To the utmost extent that one such as I could ever seek to judge another, I’d be inclined to suggest that anyone who thought that the surreal headline of Derby County making ‘their best start for 106 years’ was sufficient to guarantee not just promotion into the Premier League, but was indicative of the instigation of another golden age of football in the Midlands, was perhaps being slightly optimistic. We know it’s never that easy with Derby.
To take nothing away from the team, it really has been a great start to the season. The opening game against Birmingham City, resulting in a 2-1 home win, particularly having come back from a goal down, was a good solid win. Following this was a cup loss, which does not need to be discussed here, or in fact anywhere, ever, but more important by far were the two away leagues fixtures, at Watford and then Blackpool. Two 1-0 wins proved all that was necessary to put Derby all but top of the table, lagging behind on naught but goal difference, although perhaps a more significant margin in either of the games would have been more comforting. Never liked 1-0 results much; smacks of luck, and anyone who remembers the run which led to our brief stint in the Premiership a few years back will remember that getting there on the back of repeated 1-0 wins isn’t necessarily the most well thought through of ideas.
Rather more resolute was the decisive 3-0 win against Doncaster Rovers. Although perhaps not the best performance we’ve ever produced it was nonetheless solid, and some good teamwork led to the creation and finishing of some good chances, including a good display of ability by Ben Davies. In any event, a recent spate of losses against Doncaster was not sufficient to impact the morale of the team, which seemed to be running quite high on the back of these results, and it was certainly an excellent start to the season as the teams started to distance themselves from each other.
Burnley, however, appeared to be a bridge too far. Although clearly a fixture which shouldn’t be taken for granted, it should have been a win, particularly considering we were unbeaten, they were anything but, and we had the home advantage. Unfortunately a slow first half for us, along with a conceded goal, proved to be sufficient to deprive us of a fifth successive win, although an equaliser, unfortunately almost immediately negated by Birmingham, came in the last 20 minutes of the game. Overall, disappointing, as I’m sure many would agree.
Our unbeaten run this season is over. I doubt many of you genuinely expected it to last, or for us to maintain a consistent top two position for the remainder of the season, at least based on such a small number of games. I said at the start of the season that a play-off position is something I’d take, and to be honest, I’d take it right now if it was offered, but we’ll have to wait and see to determine just how sound such a decision would have been.
On a more positive note, Frank Fielding has made a great start to the season, and has been rewarded for his no doubt herculean efforts by being asked to represent the full England team. He clearly will be invaluable to us this season, and hopefully any experience he gains with England can be applied at Derby, although as always with goalkeepers, the fewer opportunities to shine, the better, I’d say.
So along with some truly exceptional goals, it’s been a pretty good start. The next month certainly looks challenging enough to suggest that the players really are going to have to step up to the mark if they want to come out from any of the games as winners. Both Coventry and Forest away, the next two games we need to play, will be a real test, hopefully allowing us to get a more rounded picture of the standard of football the team are playing. Coventry will be televised as well, so if there’s an ideal opportunity to shine, that game will be it.
Straight after is Millwall, albeit at home, followed by Barnsley, also on the same terms. You’d like to think we stand a decent chance of coming away with some points from either of those two games, preferably max points from both, but I think this will depend heavily on what we get out of the away matches. Going into either of the home fixtures on the back of 3 poor results will certainly have an effect, and to be honest I doubt the Boss’ ability when it comes to motivating a team, based on his previous performance.
So all in all it should be an interesting month, and perhaps more indicative of how we’ll fair in the long run than the opening month has been. We’ll see, but I’m trying my best to stay optimistic, I really am…
Written by Tom Cruse, We Are Going Up’s Derby County Blogger