Ollie Wright from Derby County Blog kindly took the time out to help us preview Reading’s trip to Pride Park this Saturday. He’s very happy with the progress Gary Rowett has made in shaping the team, and is confident the Rams’ winning run will continue against the Royals.
You've made a bright start to the season, what has Gary Rowett done to change the side since his arrival?
Quite a lot, with half-a-dozen players both joining and leaving during the summer - and not just fringe players, either. The 4-3-3 formation favoured by Steve McClaren has been junked for a two midfielder system, which can be read as 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1, or just a straight, old-fashioned 4-4-2, depending on whether Vydra plays or not. Adding Sam Winnall to the mix has given Rowett four strikers to choose from, meaning that Derby are no longer solely dependent on Chris Martin to lead the line.
To his credit, Rowett was unafraid to take risks with his recruitment, most significantly by selling the club's pride and joy, Will Hughes, for a relatively low fee to help fund new signings. That was a source of sadness, but it makes sense when you consider the style of play Rowett favours - he seeks a more robust, less fluid side and has recruited two sitting midfielders (Huddlestone and Ledley) for these berths, with George Thorne also gradually building his fitness following a long-term lay-off.
What's going right for Derby right now?
That's an easy question to answer when we've won four games on the bounce and are unbeaten in seven. We're enjoying the rub of the green, with some key decisions going our way, but also defending competently and grabbing goals - sometimes out of nothing.
With four quality strikers to pick from, all with different playing styles, there is the opportunity for Rowett to name a side tailored to exploit any perceived weaknesses the opposition may have and, importantly, to turn to his bench and bring on a player to change things around. We also have a good goalkeeper and while he isn't being peppered lately, he has made some crucial saves to help keep the run going.
And what could be going better?
That's not an easy question to answer, given the excellent recent form. Embarrassing early-season defeats at Sheffield United and Bristol City have been more than redeemed by strong performances on the road since and the Rams have marched into the top six on that wave of momentum.
If we're being really picky, the performances at home have mostly been less than sparkling so far - however, Derby have still won four out of six at Pride Park. We were terrible in drawing 1-1 with Birmingham and many fans weren't best pleased with the Sheffield Wednesday game, even though we won 2-0 (after playing nearly the whole match against ten men). But the reality is that winning renders any grumbles null and void - everyone would take a gritty 1-0 now if offered, wouldn't they?
What do you make of Reading at the moment? Is there anyone you're particularly worried about facing?
Clearly Reading are having a disappointing season so far and I note that several players are out injured, which is of course helpful for us. The statsmen (and they are all men) I follow all suggested that Reading did better than the underlying data said they deserved to last season, so perhaps we're seeing a bit of a levelling out.
John Swift has always looked a dangerous player, but it doesn't take a genius to see that Yann Kermorgant's goals simply haven't been replaced, which gives me cause for optimism going into this game.
How do you see the match going? And what will the score be?
I see this as a very important game for Derby, because they have shown what they are really capable of in recent weeks - the back-to-back away wins at Norwich and Leeds were a fantastic achievement and it would be criminal not to capitalise by beating Reading on our own patch.
A convincing win would send Derby into the break on a massive high, but I expect Reading to make themselves as tough as possible to break down, to try to keep the ball and slow the game down. An early goal for Derby would help to open it up a little - otherwise, I can see this evolving into a tense affair. I'll tip 1-0 to the Rams and hope that I'm being overly generous to the Reading defence.
You can find Ollie Wright on Twitter @DerbyCountyBlog