After sacking Nigel Clough following the 1-0 defeat at the City Ground in September, Steve McClaren’s Derby County have risen to third in the Championship. Ollie Wright from the Derby County Blog tells us what to expect from the home side…
What were your expectations for 2013-14?
Having signed some decent players over the summer, I felt that we had an outside chance of the play-offs, although with plenty of clubs spending more than us on player wages, it would be a challenge. Nigel Clough’s dismissal early in the season paved the way for the appointment of Steve McClaren and his record of 51 points in 26 games has propelled us to third, exceeding even the most optimistic supporters’ hopes.
What is the fans’ general opinion of McClaren?
I think the jury was definitely out when he was appointed – not least because of his recent failure at Forest. However, the club put a clever spin on it by appointing McClaren as ‘head coach’ and majoring on his coaching credentials – which were established during his extremely successful period as assistant manager to Jim Smith at Derby in the 1990s. Despite the title, McClaren is pretty much the manager, although a ‘head of football operations’ has also been appointed to look after our scouting set-up and assist with recruitment.
Until a surprise home defeat by Millwall, the team had barely put a foot wrong under McClaren’s stewardship – the current run of four games without a win is as bad as it’s got, so there really hasn’t been anything for supporters to complain about. The loan signings of Andre Wisdom and Patrick Bamford have really strengthened the squad and the appointment of two former Derby players – the respected ex-Manchester United coach Eric Steele and the popular Paul Simpson, who operates as a kind of under-manager to McClaren – was carefully calibrated to foster a kind of ‘family’ feel. Important, when you’ve just dismissed the Son of God.
Have there been many changes since last season?
Yes. The manager and half of the team have been replaced, expectation levels have gone through the roof, even the stadium name has changed.
Of the team which drew 1-1 with Forest at the stadium formerly known as Pride Park last January, the goalkeeper has been dropped and both full-backs have left the club. Richard Keogh remains at centre-back, partnered by the dependable Jake Buxton. The midfield three from that day are all still present and Bryson and Hendrick will probably function as our engine room on Saturday, although Will Hughes may miss out with a groin strain suffered against Reading. The goal-free workhorse Conor Sammon led the line last season, but has been relegated to the bench ever since the arrival of the technically superior Chris Martin.
What can we expect tactically?
A fairly fluid 4-3-3, with Martin as a target man, Simon Dawkins and Jamie Ward as wide forwards and Bryson and Hendrick supporting from midfield, although the precise balance of the midfield depends upon Hughes’ fitness. Full-backs Wisdom and Craig Forsyth will get up-field and add width to the attack wherever possible. If – heaven forbid – you take the lead, McClaren will not be afraid to go with what is essentially a 4-2-4, by throwing on Sammon, Bamford or Johnny Russell.
Who are the key players to watch out for?
John Eustace, who usually fulfils an important role as a midfield anchor man, is suspended for this match and with Hughes doubtful, we may well see a debut for loanee George Thorne. Thorne has signed a long-term contract at West Bromwich Albion, but we have no idea how good he is and the East Midlands Derby is quite an occasion on which to make your first appearance for the Rams.
Patrick Bamford started his Derby career in fine style and his magnificent, match-winning strike at Sheffield Wednesday was his fifth goal in his first seven appearances. He hasn’t scored since mid-February, but given that his family tree is Garibaldi red and firmly planted in Sherwood Forest, the script demands that he should score on Saturday. That said, he may well be used as an impact sub, rather than from the start.
What’s going to happen on Saturday?
I don’t know, it’s anyone’s guess. When you think of all the crazy stuff that has happened in these games in the past few seasons, it would be pretty brave to make a prediction.
Logically, given Forest’s record as the division’s draw specialists and our recent stuttering form, a draw is the most likely result. Looking at the current table, with automatic promotion highly unlikely and with Forest six points behind us in sixth, even honours would actually suit us fine.
Hopefully, we will see a cracking game of football with no red cards, no histrionics and no flaming howlers from the referee.
And the Derby County Blog is well worth a read.