Archive project: Where are former Derby County academy players now?

This is an archive project and so by its nature, a work in progress, which I will try to keep updated as much as possible.  At this stage, I don’t have any plans to try to go further back than the turn of the millennium….. 

If you have any suggestions for adding to or improving it, contact me @derbycountyblog

Will Hughes 
Sold to Watford, summer 2017
(Reported fee £4.5m – 5m, potentially rising to £8m – £9m)

Alefe Santos
Released 2017
Signed by Yeovil Town

Jeff Hendrick
Joined 2008 from St Kevin’s Boys (Ireland)
Sold to Burnley, summer 2016
(Reported fee £10.5m – club record)

Shaquille Mcdonald
Signed as free agent, 2014
Released summer 2016
Signed for Nuneaton Town (National League North)
Current whereabouts unknown

Kwame Thomas
Released summer 2016
Signed by Coventry City

Ross Etheridge
Released 2015
Went on to play for Accrington Stanley, Doncaster Rovers

Luke Hendrie
Signed as a free agent from Manchester United, 2013
Released 2015
Joined Burnley

Josh Lelan
Released 2015
Went on to play for Northampton Town, Crawley Town

Mark O’Brien
Released 2015
Went on to play for Luton Town, Newport County

Rhys Sharpe
Released 2015
Went on to play for Notts County, Swindon Town, Matlock Town (Northern Premier League)

Ross Atkins
Released 2014
Went on to play for Gresley, Leamington, Mickleover Sports (Northern Premier League)

Callum Ball
Released 2014
Went on to play for St Mirren, Corby Town, Barwell, Nuneaton Town
Current whereabouts unknown

Kane Richards
Released 2013
Went onto Ilkeston, Chester, Dover Athletic (National League)

Stefan Galinski
Released 2013
Went on to play for Boston United, Stalybridge Celtic, Alfreton, Grantham Town (Evo-Stik League)

Miles Addison
Sold to Bournemouth, 2012 (fee undisclosed)
Went on to play for Peterborough United, Kilmarnock
Whereabouts unknown 

Aaron Cole
Released 2012
*Cole played for a few non-league teams, but apparently only half-heartedly and is now pursuing an alternative career in social care, working with young people with autism, Asperger’s and challenging behaviour.  Good on him!*

James Severn
Released 2012
Went on to play for Scunthorpe United, Worcester City, Ross County
Whereabouts unknown

Alex Witham
Released 2012
Went on to Wembley, Biggleswade Town
*Witham came from Arsenal’s academy, but failed to make a break-through at Derby.  I can find no evidence of him still being involved in football, but he did take time out to comment on Gary Rowett’s appointment as Rams manager…*

Medi Abalimba
Joined 2009 from Southend (reported fee £25,000)
Released 2011
Went onto Oldham Athletic, Farnborough, Corby Town, Perpignan
Imprisoned for fraud and dishonesty, 2014
*Sadly, Abalimba became one of the many young footballers who turn to crime, after the big time is denied to them – a phenomenon which Michael Calvin examines in his book ‘No Hunger in Paradise’.  In 2014, Abalimba was jailed for four years, having posed as the then Chelsea player Gaël Kakuta to run up thousands of pounds in expenses at hotels and VIP nightclubs.  The Independent reported that he had been on £20,000 per week with the Rams, which, given that he joined as a 17 year old and never played for the first team, sounds truly outlandish.  But whatever wage he was actually on, the taste of money certainly did him no good in the end*

Mitchell Hanson
Released 2011
Went on to Oxford United, Eastwood Town, Gresley

Kallum Keane
Released 2011
Went on to play for Alfreton, Exeter City, Eastwood Town, Granthan Town, Carlton Town, Belper Town (Evo-Stik League South)

Greg Mills

Released 2011 – signed by AFC Telford United
Went on to play for Worcester City, Boston United, Barrow, Corby Town, Tamworth, Nuneaton Town, Darlington (National League North)

Mark Dudley
Released 2010
Went onto St Patrick’s Athletic, Hinckley Town, Brigg Town, Rainworth Miners Welfare (National League North)

Jake Kean
Joined Blackburn Rovers, 2009
Went onto Norwich City, Sheffield Wednesday

Lewin Nyatanga
Left to join Bristol City, 2009
Went on to Barnsley
Current whereabouts unknown

Paris Simmons
Released 2009
Went onto Eastwood Town, Carlton Town, New Orleans Jesters (MLS Development League)
Current whereabouts unknown

Lee Holmes
Released 2008
Went on to Southampton, Preston North End, Exeter City
*Lee was the youngest ever player to play for Derby, until Mason Bennett made his debut*

Lee Camp
Sold to Queens Park Rangers, 2007 (£300,000)
Went on to Nottingham Forest, Norwich City, West Bromwich Albion, Bournemouth, Rotherham United, Cardiff City

Nathan Doyle
Sold to Hull City, 2007 (nominal fee)
Went on to Barnsley, Bradford City, Luton Town
Current whereabouts unknown

Lee Grant
Released 2007 – signed by Sheffield Wednesday
Rejoined 2013 as free agent
Sold to Stoke City, January 2017 (reported fee – £1.3m, potentially rising to approx £2m)

Lionel Ainsworth
Released 2007 – signed by Hereford United
Went on to play for Watford, Huddersfield Town, Shrewsbury Town, Rotherham United, Motherwell, Plymouth Argyle

James Meredith
Released 2007 – signed by Sligo Rovers
Went on to play for Shrewsbury Town, York City, Bradford City, Millwall

Marcus Tudgay
Sold to Sheffield Wednesday, January 2006
Went on to Nottingham Forest, Coventry City
Current whereabouts unknown
*The ever-popular “Tuggy” even managed to come back to Pride Park with the Red Dogs and, unlike Camp, conduct himself with dignity, for which he deserves real credit*

Pablo Mills
Left to join Rotherham United, 2006
Went on to Crawley Town, Macclesfield Town, Rotherham United, Bury, Brackley Town, Mickleover Sports
*Mills was part of the non-league Crawley side which knocked Nigel Clough’s Derby out of the FA Cup in 2011*

Steve Elliott
Joined Blackpool 2004
Went onto Bristol Rovers, Cheltenham Town, Bath City
*Steve’s move to Bath ended within days, as he returned to Cheltenham to act as assistant caretaker manager, following the dismissal of Paul Buckle*

Lewis Hunt
Released 2004
Went on to Southend United, Wycombe Wanderers, Bradford City, Hendon, Sutton United

Ian Evatt
Released 2003
Went on to Chesterfield, QPR, Blackpool, Chesterfield
*Still skippering the Spireites at 36, the durable Evatt played in every game of Blackpool’s 2010/11 Premier League season*

Marvin Robinson
Released 2003
Went on to Chesterfield, Notts County, Rushden & Diamonds, Walsall, Stockport County, Lincoln City, Macclesfield Town, Oxford United, miscellaneous non-league teams
*Currently assistant manager of Hednesford Town*


Players from outside the UK, or currently playing abroad

Alban Bunjaku
Joined as a free agent from Arsenal
Released 2016
Joined Dordrecht (Dutch Eerste Divisie)
Whereabouts unknown

Mats Mørch
Signed 2010 from FK Mandalskameratene
Released 2016
Whereabouts unknown
I’m told by a Scandinavian pal on Twitter that Mørch has now retired*

Jack Tuite
Joined 2012 from Cherry Orchard (Ireland)
Released 2016
Returned to Ireland
Whereabouts unknown

Adam Wixted
Released 2014
Went onto Drogheda United, Bohemians, Bray Wanderers, Drogheda United, Sligo Rovers (League of Ireland)

Luke Adams
Joined 2012 from Waitakere United
Released 2013
Returned to New Zealand – now playing for South Melbourne (Australia, NPL Victoria)

Ryan Connolly
Joined 2010
Released 2012
Went on to play for Sligo Rovers, Galway United, Shamrock Rovers

Graham Kelly
Joined 2008 from Lourdes Celtic (Ireland)
Released 2011
Returned to Ireland, now at St Patrick’s

Arnaud Mendy
Joined 2008 from FC Rouen
Released 2011
Went onto Macclesfield Town, Luton Town, Lincoln City, Whitehawk, Hemel Hempstead Town, Naxxar Lions (Maltese Premier League)
*Mendy has two caps for the West African nation of Guinea-Bissau*

Aleksandr Prijović
Signed 2008 from Parma (undisclosed fee)
Sold to FC Sion, February 2010 (nominal fee)
Went on to play for Djurgårdens IF, Boluspor, Legia Warsaw, PAOK (Greek Superleague)
*Having represented Switzerland at under 21 level, Prijović made his full international debut for Serbia in 2017*

Giles Barnes
Released 2009
Went on to play for West Bromwich Albion, Doncaster Rovers, Houston Dynamo, Vancouver Whitecaps, Orlando City (United States, MLS)


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Leeds United 1 Derby County 2

Brothers and sisters, that was immense.  
It started to flow in the second half of a game which could have got away from Derby, who were not punished for a lacklustre first 45 – too slow, wanting too many touches and too much time, losing possession too often in dangerous areas.  The answer – and this goes contrary to my instincts – was to counter Leeds’ aggressively high line by being less precise and more direct, to turn them and force them to retreat into their own third.  Leeds’ left back was a winger, Stuart Dallas – this seemed an obvious avenue to exploit, though in the first half, Derby’s full backs’ unwillingness to get forward and stretch Leeds limited our opportunities to create chances.

The home side got off to a fast start through the classic tactic of squeezing very high and hard – Huddlestone was caught on the ball and will get the criticism for the Leeds goal, but the situation initially arose from a poor touch by Forsyth, who allowed the ball to escape his control.  There were many such moments of sloppiness in the first half, but fortunately, Leeds lacked the quality to fully exploit them and kill the game off.  1-0 at half time felt about right and so it was over to Gary Rowett to direct the team to turn around what had been a very disappointing display.

I was prescribing substitutions – my thoughts were maybe Thorne on for Huddlestone and at some point, Vydra, probably for Lawrence, who had been peripheral – but the manager persevered with his starting XI for more than an hour – in fact, he didn’t even use his third substitute to eat up time, as the Rams saw it out in relative comfort, a rising drive from the edge of the box in the last minute aside.  That half-chance came from nothing, just a long ball and a nod-down – it flashed over. 

The luck is with the Rams at the moment, but they are rolling with it and hoovering up the points, leaving opposition managers and supporters to howl at the injustice of it all.  It is the opposite of what “the Derby Way” had become – and it is brilliant.

Even at the hour mark, it wasn’t obvious that the Rams were going to get back into it, but it was plain to see that Leeds had very few attacking ideas.  Isolated counter-attacking opportunities were presented to them by our mistakes, but they were unable to take advantage.  Derby were starting to control possession as the Leeds pressing game naturally faded and the longer it stayed at 1-0, the more the feeling that there was something in it for Derby grew. 

Huddlestone, who had struggled badly with the pace of the game in the first half, gradually became more influential and the pressure started to build.  Leeds were forced back and began to make errors of their own.  Corner after corner was flighted in and, in the end, they cracked.  It was the kind of quality pass you expect from Huddlestone, the perfect low cross on the run from Forsyth, an emphatic, net-busting finish from Winnall and it goes down as one of my favourite moments watching the Rams in recent times.  I think back to Ben Davies v Leeds at Pride Park, Johnny Russell v Forest in the 5-0, Thorne at Huddersfield and against Brighton in the play-offs – this one was up there with those magic moments. 

At the moment, Winnall for Butterfield is looking like one of the cannier deals Derby have done in recent years, shifting out a midfield misfit in return for a striking option totally different to what we had at the club.  Winnall is a goals man – another one of those late-blooming strikers who erupts from the lower leagues – and he could be a big asset for the rest of the season.  Having proved his Championship worth at Barnsley, joining Wednesday as an understudy to bigger names was an unfortunate career move, which cost him valuable time.  Now, his desperation to play, impress and snaffle goals is obvious and he had the balls to step up and convert the crucial penalty, as well.  I don’t see how he can possibly be dropped for the Reading game now and so Rowett has some interesting decisions to make ahead of Saturday.

So to sum it up, Leeds charged out of the blocks, worked extremely hard to stifle Derby for an hour, ran out of gas and ultimately – and actually rather tamely – lost, to a team which showed that bit more quality in the final third.  If a team is ultimately as good as its strikers, then Derby are very good at this level – and the good times could continue for a while yet.

Leeds can whinge all they like about the penalty award, but the fact is that their defender was rumbled and tried to get cute by committing a professional foul marginally outside of the box.  And it backfired on them – tough.  My instinct in real time was that it was a penalty and I can absolutely see why it was given. 

While Norwich can justifiably say that they were unlucky not to get at least a point out of their defeat to us last weekend, I don’t think Leeds – who mustered only one shot on target out of a grand total of eight – can have any complaints.  On that showing, I’m comfortable in predicting that they will finish well outside of the top six this season.

Beating Forest and Leeds within the spaces of a couple of weeks is brilliant – and Gary Rowett is surely October’s Championship manager of the month – but now it’s time to capitalise on Saturday, with a more prosaic, but equally important home game against Jaap Stam’s Reading.  It’s too early to start getting carried away, but at least we can talk about one ‘p’ word – positivity – which is undeniably flowing through the club again.

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Derby’s Day: Derby County 2 Nottingham Forest 0

It panned out as expected, in some ways.  Forest had more of the ball and tried to pull us apart through quick passing and clever movement.  Derby had to endure spells where they couldn’t break up the opponents’ flow and instead, just had to sit deep, watch and wait.  It was nerve-wracking, at times.  Forest did work their way into dangerous areas on more than one occasion, but the final touch was lacking and they were much too weak at the back – and this Achilles heel was expertly exploited by the Rams.

On another day, the cross which Jason Cummings fizzed in would have been touched home by Daryl Murphy (even though the big Irishman was otherwise marshalled expertly throughout by Davies and Keogh).  On another day, Barrie McKay would have concluded his canter through an utterly rumbled defence by slotting his one-on-one chance past Carson.  But we got away with that single malfunction and in the end, it simply wasn’t Forest’s day, a fate which they seemed to have accepted long before the final whistle.  In the end, it was Derby who could have added more to their tally and who saw out their victory with relative ease.

It was our day, not their day, but we shouldn’t try to convince ourselves that we won through superior tactics, or because possession football is in some way passé.  We won because two quality strikers snaffled two quite brilliant goals from pretty much their only chances and because a quality goalkeeper stood up strongly to make a save when we needed him.

In winning this game, Derby had to ride their luck at times.  Nobody can dispute that the second goal came against the run of play and at a point when the threat at the other end was starting to build.  Fortunately, the second setback holed Forest below the waterline and, despite Mark Warburton’s substitutions, from around 70 minutes onwards, they began to subside.  I’ll be honest, the introduction of Jamie Ward made me think – is he the best they’ve got?  And the answer is, probably not, actually.  I guess it was a gambit based on the edge Ward has brought to this fixture in previous seasons, but it failed.

Derby had four shots to Forest’s ten in the first half and they will not always get away with going in at 1-0 up, if that continues.  The back four and Carson looks basically solid, but questions remain about the overall balance of the side.  A midfield two of Huddlestone and Ledley lacks mobility and there were some worryingly loose passes, some flustered, ‘anywhere will do’ clearances to chew on.

It wasn’t perfect.  But how often is a 90 minute performance perfect?

Despite an ongoing squad cull which has, to date, dispensed with almost as much wheat as chaff, Rowett can still call upon some of the best players in the Championship.  Matej Vydra, finally, is stepping up to become the key man in the number ten role.  Steve McClaren couldn’t use him effectively and Nigel Pearson wasn’t given time to demonstrate why he signed the gifted Czech, who has now scored or assisted 44 per cent of the Rams’ goals in all competitions this season (eight out of 18).  Rowett is obviously planning to build the team more or less around Vydra, for home games at least.

And (whisper it) George Thorne is back…  Brothers and sisters, if that boy can gradually build up his match fitness and nail down his place in the team, then we have a much better chance of success this season.  The ovation he received when he entered the pitch was incredible, because we love him, because he is class.

And Johnny Russell is back.  Now, this is an interesting one, because it was starting to seem as if Rowett had decided to do without him, presumably ahead of selling the Scot in January.  But with results threatening to go a bit skew-whiff, the manager was forced to reconsider.  Russell, like Thorne, is only contracted until the end of the season and has had as many downs as ups in his Derby career – but the hugely enthusiastic response to his man-of-the-match award spoke of the affection many supporters have for him.

And then there’s Tom Lawrence, a player who clearly has great potential.  It hasn’t quite happened for him just yet – how great would it have been had he blasted that chance for a third into the back of the Forest net – but his ability to beat a man, his set-piece delivery and his rocket of a shot are going to pay dividends eventually.

In short, there are as many reasons for optimism as there are reasons to counsel caution.

Was this a convincing performance?  Not totally.  Was it the performance of a team who are promotion-ready?  Not obviously – it wasn’t fluent, or wholly dominant.  Nevertheless, without necessarily passing “the eye test” and despite coming under some pressure, we won.  The challenge now is to repeat the trick consistently and so the next game becomes intriguing, because in many ways, it will be a similar assignment.

Sheffield Wednesday will be well backed by their travelling support and, while not at the same intensity as the EMD, there will be a big game atmosphere.  Like Forest, they will look to take the game to us and will certainly dominate possession for spells.  If we are going to become a successful counter-attacking team, which appears to be Rowett’s intention, then we have to show the discipline and nerve to weather prolonged spells of pressure and emerge unscathed – but also the composure on the ball to play out quickly and accurately from the back (whether long or short) and create enough chances at the other end to win.  The latter part is not quite there yet, although on this day – just as they were in March – Nugent and Vydra were too good for Forest to contain.

Rowett’s work in progress continues, but on East Midlands Derby Day, we simply ask for a result – and we got it.

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Derby County v Nottingham Forest preview

At the start of last week, I had an instinctive favoured starting XI for this game, which, for what it’s worth, is as follows:-


I think that’s our best balanced and most dangerous side.  However, with a range of attacking options in the squad, Rowett has the potential to tailor his front four – there are so few midfield options that it effectively has to be a front four – to the opposition.  He needs to choose whether to go with what I would argue is his strongest offensive option – a Martin / Vydra partnership – or choose more diligent players like Winnall and Weimann, who are less technically good, but more willing to charge around closing defenders down (The Nuge has a little from both columns – but at 32, is no whippet).

Under Mark Warburton, Forest are keen to play attractive football.  They have played more short passes per game than any other side in the Championship so far this season, just like Derby used to do – we were top for that measure in 2015/6, second highest in 2014/5 and second highest in 2013/4 (under Rowett, the average number of short passes has decreased significantly, from 400+ to just over 300 so far this season).

But Forest are testing their long-suffering supporters’ coronary resilience by trying to pass out from the back in almost all circumstances.  When defenders like the lumbering Matt Mills are forbidden from “getting rid”, there are going to be opportunities for opponents with the necessary appetite to hassle and fluster defenders into errors.  Forest can score when allowed to get into their flow, with Daryl Murphy still a significant goal threat at this level, but their defensive record – 19 goals conceded in 11 games – is among the worst in the Championship.

Forest had a bad September.  The 2-1 win against Sheffield United was huge for them, because prior to that, their form stank – defeats at Sheffield Wednesday (1-3) and Aston Villa (1-2) were compounded by home losses against Wolves (1-2) and Fulham (1-3), the latter a very open game in which both sides missed good chances.  These four defeats were partially mitigated by beating the Blades 2-1 at the City Ground and by keeping a rare clean sheet in winning 1-0 at Sunderland.

Image courtesy

Note that Forest scored in every match and also that, in picking up six points, they actually did as well from the calendar month as Derby did, even though the Rams only lost once (albeit Forest played six games to our five).  They haven’t drawn a game all season and so, despite suffering six defeats, sit two points above Derby in mid-table at this stage.

Warburton has a big, probably overly-stocked squad, with plenty of options to choose from in all areas of the pitch.  He has shifted between a back three and a back four this season, even within games, I’m told, but has preferred a 4-2-3-1 in recent away fixtures.  He could go either way at Pride Park, though I’m guessing he will start with the ‘safer’ option of a back four.  Much will depend upon the fitness of David Vaughan.

Veteran schemer Vaughan is hailed as a key cog in Forest’s wheel by Nottingham media.  He has been injured for several weeks, but is back in training ahead of the derby.  If Vaughan is fit to start in what McClaren used to call the “conductor” role, Rowett will need to consider whether Derby’s number ten needs to be instructed to do a disciplined closing job, to prevent the Welshman from dictating play.

After Fulham beat Forest at the City Ground, coach Slaviša Jokanović told the BBC:-

“In the first 45 minutes we did not adapt very well in the game; we started in shy fashion.  We know Forest are a team who are fighting for possession of the ball.

“In the second half, we tried to take more risks, to push forward and press them harder and we scored two more goals.”

Starting in a ‘shy fashion’ is not really an option, when you’ve got 30,000 people screaming blue murder at you.  But I wonder whether Rowett’s template for this game could actually be the Fulham game last season, where Derby almost voided possession, yet had real joy on the break.  The Rams kept just 26 per cent of the ball, but, largely through capitalising on loose Cottagers’ play in their own third of the pitch, pulled off a spectacular 4-2 win, with an exceptional ten shots on target.

But would the Pride Park crowd be able to handle an East Midlands Derby where Forest commanded the ball the whole time?  How would you approach it, if you were in charge?  “Play our football”, like McClaren, or look to stop the opponents from playing first – which seems to be Rowett’s instinct?  Do we try to harry them into submission from the front, or do we allow Forest to pass out to an extent, trust the defence and midfield to deal with them and then trust the attackers to capitalise on the counter-attack?

The players are there for any tactic Rowett wishes to pursue, but I think it’s fair to say that he has not found the right blend yet.  Derby are not creating enough chances to win games on a regular basis – in fact, the Rams’ lack of shots from within the penalty area so far this season is downright alarming:-

Fewest shots from inside penalty area (per game)

Burton Albion 4.2
Bolton Wanderers 5.3
Derby County 5.5
Sunderland 6.5
(Notts Forest 7.2)

Given the undoubted attacking talent within the ranks, that simply isn’t acceptable and has to change, but at present, Rowett hasn’t hit on an XI that truly works.  Surely there must be a combination that will click eventually – and I think the addition of Joe Ledley is going to help the overall balance of the team – but I imagine Rowett might endure a sleepless night or two, in the build-up to this one.

*(I feature in the latest Derby County Podcast – an East Midlands Derby special)*

The stats and the underwhelming form guide point to a close-run thing between one team who can’t keep the ball out of their net and another who can’t get into the penalty area.  One intriguing pointer for this fixture is the two clubs’ results at Brentford – the Rams endured their game at Griffin Park instead of playing it and drew 1-1, despite barely taking a shot.  Forest, on the other hand, went toe-to-toe with the Bees and (with the rub of the green going their way) beat them 4-3.

The likelihood is that, at least for spells of the game, Forest will have the ball and seek to build a passing rhythm which will allow them to grow in confidence, while exasperating the crowd.  But although they keep the ball better than Derby, their defensive leakiness suggests that they would struggle to sit on a 1-0 lead, for any length of time.  This is probably going to be a much more open game than the last one that Pride Park suffered through, because Forest can’t and won’t set out to stifle, like Birmingham did.

That could play into Derby’s hands, but it will be a stern test of their mettle – and ours, as fans.  Having struggled through a run of just one win in the last six league games, Rowett is in dire need of three points from this game.  We will learn a hell of a lot about his coaching instincts, his temperament and the quality of his current squad on Sunday.

Graphic courtesy of

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Gary Rowett’s search for a new Derby Way continues

We’re often told that when it comes to possession, it’s not how much you have, but what you do with it.  My take is that average possession percentage over a season acts as a good gauge for a team’s overall quality – same with pass success percentage.

An individual game’s possession stat is not reliable in terms of predicting the result – shots on target and particularly shot location are far more reliable in that regard – but when a side keeps the ball for less than a quarter of the game, it’s nevertheless a real eyebrow-raiser.  Especially when it’s Derby County in the Championship.  Teams can and very often do get away with a result despite having drastically less of the ball in a game, but I’m confident in saying that if the Rams averaged 24 per cent possession for the rest of the season, they would be relegated.

24 per cent.  It was a real shock.  After all, we have been known for seasons now as a relatively cultured, ball-playing outfit, prone to episodes of brilliance and inept capitulation in about equal measures, but keen to keep the ball on the deck and basically competent to do it.

That may have been the Derby Way in previous seasons, but it is not the Gary Rowett Way.

Lowest DCFC possession figures in last six seasons

Brentford A 17/18 – 24 (Rowett) 1-1
Fulham H 16/17 – 26 (Rowett) 4-2
Forest A 16/17 – 34 (Rowett) 2-2

Rowett flagged that a shift to a counter-attacking approach could happen during pre-season.  Discussing his philosophy with Owen Bradley, he said he was more inspired by pragmatic managers like Diego Simeone of Atlético Madrid than by any idealised notion of “total football”.  So when his side made prats of themselves at Sheffield United and Bristol City in consecutive away games, he rightly said that he would be “pretty stupid” not to change things – especially when the next game was against Brentford, who had humiliated Derby at Griffin Park a few months earlier.  That game was so embarrassing that the club refrained from posting the full 90 minutes on its website – to my knowledge, it’s the only match that hasn’t been added to the record in the past few seasons.

Rowett was clearly (and quite rightly) hellbent on preventing a repeat of that humbling defeat, which is he reverted to an approach more associated with his relatively successful Birmingham City – an underdog mentality of stifle first, counter second, clear the ball up-field, rather than play out from the back.  This ethos took over almost as soon as Joe Ledley scored and had been drummed into the Rams so hard that Vydra felt the need to apologise for the sin of trying to pass the ball in the middle third of the pitch when he could have cleared it.

Rowett’s defensive formation – stationing Johnson as a kind of “anti-ten” behind Winnall in a strictly regimented 4-4-1-1 – limited space for quicker, spritelier, younger Brentford, but sorely limited Derby’s attacking capability.  Presumably, the idea was that Johnson would be liberated to get on the end of a cross – but with the full backs barely advancing over halfway, we never put in any crosses (surely this, rather than Brum at home, was the game for Baird).  Rowett sacrificed any technique or dexterity in that area, which was at least partly responsible for the team’s worrying inability to control the game, even for a short space of time.  If the possession thing doesn’t bother you, the fact that Derby only had three shots in the whole game – none at all between Ledley’s 15th minute goal and injury time – really should.  Hopefully, the anti-ten thing will be written off as a failed experiment and Rowett will quickly move on.

There was only one side out there which looked remotely like promotion contenders.  And yet it finished 1-1, with both teams having the same amount of shots on target.

Brentford equalised late, which was a huge disappointment – but a point is hell of a lot better than losing 3-1 or 4-1.  Rowett can argue that his spoiling tactics worked better than taking the Bees on at their own game would have done – and his job is dependent not upon flair or style, but results (at least I think so).

For all that Brentford were clearly the superior team, they actually asked almost no questions of Scott Carson.  The problem here was not at all with the defence, who showed excellent discipline and competence in restricting the Bees to barely a single clear sight of goal.  It was the dismal lack of any play at all in the opposition half.  Weimann is presumably favoured for his diligence, but is technically poor; Lawrence flickered occasionally, but had no help around him; Winnall, credit for the assist aside, barely had a kick and Johnson was Johnson, in a role which doesn’t suit him any better than holding midfield does.

Meanwhile, Chris Martin, whose hold-up play and free-kick winning abilities might have helped to relieve the ceaseless Brentford pressure, kicked his heels on the bench and Ikechi Anya and Johnny Russell continued their exile in whatever Derbyshire’s equivalent of Siberia is (I assume that Rowett is planning to sell much of his remaining Scottish contingent in January).

The results so far have been the epitome of average – three wins, three draws, three losses, goal difference zero.  But it’s only three weeks since Derby steamrollered Hull 5-0 and the season is still in its early stages.  As discussed in the latest podcast, this is a club which is going through a genuine, necessary transitional period and variable performance levels are absolutely to be expected at this stage.  The defence looks OK and there are some good attacking options at Rowett’s disposal – but he needs to find ways to balance his desire for solidity (especially on the road) with sufficient attacking intent to break teams down (especially those who try to sit deep and dig a trench at Pride Park).

The Championship has changed.  No longer are Derby the chief ball-hogs, nor are we anything like the neutral’s favourite.  That tag passed to others long ago, teams like Fulham and Brentford, who play much more vivacious, eye-catching football.  Brentford, in particular, can point to the moral high-ground of being one of the smallest clubs in the division.  Derby no longer have a team capable of passing the opposition into the ground – mostly by design.  It isn’t what Rowett wants to do.  But there is more than one way to skin a cat (and hopefully to fell a tree, in a couple of weeks time – more on that later).

The last three performances have been inadequate, but there is more to come from the new players and there is scope for further squad overhaul in a few weeks’ time.  Cardiff will be a very different type of examination – much bigger, much nastier, much less skilful, much more direct – and the defence will have to be even more dogged and tougher than they were at Griffin Park if they are to emerge with another creditable result on the road.  Rowett could really use a win – but another point against Neil Warnock’s league leaders would keep things ticking over ahead of the derby.

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Posted in Derby County, Statistics, Tactics | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off on Gary Rowett’s search for a new Derby Way continues