As I sit at the dining room table, gazing over at the clock, the dog is out on the garden bathing in the sun, the parent are out the house shopping and still time seems to pass by slower and slower with each move of the minute hand.
Three o’clock seems an eternity away (roughly five hours) but the football mood has certainly kicked in. Come the hallowed hour on a Saturday afternoon, when up and down the country hundreds of whistles will sound in unison, signalling the start of what promises to be an intriguing footballing year.
Derby County will start their campaign at a new look IPro stadium against last year’s third place finishers, Brighton and Hove Albion. Chris Hughton’s side will be the perfect test for new Derby manager Nigel Pearson in an opening month jam packed with ‘big’ fixtures.
For the second time in three years, last year Derby closed out the normal season having booked a playoff ticket against eventual winners Hull City in a tie that was definitely ‘a game of two halves’.
Embarrassing pretty much summed up the first 90 minutes of the home leg, while I wold be here for a long long time listing the amount of superlatives that do justice to how good Derby turned out at the KC stadium.
The end of the season saw Mel Morris appoint former Leicester boss Nigel Pearson in a bid to turn a playoff finish into a promotion party. After Paul Clement was sacked midway through the year, Darren Wassall was given the reigns of the Rams until the end of the season. Mr Wassall was most definitely a pantomime character in the drama that unveiled at the end of the season, winning over my judgment following the Hull game.
Now onto this season. Nigel Pearson took charge of Derby at the end of July at began putting together a backroom staff full of football experience and connections to the club. Derby legend Chris Powell was appointed assistant manager, Midfield maestro Inigo Idiakez as a first team coach, whilst keeping Kevin Phillips and Pascal Zuberbuhler from last year’s team who seemed to have the most impact on the current squad.
In comparison to the summer transfer window last year, Pearson has opted to assess his squad rather than to bring in a handful of players to add to the already large playing squad. Instead outgoings have been at the top of the agenda. Seven year servant, Jake Buxton, the most noticeable of departures as the centre half agreed a deal at Wigan for the coming years. Ryan Shotton also left the club in search for more first team football at Birmingham City.
So onto the current Derby County squad. And what I hope will happen over the course of the next ten months.
This is how I’d line up when the teams walk out the tunnel this afternoon, with all things considered and after watching all pre-season games…
- Scott Carson– A welcomed edition to the squad last year, solid/reliable/confident. A shadow of his former self Carson was the first name on the team sheet each week after a dismal year for Grant for year before. During his injury in the middle of the season, Derby looked shaky and lacked a real leader barking out instructions from the back line. In my eyes Carson was a league leading figure in goal making remarkable saves at key times in games to keep the game alive.
- Cyrus Christie – After a turbulent first year, Christie looked to have settled down last time out. Still prone to a horrendous game now and again but after taking over from the magnificent Andre Wisdom, the task always did appear to be steep for the young Irish right back. Promising attacking movement but still needs a little defensive work. Working with Chris Powell will hopefully put some of his msitakes to bed and further develop the learning of someone who clearly has a lot of talent but is still yet to hit the heights many expected from him following his move from Coventry City.
- Marcus Olsson – A great pick up by Clement back in January to cover for the injured Forsyth, but a signing that now leaves Pearson with a selection headache after a string of impressive performances by theSwede. Already a hero amongst Derby fans following the winning goal against Nottingham Forest, will provide great competition for a key role in the side. Although suffering a concussion in pre-season the full availability of Olsson i syet unknown but regardless of this Fozzy know’s he has a battle for his place.
- Jason Shackell © –
A stalwart in the back line, signing of the summer when clawed back from Burnley and hands down the captain this Derby team require. Strong, commanding, resolute consistent. Value for every penny spent and assisted in the short revival of Keogh’s best form. On his day Shackell oozes class and it sure seems to brush off onto those around him. With Carson behind him, these two make for a solid backbone of the side and both showcase the ability of being very good championship players.
- Richard Keogh – Certainly not my cup of tea, I remain adamant that his services should have been terminated following the Wembley defeat but the chances of that happening now are rather slim. So I’ll have to make do. Keogh has a knack for making great challenges and blocks but will then do the most bizarre of things to instantly put the team under pressure often saved by his speed and agility, Keogh makes use of his crazy runs up the pitch to get himself out of eventual trouble
- Bradley Johnson – Yet to hit his full potential it seems Johnson is still to collect all his gear the Norwich dressing room, so hopefully a new season means a new Johnson. It’s clear to see that the talent is there and what Derby have lacked in recent years, a real tough guy. But Johnson also has a footballing brain, he can make goals and certainly score them too. A joker of the dressing room but a leader on the field. A wealth of experience in both the Premier league and the Championship, a constant run of games in the side during George Thornes absence will do him the world of good under the new management team.
- Will Hughes –
The wonder kid was nailed on to have a wonderful season last year until a devastating injury on the opening day stopped him in his tracks. When he returned to the squad everyone breathed a breath of fresh air. Talent In abundance, a real footballing brain and the ability to single handily create out of fresh air. Fingers crossed for a full year from the working cog of the side. Hughes again was linked with big named clubs who have been circling the England U21 international for som time, but Hughes has remained adamnt that Derby is where he will continue to play.
- Craig Bryson – Iron Lungs, workhorse, roadrunner, oxygen tank have I missed anything? Bryson is the optima of everything Derby and Scotland. This guy will run and run and run, he won’t stop till the final whistle goes and most certainly doesn’t leave anything in the changing room. Tough tackler, goal scorer and assist maker, he is a joy to watch and for me the squads best player. Alongside Hughes, the midfield pair have formed a formidable partnership, matching Bryson’s off the ball running with Hughes’s creative ability.
- Tom Ince – Pearson seemed to lean towards the 4-4-2 diamond formation throughout pre-season, and Tom was the chosen number 10. Playing wide last year didn’t seem to work but when giving the license to roam, he looked more worth the money paid for him. All Derby fans will be hoping for more goals from the talented forward but it’s down to him to work hard and stay in the side. On his day Ince is a joy to watch but those days have been to far and few between to really make an impact.
- Darren Bent –
Now for probably the most debateable positions in the side. The two who will lead the line. Bent had a goal scorer’s touch in his loan spell two years ago before being signed last summer. Martin has been pivotal to the way the team has played previous but maybe now is time for change. Bent offers a poachers threat, a run in behind the back for and pace to allow him to beat players and speed up attacks. A real headache for the selection committee.
- Nick Blackman – A flop of a January transfer, Blackman struggled more than most to make the sort of impact he had at Reading earlier in the year. Often flung out on the wing, he often looked lost and didn’t offer much defensive work either. Pace in abundance and the ability to turn a defender inside out, whether he starts or appears off the bench a chance is all that Blackman could be after to kick start his career in the black and white of Derby After a very impressive pre-season, forming a strong partnership with Bent, Blackman could well get a look in for the forward positions.
So there is my preferred starting side for today’s fixture. Whether NP and myself have shared similar opinions or not remains to be seen but over the last year or so it seems that the style Derby have played has been figured out. We need to become a side hard to beat, ruthless in front of goal and more than anything passionate about playing for the club.
My hopes for this year are playoffs at the minimum and on the back of last year, despite the league becoming the toughest it has ever been I can’t see why this isn’t a realistic target. Mel Morris has put a lot of money into developing the ground with a new state of the art pitch and floodlights. Advertising screens in and outside the ground and developments at moor farm too. Mel has put this current Derby era into a real strong place and it’s now down to the players and staff to get the club to where they belong. The Premier League