Doncaster Rovers 1 Derby County 1

The trouble with the new RamsTV service is that, having endured a few weeks with no Rams, I’m now so over-excited by the Return of Football and this new and rather slick service that I feel compelled to review every pre-season of 2017/8….  so here goes another one.

Gary Rowett trailed the ‘double-header’ of games against Doncaster Rovers and Port Vale as matches which Derby might struggle to win, due to his strategy of giving as many players as possible 90 minutes, with the opposition expected to make the usual raft of pre-season substitutions.  It is an interesting approach, but worked to Rowett’s satisfaction at Doncaster, where all eleven players completed the full game against a home side which had been swapped over almost entirely by the hour mark.

Jonny Mitchell was in goal for this one and within seconds, was smartly off line to sweeper-keep ahead of onrushing attacker.  Mitchell looks a very promising goalkeeper to me, with a robust build for one so young and decent shot-stopping – and shot-holding – ability.  I wonder whether Derby will loan him out to play games this season?

The Rams started reasonably well, with Doncaster dropping deep into a shell when out of possession.  A nice passing move with Butterfield at its hub ended with Johnson stabbing it straight through to keeper, but Butterfield had enjoyed a far brighter start to the game than at Macclesfield.  With Donny sitting off, Martin looked to exploit the space by dropping off the front, collecting possession and smashing a 30 yard drive, off-target.

A fine counter-attacking move involving Forsyth, Weimann, Butterfield and Bennett indirectly led to the opening goal, via a corner kick (yes, really).  Butterfield landed his delivery straight on Keogh’s noggin for an unstoppable header.

Derby probably should have gone further ahead when Hanson’s dangerous, whipped cross was punched to edge of box, where Nugent attempted an insolent lob, which was undercooked.  You’d like to think that in a game that mattered, the Nuge would simply had got his head down and drilled it, much as he did against Kidderminster.

Derby were very dominant at this stage, but there followed an almost total lull, with Donny pinging some pleasant passes with the odd hint of promise, but no end product.  Next, Bennett latched onto Forsyth’s long (right-footed!) pass behind the defence and laid it off to Martin, who curled a shot against the inside of the post. We were in “useful workout” territory as the Rams took a 1-0 lead into half-time.

Donny made two substitutions at the interval and their club legend James Coppinger showed up extremely well straight away, looking a cut above his teammates and giving Derby serious problems in the final third.  The shape out of possession looked like a straight 4-4-2, with Bennett and Weimann dropping into a line alongside the central midfielders.  It was clear to see the issue with this formation, which invites opposing forwards to drop between the lines and collect passes through the centre, behind the midfielders.  Coppinger, for a time, had a bit of a field day and skinned Johnson on more than one occasion.

Here was where the players’ fitness truly began to be tested and Martin certainly showed willing, with a lung-burster to prevent a Donny goal kick.

Nugent messed up a chance to counter, presenting the home side with a counter-counter. Nugent chased back to concede a free kick, which very nearly resulted in a free back-post header, the cross inches too high.  Mitchell was then forced into a solid near-post parry following a one-two in the Derby box, as Donny dominated.

Their equaliser on 58 minutes was no surprise and followed another passing move, with the flagging Rams midfield powerless to intervene.  As Rovers built ominously towards the box, Butterfield was left with two midfielders to close down on his own, Johnson passed a runner onto the defenders rather than track him, bish bosh, a stepover and the Rams were prised open. 1-1.

Donny then sent on their full raft of subs, while Derby persisted with their starting XI, as Rowett had planned.  Unsurprisingly, Rovers continued to look fresher and quicker to the ball and Nugent’s misplaced pass set them on another counter, resulting in a back-post chip volleyed fiercely and saved smartly by Mitchell.

The Rams players were treading water at this stage, slowing things down and struggling to hang on.  Until, on 72, they were offered the chance to take an unlikely lead.  Johnson did really well to rob a dallying Rover and Bennett was then played through on goal by Nugent, before being hauled down for a penalty.  Unfortunately, Martin smashed it hard and too high.

Martin tried to make amends by flicking Mitchell’s goal kick into the path of Weimann, who carried the ball to the edge of the box from the left, but measured his attempted floated finish just past the angle of post and bar.   He was still full of running, as was Bennett and it was encouraging to see the Rams rally in the later stages of the game.

Perhaps the Donny subs were lower-standard players, but nevertheless, Derby had caught a ‘second wind’ which allowed them to come back into the match. Forsyth’s dangerous cross was next headed behind for a corner as Derby’s revival continued.

Martin and Weimann linked well again, but Martin was seemingly brought down – you can never quite tell – only for the ref to wave play on.  Donny were suddenly through four-on-three and only failed to score because Coppinger was  too short to reach the final cross.

Nevertheless, Derby continued to compete into the game’s final knockings and almost nicked it when a long-throw fell to Martin, who hooked an instinctive effort across goal and wide.

And that was that.  The modern style of online writing is, apparently, to ask – what have we learned?  Well, we’ve learned that performance in pre-season can be pretty variable, as players try to surf the line between doing the work and not over-exerting themselves to the point of breaking down.  That Rowett is still assessing the various options at this disposal (and still trying to strengthen in attacking areas).  That most of the players look basically fit and ready, with the season a couple of weeks away.

All eleven players got through the game with no problems.  There was little in the way of productive combination play between Martin and Nugent, although Wardrobe held the ball and linked in with the wide forwards, as well as winning his free kicks.  The back five, which lacked Carson,Wisdom and Davies, was tested intermittently and looked basically competent, with Hanson demonstrating his versatility yet again and Forsyth quietly getting through his first 90 since the injury.  Rowett may not persist with a midfield two, but Butterfield did show better quality on the ball than he had at Macclesfield.  Weimann and Bennett’s fitness levels were impressive…

All in all, despite their failure to win the match, there were more positives than negatives to take for this half of the squad.

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Macclesfield Town 0 Derby County 2, plus! Tom Huddlestone signs


Derby’s preparations for another gruelling Championship campaign continued, with two separate XIs fulfilling an unremarkable friendly at Macclesfield Town of the National League.  Macclesfield is a pleasant town to visit, with plenty of decent pubs on offer and easily accessible from Manchester (which may explain why old ‘Cheshire set’ pros like Wes Brown train there, these days).

The first half team experienced some problems against the Silkmen, who forced Jonathan Mitchell into a couple of saves, but Scott Carson largely had a watching brief in the second half, when the Rams scored twice.

In the opening 45, Craig Forsyth made his first appearance at left back since last August. He was relatively subdued – it would be unrealistic to expect him to look the player he did before the injury straight away – but on the other flank, the powerful Andre Wisdom looked like a man playing against boys.

Nick Blackman started on the left and managed to float into a couple of dangerous positions, but missed the target from his one presentable opportunity, on the edge of the box – close range, by his usual standards – following a set from Darren Bent.  By that stage, Curtis Davies had hit the post with a header from a corner, Bent had a drive saved after a cute flick from the ever-lively David Nugent, while the Nuge also improvised a close-range overhead kick from Blackman’s cross, unfortunately directed too close to the home goalkeeper.

But on the whole, the first half side put in a bitty, unconvincing performance.  Nugent was the pick of the bunch in the second striker role, but Jacob Butterfield’s passing radar was well out, Bent looked off the pace, Blackman and especially Johnny Russell were largely peripheral and Craig Bryson made little impact.  Derby looked loose and easy to play through at times and you couldn’t shake the feeling that a higher quality opponent would probably have netted, at least once.

The second half turned out to be more entertaining from a Rams perspective, largely due to Chris Martin’s introduction.  Suddenly, the ball started to stick when it travelled up-field, allowing the three attackers behind the Wardrobe – from left to right, Ikechi Anya, Andi Weimann and Mason Bennett – to link together and create opportunities.  Anya’s pace and dribbling in particular worried Macclesfield, but all three looked encouragingly sharp.

The second-half team was generally much more coherent, with the Slovenian teenager Timi Max Elsnik, who has a better build than I realised, showing up well in central midfield.  His more experienced partner Bradley Johnson, on the other hand, endured a torrid time.  While Butterfield had struggled to pick the final pass to release a striker, Johnson was struggling to find a white shirt from any kind of range.  His goal, when it came, resulted from his own farcically slack free-kick, an attempted quick release of Weimann which was duffed feebly into the Macclesfield wall.  However, two of said wall then attempted to launch a counter attack, which was broken up by Johnson, who controlled and mullered it with something like fury into the back of the net from 20 yards. It was an unstoppable, vicious strike, perhaps born out of frustration.

Later, Elsnik’s simple, effective build-up play helped to create a raiding opportunity down the right flank for Anya, who crossed deep.  Martin headed back across goal and Bennett completed the move by nodding home.  It was heartening to see the youngster, who is currently training with the first-team, net a goal which his all-round performance merited.

Other than a melee when Johnson reacted with genuine fury after he was apparently elbowed – like Wenger, I did not see it, but the offender, Birmingham City loanee Jack Storer, was instantly “sent off” and replaced by a sub – this was a fairly low-key affair, with little to raise the pulse.  Young pros Bennett, Elsnik and Jamie Hanson (who completed the 90 minutes at centre back) all performed well, nobody got injured and several senior players did look the part.

As we took in a few of Macclesfield’s many hostelries afterwards, however, we were asking the question – who is going to play alongside Tom Huddlestone in the midfield?


Before the game kicked off, news had already emerged of Huddlestone’s withdrawal from Hull City’s training camp in order to fly home and sign for the Rams.  Arriving home, slightly worse for wear as I was, to watch the big man calmly chatting to Colin Gibson about stuff that happened twelve years ago was truly surreal.  But the more you thought about it, the more obvious it was that this was a potentially excellent piece of business.

Squad age Jul 16

I have chuntered on about the worrying age profile of the Rams’ squad for a while now and Huddlestone’s arrival takes the number of outfield players aged 30 or higher to nine. However, in this particular case, I can look the other way.  Everyone knows Huddlestone can pick a team-mate out from any range and he never had any pace to lose, so his age is less of a factor in that regard.  It’s a two-year contract and the reported fee (£2m – £2.4m, depending on who you believe) has to be considered a bargain.  I know Rowett said he didn’t want to take players on their way down from the Premier League, but when he’s able to take advantage of relegation release clauses to sign two high-calibre players with plenty more to offer for less than £3m, it’s very hard to knock those deals.

For sure, an influx of youth is required, but who knows – maybe some of the answers to that problem are already in the building.

And then there’s the romantic side of the story.  Rowett wouldn’t have signed Huddlestone if he didn’t think he was the right fit, but it is no way harmful for him that bringing the player ‘home’ a dozen years since he left a stricken club which was being run into the ground by fraudsters rights a long-standing ‘wrong’.  I said previously that selling the best youth product the Rams had produced in at least a decade for the sake of a veteran like Glenn Whelan, who was being strongly linked at the time of Will Hughes’ departure, felt horribly wrong – but it’s an awful lot harder to find fault when the club have moved to retrieve another of the greatest gems the club has ever mined and one who is cut from the same cloth when it comes to technical quality.

I never thought I would see Huddlestone play for the Rams again and always felt genuinely sad about that, because I never shook the feeling that he was stolen away from us much too soon.  While explaining his decision to sell Hughes, Rowett said that he understood it was harder for the fans when they perceived the departing player as ‘one of their own’.  Well, Huddlestone has always felt like one of our own too and although we were denied the opportunity we should have had to watch him develop, we can at least now hopefully enjoy at least two good seasons of a player generally accepted to be one of the best English passers of the ball there is.

The question now is, who plays alongside him?  There will be a maximum of two berths for five senior players to contest, all with different strengths and weaknesses.

Bryson offers his desire to get into the box, but lacks defensive instincts (and his statistical output last season was worrying.)


Butterfield is a competent passer who can help knit things together, but lacks physical stature.


Young Hanson is a plucky competitor who will graft and do the unglamorous stuff willingly, while Johnson is technically limited, but can win his headers (and shoot)…


…and then there’s the man George Thorne, who is, as Rowett points out, a similar calibre of talent to Huddlestone, but still needs to get himself fit.

THORNE 2015-6


Midfield is the area most obviously still in need of work at this stage.  I can’t quite see what Rowett has in mind just yet – it may well be that, with Huddlestone signed, he starts to look at a 4-3-3 system again – although that in turn decreases the opportunities for the various forwards to play….

Over to you, GR.

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Derby County 4 Kidderminster Harriers 0

Derby’s progress through their opening pre-season game of 2017/8 was serene, against a limited Kidderminster Harriers side from England’s sixth tier.

David Nugent, Craig Bryson, Chris Martin and Darren Bent all scored, with Matej Vydra and Johnny Russell both going close to adding to the tally, on a night when the Rams could easily have netted seven or eight goals.  At the other end, Jonathan Mitchell was forced to handle one smartly-stuck shot from range, with Scott Carson basically untested in the first-half.

Gary Rowett gave two separate sides 45 minutes each on the pitch.  Both Rams XIs were set up in a 4-2-3-1 system, with Craig Forsyth making his first appearance since last August at centre back in the first half, alongside Richard Keogh.

U23 stars Mason Bennett and Calum Macdonald were handed opportunities to impress alongside the 20 available senior pros and Bennett, starting on the right of the front four,  showed brightly in the early stages, chasing Nugent’s pass into the box and squaring low in the third minute, forcing the Harriers defence clearing their lines.  However, Bennett showed defensive naivety seconds later, giving away a free kick 25 yards from goal in a dangerous position.  A Harrier shot harmlessly wide.

Seven minutes in, the Rams opened their tally, Nugent drilling home from 15 yards out. Bennett’s pass found Andreas Weimann popping up on the right and when he crossed low, Martin’s stepover allowed Nugent to shoot.  His initial effort was blocked, but looped high and a weak defensive header fell back to the Nuge, who drove home emphatically.

Nugent then released Martin with a throughball and the Wardrobe’s square pass gave Weimann a sight of goal, only for the Austrian to drag his effort well wide.

Bryson was making runs forward from the midfield two, with Bradley Johnson sitting in. With Martin back and leading the line, it was clear to see the potential for a flexible front four, with Weimann notably drifting across the field at will to join in play.  It was a treat to see Martin, all smart flicks and lay-offs and remonstrations, in the black and white once again.  Even the ideas that didn’t come off were a joy.

Soon it was 2-0, courtesy of Bryson.  The goal was slightly farcical, as Martin’s ball forward was miscontrolled into the air by the onrushing Bryson.  Weimann chased on, forcing the goalkeeper to charge off his line and, when he was unable to hold it on the slide, Bryson took up possession, dribbled towards goal unchallenged for a seeming eternity, before slotting into the unguarded net.

Weimann was notably not sticking to the left flank, regularly floating to the right to link with Bennett and create overloads.

On the half-hour, the Rams made it 3-0, with a lovely finish from Martin.  Marcus Olsson was allowed to amble forward into the Harriers half and under no pressure, lobbed a high cross towards Martin, who simply cushioned the ball first-time back across the stranded goalkeeper.  It was an easy goal in that neither player was pressurised, but still a wonderful show of technique from the big “Scot”.  Next, Martin’s neat wall pass allowed Weimann another sight of goal, but his left-footed strike was weak and straight at the goalkeeper.

A scratch Kidderminster side patched up by numerous triallists clearly lacked the quality to take advantage of any Derby errors in defence, or to contain the Rams attackers.  Even when Bryson presented them with a great chance through a calamitously sloppy pass towards his defenders, their forward Austin was eventually crowded out, with Olsson blocking his shot.

Nugent and Weimann then combined to released the Austrian on the right and his cross caused chaos, with a Harriers defender heading narrowly over his own bar.  It had been a stroll in the park for a pretty strong and fit-looking Rams XI, who handed the baton over to their second half counterparts with a 3-0 advantage.


Scotland youth international Calum Macdonald was on show in the second half, but almost suffered a nightmare start when he was outmuscled by the touchline, allowing a Harrier to dribble into the box, before Mitchell smothered the attempted cross at the near post.  Then in the next phase of play, Johnny Russell was allowed time and space to get his head up and float a ball releasing Vydra, who chested it down behind the last man, but had his shot charged down by the onrushing keeper.

Nick Blackman, stationed on the right of the front four, soon picked up a ball on the wing and drove inside, with the inevitable long-distance shot following.  Blackman only ever has a shot on his mind and as soon as any space opens up, no matter what the distance, he will hit it.

On the Rams next attack, Russell, playing in the number ten position, was allowed to drive into the box and shown onto his left foot, which he used to poke a shot too close to the ‘keeper.

Vydra was stationed on the left, a position which doesn’t obviously suit him as a player who is not keen on the defensive side of the game.  He and Jacob Butterfield were robbed of possession in dangerous areas in quick succession, although Harriers were unable to make anything of the situations.

Like Weimann in the first half, Vydra clearly had license to roam and popped up centrally more often than wide.  Meanwhile, Russell remained fairly close to Bent, which made sense given that hold-up play is not a feature of the veteran striker’s game.  The forward players enjoyed plenty of space between the lines.

A word at this stage for the RamsTV commentators, Jack Woodward and Marc Edworthy, who enjoyed a debate on whether Nick Blackman could be the replacement for Tom Ince on the right wing during the second half.  I am confident when I say that this is a thought which had previously been considered by no Derby fan at any point, so it was certainly an eyebrow-raiser.  Blackman is similar to Ince in the sense that he is a predominantly left-footed attacker who plays on the right, but that is where the resemblance begins and ends.  He has an infuriating compulsion to shoot on sight, no matter where on the pitch he is and with no regard for whether team-mates around him might be in a better position.  Perhaps this is the mark of a man who is trying too hard to make an impression, especially given the injuries he has endured.

Butterfield looked to release Bent behind the defence and the striker sprinted clear, only to be denied by the ‘keeper quickly off his line.  Chipped throughballs were a feature of the Rams’ play throughout, especially in the second half, when Bent sought to use his anticipation to get away.  The former England man took up a great starting position between the defenders and timed his run to perfection, rendering them both redundant to create the scoring opportunity.

The Rams’ second-half side finally opened their account when Russell moved across the edge of the box and passed to Blackman, who dribbled towards the box and after the covering defender stumbled, took the chance to stand up a cross, which Bent nodded home.

An atypically excellent track-back tackle from Vydra launched a counter-attack which saw Russell streak away, only for a covering defender to block his effort.  Vydra’s final sprint towards goal, in the last minute, saw him hauled down on the very edge of the area, but Russell’s attempt from the free kick was tame and repelled easily by the Kidderminster wall.

So it finished 4-0, but could quite easily have been six or seven.  Derby will step up their pre-season preparations considerably from here on in, but this was a useful first look at a system which seems likely to be Rowett’s “default” and certainly suits the majority of the personnel currently available to him.


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Diminished Derby County cash in on Will Hughes

In a few short weeks, Derby County will run out to kick off their tenth consecutive season in the Championship, at Sunderland.  It is highly unlikely that any academy products will be in the starting line-up.  Max Lowe probably won’t get the nod, not with Craig Forsyth returning.  Others, like Mason Bennett and Jamie Hanson, have not quite proved up to the mark and seem destined to pursue their careers elsewhere.

And the most gifted academy player the club has produced since Giles Barnes over a decade ago has been sacrificed, for reasons I cannot easily forgive.

Hughes was different – he was a source of genuine pride – he meant more than the others.  I don’t have to tell you about how good he was.  He is not perfect, of course, not versatile, not a dead-ball specialist, not the complete article, not yet as good as he will ultimately be.  But he was just patently so much more talented and so much more exciting to watch than the overpaid, underachieving, uninspiring bunch of journeymen hired in from wherever they’ve come from in recent years.  He made the game look simple, where others laboured.  He saw and delivered passes that others couldn’t see, or have executed even if they had.  Watching him play made me happy.  I had faith in him and I know I am right when I say that he will get better and better.  This sale diminishes the club.

We knew that there would have to be outs.  Of course there did.  The club’s disastrous transfer dealings in the past couple of seasons ensured that.  But now we are left with two players signed to cover the midfield while he was injured who are nowhere near as good as him and we have no Hughes.  The reported fee – even if the highest figure plus all of the add-ons is right – is lower than the combined outlay on Johnson and Butterfield.

The fee – again, even at the highest end of the reports, with all of the add-ons included – is less than what the Rams paid to Watford for Vydra and Anya, neither of whom have had much impact at the club since arriving.  And the money for those deals was raised by selling a talented youth product, too.  Our future has been traded away and so far, the players recruited with the proceeds have, to be brutal about it, only succeeded in making us worse.

Early in his reign, Rowett told BBC Radio Derby that he wasn’t a fan of signing players on their way down from the Premier League and looking for one last payday.  I wonder if he now regrets that assertion.  Curtis Davies (32) was his first signing of this season, because he was available from relegated Hull on a cut-price deal.  Davies was keen to come at least in part because the transfer suited his wife, who is from Birmingham.  Derby have since been repeatedly linked with moves for the veterans Glenn Whelan and George Boyd.

Quite reasonably, Boyd has refused a one-year extension to his contract at Burnley, because he would much rather pick up another two (or more) years at a second-tier club like Derby, which is starting to feel more like a welcoming home for has-beens to rock up at when they’re ready to wind down than a nursery for the next generation.

DCFC player age

If it is right that the club is selling an England under-21 international developed through the academy in order to fund the signing of a 33 year-old who is finished at Stoke, then that is dreadful.  The symbolism of such a transaction – trading away our most talented young player in order to buy a waning star – is just awful.  I was under the impression that Mel Morris wanted the Derby Way to be a path for young players to tread, but now Hughes is leaving and at the time of writing, we are left with a bunch of ageing, largely uninspiring journeymen – apparently the only species of player guaranteed a game and an easy, obscenely healthy payday at this place.

Looking at it more positively, the Brighton & Hove Albion side promoted last season had plenty of experience on its books and there’s no doubt that a certain amount of nous can help drag a team through difficult spells in the gruelling Championship campaign.  Different signings from the players mentioned above may yet materialise and there’s no doubt that Andre Wisdom is a very good capture, pending a successful medical.

But it is difficult to square Rowett’s reported interest in a motley crew of grizzled veterans with the injection of athleticism, pace and fresh blood that we were initially briefed to expect coming through the door.

I was totally behind the idea of Rowett as a ‘new broom’.  I was also looking forward to the anticipated ‘clear-out’.  I was fine with the idea of new players with athleticism and pace.  I nodded approvingly when Rowett talked about not wanting to give a final pay-day to players whose best days are behind them.

Wisdom joins, Forsyth is back and with the addition of Davies, the defence starts to look good for this level – then (whisper it) George Thorne is returning for pre-season training and you start to feel like the future might be a bit brighter.  Hughes and Thorne playing together could have….

This situation reminds me, unfortunately, of when Tom Huddlestone left.  I feel the same way.  Here was a player who should have been at the heart of Derby County’s future, sacrificed for short-term expediency.

Whatever happens next, what I cannot forgive is that Hughes’ departure is a consequence of the gross recruitment incompetence which reigned at the club over the past two seasons.  That is what upsets me more than anything.

Still, this is Rowett’s decision to stand or fall by.  This week, he told TalkSport that he would like to sign two or three more players, pending the necessary outs.  He said that we will see “a very different Derby team” next season:-

“We’ve had a very technically strong team that perhaps lacked a few of those elements that you need in what’s a really resilient Championship league.”

Announcing the Davies deal on Rams TV, Rowett said that he wants Derby to be difficult to play against.  This is the change in mindset that he is looking to bring. Under McClaren, everything was about what we did with the ball – under Rowett, it seems that our game will be all about stifling the opposition first and foremost.

If Rowett does not consider Hughes as a good fit for how he wants to play – and that is the only possible interpretation I can see for the comments he’s made, especially given that Will was repeatedly left out at the end of last season – then I cannot help but resent him for it.

And so now it is up to Rowett to justify his choice by delivering on what he has promised and proving that his brand of football can win promotion.  If we are defensively solid and disciplined enough to grind out results on a consistent basis, then maybe we will have a chance of finally, finally clambering out of this bloody Championship, in which we have been marooned for almost a decade – and the loss of a player who was such a joy to watch will have been a price worth paying.  But those two or three new signings are going to have to be very good players if they are going to make the difference.

I do not associate the current squad with good football, good results, or good times – only with disappointment, embarrassment, patchy commitment, bizarre lapses and the ever-present threat of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  And now, one of only two players we had who was capable of turning a game with a moment of magic, who was a unique, genuine, miraculous class act, a beacon of hope in the increasingly impenetrable fog of mediocrity, is gone, punted out for a relative pittance to fucking Watford.  No disrespect, Jonathan.

He was supposed to go to the Premier League with us, not without us.  Maybe Rowett has a rabbit up his sleeve and things will look brighter in a few weeks from now, but as it stands here and now, the Premier League has never felt further away and supporting this club has never felt more pointless.

I hate the club I love today.

See you all at Macclesfield on July 15th.

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Derby County squad review 2016/7: Goalkeeper and defence

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.

FORSYTH 2014-5

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.

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Posted in Derby County, History, Player Profiles, Statistics | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Derby County squad review 2016/7: Goalkeeper and defence