last season – when we finished 10th, with 61 points, remember – we would go into the ninth league game of the season, at Nottingham Forest, with only five league points. We would be right down at the bottom of the table and without a doubt, histrionic calls for Clough’s head would be bouncing around Twitter and the forums.
Compare that hypothetical Doomsday scenario with the last nine games of the new season – again, with the equivalent results from last season in brackets: –
25/3/14 Ipswich Town (W 2-1)
29/3/14 CHARLTON ATHLETIC (W 3-2)
5/4/14 Middlesbrough (D 2-2)
8/4/14 Blackpool (L 1-2)
12/4/14 HUDDERSFIELD TOWN (W 3-0)
19/4/14 Doncaster Rovers (D 1-1*)
21/4/14 BARNSLEY (W 2-0)
26/4/14 WATFORD (W 5-1)
3/5/14 Leeds United W 2-1)
* Equivalent fixture = Charlton Athletic (League 1 winners)
Late-season home games against Charlton, Huddersfield and Barnsley, along with trips to Doncaster, Blackpool, Boro and Leeds, give us an opportunity to finish the season pretty strongly (on paper at least).
So, if we find ourselves in touch with the play-off contenders at the end of March, we can go into the run-in feeling like we’re definitely still in with a shout. And momentum, of course, is a useful thing to have going into the play-offs.
The point of all this conjecture and stattery is to back up the old managerial chestnut that the league table means absolutely nothing in September. So don’t be too concerned if we’re not among the early front-runners this year.
The run of games up until next East Midlands Derby is undeniably tricky and if we can get through it with 10 or 11 points, we will be set up well for a potentially good season.