Time to explore my split personality again (Facing Two Ways – get it?) & interview myself about where we (Derby, that is) stand at the mid point of the season.
Sum up the season so far in three words.
Frustratingly, haphazardly exhilarating.
Has it met your expectations so far?
I expected & hoped for us to be in at least 2nd place by the end of the season. So being 3rd after 23 games & being top on 2 occasions adds up to a satisfying first half of the season, doesn’t it? No, not really. As the games went by, it became increasingly obvious that no team was going to dominate the automatic promotion places like Leicester & Burnley did last season. Here was an opportunity for us to kick on at the top & consolidate an automatic spot.
Well, we haven’t taken that opportunity yet. Looking ahead to the upcoming Dirty Leeds game, we’re faced with a need to keep up with the teams ahead of us (Bournemouth & Ipswich) rather than talking about establishing a lead at the top.
So you can probably see why I’m not content. “Everyone can beat anybody in this league” & “we’re still within a few points off the top & we haven’t even hit our best form yet” are certainly factually correct statements but if results continue in the same vein, we’re going to fall short of automatic promotion at the end of the season.
Who’s been the star performer (so far)?
I would have said Richard Keogh a bit earlier in the season. He quickly recovered from the trauma of “that” mistake in the play off final & basically carried the defence, while having to cope with playing with a succession of unconvincing central defensive partners & 2 full backs who were in & out of form. At the same time, he has clearly been a passionate & inspirational leader & often our only creative force at the back. He’s made a few mistakes recently but overall I think he’s been outstanding.
Another candidate would be Chris Martin, who has again demonstrated how crucial he is to the way we play & looks like bettering his fantastic scoring record from last season. Will he score 30 this season? I think so. I guess, unfortunately, we’ll have to put up with his sulky petulance for a little while longer.
However, star performer of the season so far has got to be Johnny Russell. Since getting back into the side in October, he’s produced plenty of all action, gutsy, goal scoring performances & fully justifying his call up to the Scotland squad. He’s done his fare share of tracking back & defending too. And, above all, he’s been consistent performing week in, week out at a very high standard. Something very few of his teammates can say.
Leon Best is the obvious one here. He’s hardly ever managed to make an impact when coming on as sub & when he’s started (as in the Reading cup game) he’s looked cumbersome & completely ineffective. However, there are mitigating circumstances – it’s an almost impossible job to fill the “Chris Martin understudy role”. Ten minutes here & there, when the team is struggling, is no way to get in any type of consistent form.
Bryson’s been pretty disappointing, miles away from last season’s form but has redeemed himself recently with a few energetic performances & some great goals.
So. Step forward Jeff Hendrick as my biggest disappointment. Aside from a great performance in the Wolves game, he’s been pretty poor. He has all the attributes to be a great all round midfielder who can dominate games & he is an international after all, but when have we seen that this season? We only have room in the side for 2 attacking midfielders – one has to be Will & the other one should probably be Bryson.
Wolves. At the time it seemed like a watershed moment. A free flowing, pressing, up tempo performance from beginning to end. And we took our chances.
Unfortunately, there are not many games like that where we’ve performed at a high level for the whole game. Otherwise, the first 20 mins against Brighton & the 2nd half in the cup game at Fulham stick out as brief flurries of brilliance. We need more of that & right throughout the whole game from now on.
Wigan. As we’ve seen since, they’re a mediocre team who will probably flirt with relegation for the rest of the season. But they did a great job on us & completely outplayed us. And we were still top of the league after that game, which just felt wrong. That’s the worst I’ve felt after any game this season. Bizarre.
Most profound blog comment?
“On this showing, he’s not the alternative to Martin we thought he could be.” (My thoughts on Best after the Reading cup game.)
Most ludicrously incorrect (in hindsight) blog comment?
Quite a few options here!
“Is Leon Best the answer? Maybe.” Hmm..
“I think Jeff will have a great, influential season.” Well, thankfully the season’s not over yet..
Most exhilarating moment?
Bryson’s goal against Watford. You could see him winding himself up for it, we had a great view of it & the Derby fans just exploded with joy when it hit the top corner.
Seeing Don Amott (King of Caravans) in the Directors Box during the Reading game was also a moment to treasure.
Absolutely horrendous moment?
Accidentally catching the 2nd half of the Boro game in a pub in Greenwich (& walking out in a mardy tantrum with 15 mins left) was a bit of a low, it has to be said.
End of season predictions
I’ve got to be positive & predict we’ll sneak into the 2nd automatic spot in the final moments of the season, courtesy of a hat trick from Darren Bent..
I’m not sure we’re going to achieve that without a few additions in the January transfer window but I can’t actually see much movement apart from the Shotton deal being made permanent (yippee!). We really could do with a brute of a centre half to partner Keogh. And competition in the full back positions. And a back up striker. And we need a fit George Thorne back.
Time will tell.