Following the dismissal of Nigel Clough last season, the appointment of Steve McClaren took Derby County to the brink of the Premier League. On the eve of Forest v Derby, Ollie Wright from the Derby County Blog tells us what to expect from the away side
Derby narrowly missed out on promotion last season — what was the secret and can you go one better this season?
As both of our clubs know by now, getting out of the Championship is fiendishly difficult. Even spending a fair few quid on players doesn’t guarantee success, especially with the distorting effect of the ever-increasing parachute payments for the relegated outfits – which are now lavish enough to have reached the point of absurdity, in my opinion.
Not only do you need a strong, talented, well-coached and motivated squad, you also require a huge dose of luck, especially if you finish between third and sixth. The play-offs, as we’re all aware, are an almost sadistically cruel way of deciding the huge prize of a ticket to the Premier League dosh-fest; however, they do, undeniably, make for great drama.
In terms of our successes last season – McClaren inherited a very good side, set us up to play a 4-3-3 formation which got the best out of the players and worked the loan market to excellent effect. I personally believe that the influence of Andre Wisdom cannot be overstated – he strengthened a defence that had hitherto been porous, particularly from set pieces. Two players – Cyrus Christie and Ryan Shotton – have been signed to duke it out over replacing him, with the attack-minded Christie currently incumbent at right-back.
What’s the fans’ general opinion of Steve McClaren?
Very good, although it should be pointed out that he walked into an attractive job last season. With a decent squad to work with, and the club in mid-table, he didn’t need to rebuild from the ground up, or firefight – he simply had to make some tweaks to the existing infrastructure. I expect as many as nine, possibly even 10 of the starting 11 for Sunday to be players signed or developed through the academy under Nigel Clough. Nevertheless, much of the football we have played in the last 12 months has been outstanding and McClaren must take great credit for that.
When he took over, McClaren’s reputation was tarnished from his failed stint in the England job (and of course his flop at your place), but he had a considerable hinterland of experience with Derby, having played for the club in the ’80s and coached the best Rams team since the Brian Clough days, as assistant to Jim Smith in the ’90s. Appointing former Derby players Eric Steele and Paul Simpson as backroom lieutenants added to the ‘family’ feel and helped the chief exec Sam Rush to carry off the delicate trick of sacking a man named Clough.
Are you finally reaping the benefits of being sensibly run? Or is there any frustration from the fans?
The only frustration is that we didn’t get promoted last season. It seemed that during Nigel’s tenure, Derby were the only Championship club who had actually bothered to take any notice of Financial Fair Play and that was quite galling at times, as it was a major factor in impeding our on-field progression.
Nevertheless, good things were happening behind the scenes and the big decision taken by Rush to replace Clough with McClaren lit the blue touch paper. This summer we re-signed most of our best players to new long-term contracts and spent relatively big – almost half an Assombalonga – to buy George Thorne from West Brom, in a bid to consolidate after last season’s leap forward. So the fans can see the investment that has gone in from an ownership group, which includes the Canadian oil billionaire W. Brett Wilson.
Season ticket sales have been really good this summer – which of course ramps up the expectation levels around the club (which leads neatly to the next question…)
What are your expectations for the season?
Top six. However, I for one am under no illusions about how difficult that will be. There are plenty of clubs with the same ambition, not least Forest, of course. When I asked fellow supporters to predict their top six before the season started, between them, they mentioned 15 different clubs, which highlights just how competitive Championship football can be.
Until Forest fell away at the end of last season, I was convinced that an East Midlands derby in the play-offs was on the cards. Who knows, maybe it will happen this season instead…
Who are the players to watch out for?
Most of our best attacking moves involve Chris Martin. He is absolutely integral to the way we play, dropping deep to link in with the attacking midfielders, particularly Craig Bryson, who loves nothing better than to rush on into the box. Those pair both scored for fun last season and we need them to be as productive again this year if we are to be successful.
If selected, right-back Cyrus Christie will spend as much time as he can in the Forest half of the field, as he effectively plays as a wing-back – the wide forwards tend to cut inside and allow the full-backs to provide the attacking width in our system.
What do you think will happen on Sunday?
It’s impossible to know with these games. We’ve seen some truly crazy results, inexplicable refereeing decisions, off-the-ball flare-ups, scarves waved, flagpoles uprooted, knees in the back of the leg, in short, all manner of shenanigans in recent years. I am sure the atmosphere will be electric, especially as Forest will be desperate to get a measure of revenge after the last meeting of the two clubs.
It is pretty obvious that Forest have improved considerably over the summer, with a new front three (or four) in place – and with our ‘front five’, if you like, we always have the ability to create plenty of chances, so I am sure that there will be goals in this one.
We’re missing Jeff Hendrick, and probably Jamie Ward, and undoubtedly go in as underdogs, given your early-season momentum and home advantage. However, when you think back over the last few results, it would take a fool to stake money on the outcome of this one. I am hoping that it finishes up 11 versus 11 and we see an enthralling, fiercely but fairly contested game, with no childish nonsense on or off the field.