Derby County’s season should be familiar to us Reading fans. A post-playoff final hangover after a Premier League legend’s first year in management, sitting well down in lower mid-table, and they’ve even got George Evans and Chris Martin in their squad.
Comparisons aside, the Rams’ quick decline has been as abrupt as it has been worrying. To get some deeper insight into it, we spoke to Ollie Wright from Derby County Blog. You can find the website right here.
How would you sum up Derby’s season so far?
Unbelievably disappointing. There are mitigating factors for manager Phillip Cocu and it is certainly not all his fault, but the bottom line is, we’re miles short of where we had hoped to be, with few positives to cling to at the moment.
What have you made of Phillip Cocu?
I’ve just recorded a podcast where we talked about Cocu’s performance - and problems - in depth. For Royals fans in a nutshell, he was handed an extremely difficult task after the agonisingly prolonged departure of Frank Lampard and things were made much harder for him by off-the-field matters.
Firstly, a big decision was taken above his head - the costly signing of Wayne Rooney, who isn’t eligible to play until next month - then there was the infamous and colossal idiocy of a group of his players who decided to go out and get drunk, with disastrous consequences. Richard Keogh was injured and then dismissed for gross misconduct, while the incident will forever leave a cloud over the head of a player he perceives as key to the team - the inconsistent, sulky Tom Lawrence, who has more yellow cards to his names this season than goals and assists.
Summer recruitment, hamstrung by the ‘should I stay or should I go’ Lampard saga and then overshadowed by the Rooney deal, was basically botched and injuries have also hampered Derby’s progress, preventing Cocu from fielding a settled team. He has continued to spin the wheel, desperately looking for something that works, without success.
I feel sorry for him, but at the same time, he cannot feel sorry for himself, because he needs to find a way to dig us out of our current mess. I’m praying that the club is able to find three or four new players to help stabilise in the next window, which could be balanced by sending back two misfit loanees (Kieran Dowell and Jamie Paterson), while working to offload underachievers like Florian Jozefzoon. Selling the one star asset, Jayden Bogle, could be a ‘nuclear option’ to fund improvements.
What are the main strengths of this Derby team?
I’m sorry, you’ve stumped me there.
Where to start? The first-choice goalkeeper at the start of the season has been dropped, having been repeatedly jeered by supporters. We haven’t kept a clean sheet away from home. Keogh has been sacked, while first-choice centre back Matt Clarke is injured. Tom Huddlestone and Graeme Shinnie are both injured and in their absence, we’re well short of experience and presence in midfield.
There are no decent wide options in the squad, which is a big contributory factor to the fact that we are now third-lowest scorers in the division. Starved of creative support from midfield, Chris Martin or Martyn Waghorn toil away fruitlessly up front for little reward, while fan favourite Jack Marriott has largely sat on the bench, either due to niggling injuries or through Cocu’s choice. Derby have not scored a goal from open play in their past seven games.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
This is the worst Derby County side since the Nigel Clough days back towards the start of this decade and you’re catching us at the best time possible.
We haven’t scored a goal or picked up a point away from home in five games since 2 October when we drew at Barnsley. Given that we can’t score goals, there’s no logical reason to suggest that we can win this game.
I would certainly take a point if offered now, to break the horrendous away run of form, but the only rational prediction is a win for Reading, I’ll say 1-0.