The run-in does funny things to football teams. Just weeks ago, Derby’s season seemed destined to end at 46 games. But in a month where other teams felt the pressure, the Rams found themselves back in pole position for another crack at the play-off gauntlet.
And in a month that has seen us rediscover our goal scoring touch, secure three clean sheets and dig out results when it mattered most – we head to the campaign’s close as the makers of our own destiny.
More bumps on the road
After hitting Rotherham for six, Brentford were the next victims of Derby’s newfound clinical edge. Unfortunately, defensive wobbles remained and we were all too happy to return the favour in the 3-3 Griffin Park thriller.
Though a great advert for Championship football, the two teams’ lack of defensive basics – and Derby squandering the lead three times – meant a single point was a tough one to take. However, rivals’ performances away at Brentford would show that perhaps it wasn’t the worst result after all…
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Harry Wilson was back amongst the goals with a well-taken brace, while Jayden Bogle first professional goal was another landmark moment in his rapid development (more on him later…).
Sadly just days later at Blackburn, Derby’s attacking flair deserted them in a winnable fixture which instead produced one shot on target, two goals conceded and a morale-sapping 2-0 defeat.
Midtable Rovers, in woeful form themselves, battered Derby with 23 attempts on goal, leaving Rams fans wondering if Lampard’s fledging squad had the ‘cojones’ and desire to sustain a top six challenge. The rest of April gave an emphatic answer.
Another Mason Mount masterclass
Thankfully, the fixture gods smiled on Derby and presented Lampard’s men with an immediate chance to bounce back against battered, bruised and beleaguered Bolton. For 35 minutes Phil Parkinson’s men frustrated the Rams – before a future England midfielder proved the difference.
Mason Mount’s hat trick in our 4-0 victory not only showcased his eye for goal but also affirmed his importance to the team. In a season of multiple ‘what ifs’, you can’t help but wonder how much better off we’d be if he didn’t succumb to that injury at Accrington.
Garry Monk’s Birmingham City were up next and we headed to St. Andrews with renewed vigour. Backed out by a sold-out away end, the Rams fought back twice for a 2-2 draw – albeit conceding twice from our defensive Achilles heel: crosses and set pieces.
A majestic lob from Martyn ‘snip at £5 million’ Waghorn and a towering Keogh header were two fantastically taken goals. Our inability to defend crosses and deal with the more physical, direct teams, however, is still a cause for concern.
Fans feared the worst for Derby’s top six chances after this result, but later April performances would make up for these ‘two points dropped’.
How’s your bottle?
If we are to be looking back at a glorious promotion campaign come May, the 2-0 win over QPR will stand out as a defining moment. Poetic justice saw QPR’s shameless time-wasting punished with nine minutes of second half injury time – in which Derby scored twice to poach three points they may not have deserved.
The Hoops conceded a clumsy penalty in the 91st minute, which Harry Wilson showed huge bottle to convert left-footed, before calamitous defending allowed Jack Marriott to tee up Wilson in the 101st minute for the killer second, causing Pride Park pandemonium.
A major criticism of Derby in recent years has been our inability to turn up in the big games. So it was great to see us show our even more bottle in a magnificent 2-0 win at Bristol City. With both teams vying for sixth and defeat all but confirming another season in the Championship, there was plenty riding on April’s final fixture.
A controversial red card for the Robins may have helped, but Derby dug deep to grind out a monumental victory. We also kept our first back-to-back clean sheets since February, thanks in part to a colossal cameo from George Evans – filling in at centre back and playing for the first time since the embarrassment at Villa.
Derby fans had hearts in mouths when Evans replaced the injured Fik Tomori, but what followed was a composed display that – dare we say – Igor would’ve been proud of.
One win from our final two games in May should seal our place in the top six, and after picking up form at the perfect time, our rollercoaster season could once more be set for more twists and turns in the play-offs. Whatever the outcome, 2018/19 has been one hell of a ride!
This month we also enjoyed…
‘The Lampard Bounce’ in Bristol – a deserving reward for Derby’s loyal away following. The reason we all turn up every week.
Mason Bennett laying the smack down – amid the excitement of Jayden Bogle’s goal at Ashton Gate, it all got a bit too much young Mason. So much so, one pitch-invading fan ended up getting the spear. Bizzle and Waghorn would make a great tag-team!
Goal of the month:
Jayden Bogle’s decider at Ashton Gate – the through ball from Mount, the disguised pull-back from Bennett, and the sprint, touch and finish from Derby’s breakthrough academy star. A devastating team move.