Over the 12/13 season a lot of the fans criticism has been directed at the Derby County defense for their lack of consistency and clean sheets. In this article I am going to talk about the defence problem and address some comments I have heard from Derby County fans.
So far this season the Rams have managed just six clean sheets, four coming at home and two away. The four home clean sheets came against Brighton, Barnsley, Huddersfield and Wolves two of which were 0-0 draws (Brighton and Wolves). The first of the two away clean sheets came against local rivals Nottingham Forest when the Rams battled for a 1-0 victory at the City Ground back in September. The second clean sheet came against Bristol City in a 2-0 victory in December.
Six clean sheets is not good when you want to be challenging for the playoffs, as the top teams in the league have shown. Cardiff and Leicester top the chart with thirteen clean sheets and Hull comes third with twelve. Leicester and Hull are constantly swapping places with each other in the top three with Cardiff flying high at the top of the league. This shows clearly that clean sheets can be key to success in the championship.
This season the strongest back four in my opinion for Derby from right back across is; John Brayford, Richard Keogh, Jake Buxton and Gareth Roberts. The strongest of these four defenders has to be right back John Brayford who has shown a lot of consistency since joining from Crewe in May 2010 and continues to improve. Brayford has been in the eye of numerous Premier League clubs along with some top half Championship clubs and has been subject to a lot of speculation.
Richard Keogh will go down as the main centre back with him being club captain and showing some good performances since joining from Coventry in the summer and really taking to his leadership role.
Jake Buxton, Mark O’Brien and Gareth Roberts’ recent performances have been questioned by many Rams fans. Some believe Roberts is past his peak and isn’t up to Championship standard anymore. I can agree with this because it is clear his performances are declining, losing his physical battles and then making some rash decisions when defending and attacking.
Jake Buxton is labelled as a traditional and honest English centre back by Derby fans with his philosophy of getting rid, no nonsense defending and putting himself on the line for the team. In recent appearances for Derby, fans have said they feel he takes this ‘label’ a bit too seriously, not taking a touch and lifting his head up to see what he’s got around him and just smacking it up to the striker. This isn’t nice to see from a fans perspective.
Mark O’Brien is another Centre Back in the Derby squad but he is young and has hit first team football from an early age coming through the youth system. For a centre back I feel O’Brien lacks that physical presence that fans like to see, for example, Shaun Barker has a presence when he is on the pitch and it gives the players and fans some reassurance when he goes to battle against strikers.
Two defenders that have only recently been introduced to the starting line up are Kieron Freeman and Michael Hoganson. Hoganson was a summer signing from Newcastle Utd and with Gareth Roberts getting shown the red card away at Hull (resulting in a three match suspension), Hoganson got his chance starting at left back against Wolves and has started every game since showing some promising performances. Kieron Freeman was another summer signing but he came from local rivals Nottingham Forest. Freeman was a signing for the future with him only being 21 years old and has made 11 league appearances and 6 of which have been off the bench in a right or left back role.
In my opinion, Derby need to seriously think about bringing in a centre back to support Keogh who is experienced at Championship level and has shown consistency at his recent clubs. As I’ve already said, I don’t feel Buxton is up to Championship standard and doesn’t have the composure to match the style of football that Derby are trying to introduce; Mark O’Brien is still very young considering most Centre backs don’t peak until the ages of 24- 28 years old. He still has a big future ahead of him but, at this moment in time, I don’t feel he is up to the standard physically.
Another position that Derby desperately need to invest in and one that many Rams fans have been saying since the departure of Dean Moxey in 2011, is a left back. Roberts is past his peak now at the age of 35 and, in my opinion, is not a 46 game a season left back and Derby do need to look for a new fresh player to inject something into the Derby back four.
A player like Aidy White has a lot of ability and potential to do a great job in the Derby back four; he provides a lot of support on the attack and then still has the pace to get back and do a job in defence. Another option at left back could be Southampton’s Danny Fox who has, in the past, been used to a lot of first team football but this season only making 12 appearances in all competitions – this could be perfect timing to poach a player like him when he is wanting first team football.
At centre back, I believe Derby need an authoritative figure who comes onto the pitch and has a presence, someone with experience who can play the ball, win his headers and 50-50s. Tal Ben Haim has recently been taken in by QPR after being a free agent and could have been, in my opinion, a great addition to the Derby back four, his wage demands could have been high but to compete with the big dogs in the Championship you have to be willing to pay the money.
In conclusion, Derby cannot go on with this current defence because it is not up to promotion standard, Derby need to show some ambition by spending some money on a good established centre back. They need to look a lot more solid and organised when taking the lead in matches or when they get back into matches, for example, the ’home and away’ match against Sheffield Wednesday and the recent 2-1 loss to Hull City. It will be interesting to see how Derby can handle one of the top teams in the league this coming Friday with Crystal Palace and hopefully show that there is still fight left in this Derby side.
Written by Dominic Dietrich, We Are Going Up’s Derby County Blogger
Dominic tweets at @domjdietrich