It’s time (yet again) to explore my split personality and interview myself about where the Rams stand at the mid point of the season.
Sum up the season so far in three words.
Bonkers. McClaren. Nostalgia.
Even in the context of the club’s tendency to shoot itself in the foot over the last few seasons, the fake suspension and subsequent departure of Nigel Pearson after only 9 league games took me by surprise and made me question why I should bother supporting the club anymore. Despite our resurrection since then, I still think it’s a bonkers way to run a football club.
McClaren? Mel was absolutely right to sack him the first time around (and not just for the flirtation with Newcastle) but his return just felt.. well, right. Who can forget that amazing football of his first season? I suppose having him back just appealed to the idealists amongst us fans. Yes, even cynical old me. But will it all crash and burn like it did the first time?
McClaren wasn’t the only example of our headlong rush back to the future. The naming rights to the stadium have gone (along with a much needed revenue stream). The new recruitment department has been despatched on the quiet, to be replaced by the returning Chris Evans and Joe McClaren. Oh and back came 4-3-3, brilliant results, goals and rising attendances. And the form of Tom Ince and Bradley Johnson. And who knows, maybe we’ll see Chris Martin back before you can say, “We’re getting the band back together”.
Has it met your expectations so far?
Could anyone have predicted this? The awful start to the season. Pearson’s fall. McClaren’s return. The dramatic improvement in results. The clean sheets, for God’s sake! No, I didn’t expect any of that. But it is rather nice to enjoy going to a football match again.
In my pre-season piece, I predicted we’d finish third and find redemption at Wembley. That looked a million miles away after Pearson’s first nine games but it seems within reach now. Thanks to McClaren (or Mel’s decisiveness, depending on which way you look at it). Who’s to say this team’s not capable of achieving or even surpassing what it did in 2013-14? One thing I do know is we’re not going to get automatic promotion. Our form has got to drop off at some stage and we’re not going to keep up with Newcastle and Brighton.
Who’s been the star performer (so far)?
After some slightly dodgy performances under Pearson, Carson has proved to be remarkably solid under McClaren and the foundation of those clean sheets. Very much deserved his new contract.
After castigating this guy for most of last season, I’ve got to eat some humble pie here. He’s done brilliantly since coming in for the injured Cyrus Christie. Solid, reliable and even looking composed on the ball on his occasional forays up front, could he be this season’s Andre Wisdom…?
He didn’t get a look in last season, not because if anything he’d done wrong but because of Shackell’s form alongside Keogh. In he came once Shackell’s form (and ability to pass a ball) went missing. Since then he’s not looked back, has been a rock in defence, has knocked the ball around well and demonstrated why Chris Evans might not be as bad as signing players as we think..
Another player I’ve got to eat humble pie over. He’s taken to the unfamiliar holding role with aplomb and is demonstrably more confident and committed than he was under Clement, Wassall or Pearson. Another testament to McClaren’s man management skills and his ability to get the best out of his players.
This is the Ince we saw under McClaren the first time. Terrorising defences, scoring great goals (the one against Forest stands out) and working desperately hard for the team.
This is a difficult one as all players have stepped up their performances since the return of the chosen one. Olsson perhaps? He’s become a bit of a weak link in our otherwise outstanding defence. Shackell has no chance of getting back in team if Pearce stays fit. One awful game and he was dropped. Thank god we had someone to replace him.
It pains me to say it but Pearson, by far, was the biggest flop of the season. One win out of nine was just not good enough and it was clear that despite his reputation as a figure of authority and a motivational savant, he couldn’t actually get the players to play for him.
I’ve missed quite a few home games this season, including the win over the mediocrities from down the road, so this is a bit difficult. I’m going for the away win at QPR. A resilient if not brilliant team performance but one that demonstrated that the spirit in the team was high and we were capable of nicking wins when not playing well. And we put one over on the faux country bumpkin that masquerades as QPR’s manager. Which was nice.
The Blackburn defeat. It confirmed that we were in deep trouble and the players wouldn’t (or couldn’t) play for Pearson.
Most profound blog comment?
Somewhat in keeping with the standard of my analytical skills this season, I couldn’t find anything the slightest bit profound in any of my posts so far. Perhaps that’s a sign I should stop writing this blog…
Most ludicrously incorrect (in hindsight) blog comment?
“Absolutely the right person for Derby” (Pre-season musings comment about Pearson)
“I think we’ll be handing the Jackie Stamps Trophy to Jason Shackell” (My tip for player of the season)
“I can’t see him ever being able to make a any sort of meaningful contribution to this club” (My overly harsh comment on Johnson after the Brighton game)
“Time to be patient then” (My overly positive comment after the Ipswich defeat. Pearson was gone after three more games)
The calamitous second goal we conceded against Newcastle when Shelvey just lumped the ball into an empty box from a corner. And they still scored.
The Fozzy injury in the Villa game was another downer. How we miss him.
Most exhilarating moment?
Vydra’s goal against Blackburn. The Ince goal at the end against QPR. The artisinal hot dog we had at Craven Cottage.
End of season predictions?
I think we have a good chance of finishing in the play offs. The realist in me worries that the defensive fragility of the past will return and we’ll again struggle to get past well organised defences. Perhaps it all depends on what business we do in the transfer window. Is our new (old) recruitment team up to the job?
What else might happen? Make something up, you never know..
Chris Martin returns to Derby in January. Mel holds an open top bus parade in his honour, driven to the ground by new on-loan right back, Andre Wisdom (using a sat nav of course).
Jason Shackell moves on loan to Fulham in January, with a view to a permanent move in the summer. Slavisa Jokanovic said, “We want to play the ball out from the back and Jason will help us do this. We’re not a train station”.
Mel arranges a further series of mid-season friendlies, all with Leeds, to be played weekly on Wednesdays, to prove a point about something or other.
Patrick Bamford returns on a five year contract, saying “I’ve always wanted to come back here, especially since I worked out I couldn’t cut it for three different clubs in the Premier League”.
A new stadium sponsor is announced in February. The new Fawaz Refrigeration & Air- Conditioning Stadium doesn’t receive a positive response from supporters.
We win the FA Cup against Nigel Pearson’s freshly relegated Leicester City, four days before they win the Champions League against Barcelona, with on loan Matej Vydra scoring a hat trick.