SBW MONTHLY

RANKED_880

Derby County’s first season under Frank Lampard didn’t end how we’d hoped, but still produced magical memories. The Rams’ new boss had to dip into his squad and would use 29 players in all competitions in 18/19. Here, Ryan Burton ranks every Derby first teamer* based on their performances over the season.

Mason Mount – 8.5
With maturity, craftsmanship and dexterity beyond his 20 years, Mason Mount delivered on the pre-season hype and proved why he’s been earmarked for the top. Massively influential despite missing 13 games – the Rams would’ve been midtable fodder without his 11 goals and six assists.

It’s no coincidence that Mount’s January injury coincided with our worst run of form all season. His replacement has a daunting act to follow. Forget the Rotherham hat trick, his box-to-box, virtuoso display at Elland Road in the play-offs was Mount’s season highlight.

Derby County v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
Mason Mount: Destined for great things

Fikayo Tomori – 8.5
From the three loanees, who would’ve picked Fikayo Tomori to be Player of the Season? Only a bold betting man. But as games came thick and fast, the 21-year-old became a fan favourite as he slowly but surely grew into the campaign. With composure on the ball, pace to burn and outstanding bravery, it’s been a privilege to watch him flourish in Derby’s back four.

Harry Wilson – 8
Wilson’s 18 goals saw the Welsh Wizard finish as Derby’s top marksman. The 22-year-old was vital for his goals and set pieces, but Wilson did occasionally let games pass him by when it wasn’t going Derby’s way. However, with a handful of worldie free kicks, long-range screamers and emphatic spot kicks to cherish, we’ll let him off.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST SBW DCFC PODCAST:

Richard Keogh – 8
The 32-year-old has always divided opinion, but even Keogh’s biggest critics can’t deny he put a massive shift in this season. Having played all but 18 minutes of Derby’s 57 games, Keogh’s fitness and commitment can only be commended. More consistency, fewer erratic errors and a Beckenbauer-esque assist against Leeds means our captain has enjoyed one of his best campaigns in a Rams shirt.

Southampton v Derby County - FA Cup - Third Round - Replay - St Mary's
Best Rams season so far: Captain Keogh celebrates sinking Southampton in the FA Cup

Jayden Bogle – 8
Academy poster boy Bogle has been this season’s feel good story. Having ended last season in the under 18’s, the right back goes into this summer having amassed 50 first team appearances, two goals and nine assists from an incredible breakthrough campaign. No wonder the Premier League clubs are sniffing around after his stratospheric rise. Can we hold on to him? Either way, it’s a win-win.

Bog bog banger: Bogle wheels away after killing off Bristol City.

Jack Marriott – 7.5
At the start of the season most would’ve taken 13 goals from Marriott as he stepped up from League One. From deft chips against Norwich and Leeds to inch-perfect finishes at Stamford Bridge, we’ve seen enough to know we’ve got one of the league’s most clinical finishers – which makes his stop-start campaign all the more frustrating. Hopefully he’ll put those much talked-about fitness issues behind him over the summer and hit the ground running in August.

Martyn Waghorn – 7.5
If we judged on the first half of the campaign, then Waghorn was far from ‘a snip’. But as the season progressed, the 29-year-old cemented his place in the side, bagged a first career hat trick along with important goals against Birmingham and West Brom which fired Derby into the play-offs. Looked reborn in the central striker role and must play there next year.

Derby County v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
‘Do you even lift, bro?’ Waggy and Li’l Duane celebrate the Rotherham rout

Duane Holmes – 7
An unknown quantity when he first arrived, diminuitive Duane endeared himself to fans as soon as he broke into the team. Impressing both centrally and on the flanks, there’s a buzz of excitement whenever the energetic American gets on the ball. Certain to be a key figure next season.

Mason Bennett – 7
A season to remember for ‘Bizzle’. After bursting into the Derby first team at just 15, it’s taken until now for the 22-year-old to start to show us what he’s about. From super sub heroics against Reading and Hull to the downright audacious against Wigan, 18/19 will be remembered as the season that Mason ‘one of our own’ Bennett made his long awaited mark on this team.

Scott Malone – 7
Had to bide his time for a place in the starting XI but following Fozzy’s injury, Malone took the left back spot and put together a string of encouraging displays. Goals against Wigan and West Brom along with a couple of assists highlighted his attacking capabilities but the 28-year-old looked prone to a defensive lapse on a few occasions. A solid first season nonetheless.

Championship - Derby County v Wigan Athletic
Scott Malone celebrates the winner v Wigan.

Bradley Johnson – 7
Johnson’s eventful season tells two stories.The first half saw inconsistency and too much bite (sorry) at Stoke, while the second half saw him claim a regular spot in the Derby midfield. An end of season resurgence yielded 15 consecutive starts, some gritty performances – and to the shock of some fans, an extension to his contract (though FFP may have been a consideration).

Kelle Roos – 6.5
How many would’ve had Kelle Roos in goal for the Championship play-off final? The 27-year-old’s transformation from cup keeper to number one was a curveball to say the least. And while the world’s most expensive game was not the best time to drop a clanger, the Dutchman’s 23 other games showed signs of growth, improvement and consistency. Deserves a new deal, but will need to work his way back to number one next season.

Kelle Roos
Kelle Roos: Showed encouraging signs… and then there was Wembley.

Tom Huddlestone – 6.5
It has never been in question whether or not Tom Huddlestone is a good footballer. His passing range and composure on the ball ranks as one of the best in the Championship but his lack of mobility left us overrun in midfield at times. Despite his undisputed talent, the 32-year-old looked occasionally lost in Lampard’s swashbuckling system, especially during the second half of the season.

Ashley Cole – 6.5
Time waits for no man – even if you’re England’s greatest left back. But even at 38, Cole showed he could still cut it. An admirable set of no-frills performances in 12 games made Frank’s decision to bring him in more than justified. A goal at Brighton in the FA Cup defeat would send the Football Manager community into a wild football hipster frenzy.

Tom Lawrence – 6.5
What do you do with a player like Tom Lawrence? Many were expecting the 25-year-old to kick on in his second season, but irritating inconsistencies often outweighed his magic moments. Six goals and four assists are not the numbers of a star man. Thronkers against Leeds and West Brom showed the talent is there – we just need to see it more.

Bristol City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - Ashton Gate
Derby County’s Tom Lawrence celebrates scoring his team first goal against Bristol City

Craig Forsyth – 6.5
Before another cruel injury ended his campaign in November, Forsyth was starting to hit his stride in this Derby side. Four assists in 13 was a decent return and showed that each delivery was getting better with every marauding run. A delightful cross for Jack Marriott in the 2-1 win against Sheffield United was worthy of any highlight reel.

Scott Carson – 6.0
Having been Derby County’s Mr. Consistency for four seasons, it was surprising to see Carson’s form dip so dramatically. The 33-year-old’s campaign wasn’t a disaster, as there weren’t many howlers, but it was clear that the former England stopper struggled to adapt to Lampard’s play from the back system. Losing his number one spot indicates a changing of the guard.

Craig Bryson – 6
All good things must come to an end, and no truer words could be spoken when it comes to Craig Bryson. Endless running and jaeger chugging will always hold a place close to our hearts, but at 32, Bryso lacked the cutting edge and extra yard of pace across the majority of his 33 appearances. An incredible servant… but time to move on?

Derby County v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park Stadium
Craig Bryson’s bundled equaliser earned a valuable point against in-form Norwich.

David Nugent – 5
Nobody can fault Nugent’s endeavour and commitment, but this season has shown his time at Championship level is up. With two goals and as many assists to his name, the 34-year-old worked hard with little reward in the opposition box. A fantastic character and a long-standing advocate of the bounce – we wish Nuge well after his release.

George Evans – 5
Another one of Lampard’s summer buys, Evans’ debut in August lasted less than 30 minutes before he picked up a knee injury. A set of laboured performances in midfield around Christmas led to some more time out of the match day squad. His colossal performance at centre back in the win at Bristol City won him admirers, but generally struggled for consistency and couldn’t hold down a place.

Andre Wisdom – 5
Started the season as first-choice right back – ended it outside the matchday 18. His 13 appearances in league and cup weren’t laden with errors, but Wizzer looked a shadow of his former self when given a rare outing. However, a solid three game spell at left back means he did contribute to some of our success.

Florian Jozefzoon – 4.5
Lampard’s first permanent signing endured a frustrating first season. Displayed flashes of brilliance early on, including a venomous strike against Hull in the cup. There was also a bundled equaliser in the Norwich epic, but a final tally of three goals and one assist shows how quickly the Dutchman’s performances fizzled out.

* Not ranked due to lack of games: Curtis Davies, Andy King, Max Lowe, Max Bird



SBW_MONTHLY_APRIL

April: Rejuvenated Rams roll on as rivals stumble

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…

Back in the goals: Harry Wilson bagged a brace at Brentford

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.

What went wrong? Nugent and co. are left stunned by midtable Blackburn.

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.

Achilles heel: More sloppy set piece defending at St Andrews.

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.

Turning point: Johnson and Marriott can’t hide their relief after Derby won a 91st minute penalty against QPR.

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.

Bog bog banger: Bogle wheels away after killing off Bristol City.

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.

March: From rock bottom to turning a corner…

On paper, the eight points Derby gained in their last five games suggest a solid but unspectacular March. In reality, it was an emotional rollercoaster – even by our bonkers standards.

We started by conceding four, and ended by scoring six. Inbetween there were goal of the season contenders, Frank admissions, and palpable relief that a late-season crumble has been averted.

Midlands misery

Despite three defeats on the bounce, there was quiet optimism before Villa away. The home side had one of the worst home defensive records in all four divisions and had won two in 14. We were due a performance.

Championship - Aston Villa v Derby County
Derby’s shellshocked players come to terms with the horror first half at Villa.

Nobody seemed to tell the players this, however, and in-form, Grealish-inspired Villa tore Derby a new one in 45 bewildering, nightmarish minutes. Lampard at least learned about his squad on that torrid afternoon in Birmingham. Wisdom, Evans and Jozefzoon all started, but none made a case for keeping the shirt and Evans was even hooked at half time.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST SBW PODCAST:

The low point of the season, and Lampard has since revealed strong words were said in a team meeting afterwards. Thankfully, Derby seemed so ashamed of this ‘performance’, it motivated them for the rest of March.

Mason’s magic moment

The Rams’ reaction wasn’t immediate – and when Wigan nicked the lead in the next game, we faced our biggest test of character this season. It also takes moments of magic or blind luck to stop the rot sometimes – the jury’s still out on which one Mason Bennett’s goal was.

His acrobatic, reverse-volley-bicycle-kick defied logic and physics, and still baffles me now. All that matters is that it flew in, the Rams got their tails up, laid siege to the Wigan goal and got a deserved winner when Scott ‘spaghetti legs’ Malone got on the end of some patient build-up.

Championship - Derby County v Wigan Athletic
Scott Malone celebrates the winner v Wigan.
Championship - Derby County v Stoke City
Jack Butland performs heroics to keep out Harry Wilson.

The Wigan win could’ve started a 12-point return from four winnable home games, but we ended up frustrated by Sheffield Wednesday and Stoke, for different reasons. The Owls, rejuvenated under Steve Bruce, played their part in an entertaining 1-1 draw. Bradley Johnson scored for the first time this season – even if he is playing for a contract, at least he’s playing. More chances created meant more optimism in the stands, despite two games producing two points, not six.

Stoke meanwhile, are a shadow of the team who were Premier League stalwarts just two years ago. The unimaginative Potters sat in for a draw, and got what they came for thanks to the woodwork and Jack Butland’s heroics. Derby did everything but score, and 19 shots on goal was a far cry from the zero attempts at Villa.

Together for the final push…

Whatever happens on the pitch, there’s been transparency from the club this season. Whether it’s Lampard calling out the ‘doom-mongers’ or Mel Morris spelling out our financial constraints, you get the sense Derby are putting their cards on the table (as much as possible) in order to foster a sense of unity from the fanbase.

There’s been a particular reaction to Lampard’s ‘negativity’ comments, with home crowds appearing noticeably noisier for longer since he singled out the mystery offender(s).

There was certainly no cause for grumbling in our last match of March. Rotherham, even with their hopeless record at our place, have already beaten Derby this season. The subsequent six-goal thrashing, then, was immensely satisfying for the team, the fans and Lampard (especially after his sending off there in September).

Derby County v Rotherham United - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
‘Do you even lift, bro?’ Waggy and Li’l Duane celebrate the Rotherham rout

There were standout performances across the park; Holmes is one of the Championship buys of the season, Tomori goes from strength to strength and Waghorn bagged his first hattrick in English football. The final word though has to go to Mason Mount.

Having missed the whole of February and most of March, Derby’s ‘caged lion’ ran the show in the 6-1 win, won the penalty for the first goal and tucked away a neat fourth from Bogle pull-back. He’s a game-changer and we’ve missed him massively.

If our rut is behind us, our squad is full strength and everyone’s pulling together, Derby have got every chance in this nail-biting race for a top six place.

This month we also enjoyed:

– Mel Morris shutting down those rumours of being ‘disillusioned’. Media tittle-tattle has derailed us in the past so the fans’ forum was a helpfully-timed chance to nip it in the bud.
– Duane Holmes’ mascot bantz: Is ‘the Scunthorpe Messi’ now everyone else’s favourite player to?

Goal of the Month:

Only one contender here. I questioned whether he meant it above, but I’ve never seen a goal like Mason Bennett’s in 25 years of watching the Rams. Went deservedly viral and got the team back on track too. Well in, Mason!

February: Forgettable February threatens to derail play-off push

When February rolls around, the shudders from Derby fans can be picked up on the Richter scale.


The Rams undoing several times in recent seasons, the dreaded second month has once again left us wobbling. Derby may be seventh, but the familiar February fear has crept back in.

For neutrals, to hold such emotions when you’re two points from the play offs seems overdramatic. But for Rams fans, this is not our first rodeo.

Since time began (or five years if you’re being pedantic), we’ve tripped up at around the same point every season.

Managers, players and styles have come and gone, but Derby’s spring slump has always remained. This undying curse has gone from an irritating guest to part of the family – now sitting in your favourite seat, with its feet up and wearing your slippers.

All the positives January gave us – a play-off berth, FA Cup progress and an overall feel-good factor – have been swiftly taken away by the month that shall no longer be named.

Injuries Mount up

Warning signs were there in the 0-0 draw with Preston. A lacklustre Deepdale display was brushed aside and labelled a plucky performance. A proper backs-to-the-wall job with grit and determination. All well and good against a promotion rival, but against a side condemned to mid-table obscurity, Derby fans can’t be blamed for expecting more.

Injuries to key players have taken their toll on this young Rams side. We could’ve done without Jack Marriott’s niggle or Tom Lawrence’s ankle troubles, but the absence of Mason Mount has been felt the most. The midfield has lost a creative outlet and seems out of balance without him. It’s no coincidence Harry Wilson has not looked the same since his fellow loan starlet has been out the side.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST SBW PODCAST:

Seeing Martyn Waghorn bag a brace from centre forward in a 2-0 home win over Hull City remains one of the few positives. Two well-taken goals – the second a smart first-time finish from a superb Jayden Bogle assist, hinted at momentum which never materialised.

Days later, there was a 1-1 draw at Ipswich. A first-minute Tom Lawrence goal provided the perfect start and a platform to build in, but instead of putting a side bereft of confidence to the sword, the Championship’s worst side gave us a lesson in positive, attacking football.


Cup spark fizzles out

The point at Portman Road would be the last we’d see for the rest of the month. The second half of February was, to put it kindly, a car crash. An FA Cup exit at Brighton felt like a huge opportunity missed.

There’s no shame in losing to Premier League opposition, but in a season where our cup exploits made Frank Lampard’s Derby County more than just a gimmick, the 2-1 loss at the AMEX was an anti-climax to say the least.

Unfortunately, the disappointment continued with back-to-back 1-0 defeats to Millwall and Forest. 20th-placed Millwall have now done the double over Derby – a quarter of their total wins all season.

Derby County v Hull City - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
As good as it got: Martyn Waghorn celebrates against Hull.

As that game lumbered on without a goal, it seemed more and more likely the Lions would nick something on the break. Resolute and organised, their well-executed game plan saw Derby bereft of ideas and confidence.

As for Forest, a generally forgettable game was settled thanks to the defensive uncertainty which has undermined us since August. The frustration at a first derby defeat since 2015 stemmed from its predictability – O’Neill’s side are functional and physical, but not flashy – exactly the sort of side who’ve cost us points all season.

Running before we could walk?

Yes, we’ve been here before – but that doesn’t make it any easier to fathom. The spectacular displays against Norwich and West Brom seem a long time ago – our title as the Championship’s nearly men could once again turn from banter tag to sad reality.

Lampard has achieved great things in his first season – developing youth, dishing out Premier League nosebleeds and building an affinity with the fans – but as a result, it’s made this rut much harder to accept. Fast, free-flowing football has been swapped for lethargy and lack of creativity.

We shouldn’t be surprised by the unforgiving Championship, a league always keen to teach a harsh lesson. Whether this reality check was needed or not, it’s a shame it came during a favourable run of fixtures.

If the first half of the season saw Derby run before we could walk, February has seen some embarrassing stumbles.

The positives? Mount and Marriott should both be fit and firing for Derby’s four consecutive home games in March… and it only takes one precious win to turn the tide.

This month we enjoyed:

Charlie Harrison leading the Rams out at the City Ground helped suppress February’s doom and gloom. There’s no place for bullying in society and watching football take a stand was great to see. We hope you enjoyed it, Charlie!

Goal of the month:

Whilst Ashley Cole’s header provided a glorious mix of shock and bemusement, Waghorn’s neat finish from Jayden Bogle’s nutmeg and cross against Hull takes it. Alarmingly, there wasn’t a Harry Wilson thronker in sight. Good riddance February.

January: Play-off credentials tested as Cup magic continues

January is a testing month. You’re cold, skint and guilt-tripped into cutting out the booze – and that’s before any football.

The first month of the year hasn’t always been kind to Derby either.

Three years ago a winless January cost Paul Clement his job, and in transfer windows since there have been panic buys we still can’t shift now.

This season there was only one league win (in normal time) last month – but plenty of signs that lessons have been learned and progress made.

Derby County v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park

January concluded a brutal set of fixtures where we knew we’d find out more about Derby’s top six credentials.

The draw against Middlesbrough and limp surrender to Leeds showed we may not have enough for the top two – but we’re easily as good as the other play-off contenders.

Harry Wilson scored Derby’s first goal of 2019 – it’s now beyond doubt that his rocket-powered left foot is crucial to our promotion hopes.

Leeds United v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - Elland Road

However, Pulis’s typically stubborn Boro side came away with a point by outmuscling Derby in the second half.

The theme continued in Derby’s next league game at Elland Road, where leaders Leeds bullied us across the park, cruising to a 2-0 win.

When you’re faster, stronger and more aggressive, it makes you wonder why Leeds bothered spying on us in the first place.

Cup romance and new heroes

Sandwiched between Boro and Leeds was another thrilling comeback – the eighth time Derby have recovered from a losing position to gain points this season.

Having gone 2-0 down at home to Southampton, our cup ambitions looked dead and buried.

With Jack Marriott in the team, however, we’re always dangerous – even more so when the mercurial Tom Lawrence turns up too.

The Welsh winger remains a source of frustration. Influential in the cup but anonymous against Leeds and Preston, he still can’t achieve consistency.

Southampton v Derby County - FA Cup - Third Round - Replay - St Mary's

Thankfully, others have stepped up as Lawrence struggles for form.

Duane Holmes, now an established first team player, staked his claim and kept the shirt, having made his first league start in November.

With energy, trickery and an ability to snake past tackles, it’s easy to see why his star continued to rise last month.

Holmes got his first Derby goal in the 2-1 win over Reading – another three points where the Rams laboured towards the end and made matters harder than necessary.

Martin Waghorn also hit the groove, bagging crucial goals in the Saints replay and tricky Accrington tie.

Preston North End v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - Deepdale

Lampard’s vibrant, entertaining Rams might not all turn it on every game (Mason Mount’s form has also dipped), but we have enough attacking talent overall to threaten most teams.

It wouldn’t be January without a transfer window, and Derby’s business showed that perhaps Lampard really wasn’t bluffing when he stressed there ‘wasn’t much business we could do’.

A free agent and a loan may not excite too many fans, but Ashley Cole and Andy King will provide crucial experience for the run-in, extra legs in midfield and essential defensive nous.

We’re well positioned for the last 17 league games – but the Rams will definitely need our talented youngsters to deliver regularly if we’re to extend the season by two (or more) games.

This month we also enjoyed:

More penalty heroics: Five belting spot kicks at St Mary’s, rounded off by Richard Keogh casually slotting into the bottom corner in front of the away end. The Magic of the Cup!

Goal of the Month:

Harry Wilson’s latest left-footed howitzer (this one against Middlesbrough) was a contender, but Tom Lawrence’s long range dipper against Southampton was one of the goals of the round. Just work on producing that every week, eh Tom?

December: Persistent problems… but Rams remain in the mix

BLOG_DEC

Despite losing our wonderfully niche ‘unbeaten in December since 2014’ record, Derby delivered a healthy 11 points from 18 in a month where performances rarely convinced.

The race for promotion remains wide open with our form and fragility summing up the wider picture. Norwich and Leeds had threatened to set the pace and pull clear by the end of 2018, but thanks in part to our own heist at Carrow Road, the top two have been reined in and remain within striking distance for the whole of the top six. The Rams are right in contention.

Our Dec 1 victory over Swansea set the tone for the month with an over reliance on Harry Wilson, a failure to cut out crosses and misplaced passes among the back five. The three points were followed by four more away at Wigan and at home to Forest, courtesy of back-to-back clean sheets, for the first time since the three consecutive wins over Ipswich, Preston and Hull in August.

Wigan Athletic v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - DW Stadium
Marriott, Wilson, Bogle and Mount celebrate Derby’s gritty 1-0 win over Wigan.

For much of December we lost our attacking verve. The tension and heightened importance of the East Midlands Derby certainly stifled the ambitions of both sides’ flair players and we didn’t see the slick passing and interchange that our front five have delivered for much of the season.

An early Jayden Bogle cross for Jack Marriott to expertly nod home provided the breakthrough against 10-man Wigan. Bogle, while still struggling in defence in the wide areas, is starting to get more dangerous crosses into the box and realising he doesn’t always have to beat his man to deliver them. Long may that continue.

Martyn Waghorn showed why so many Derby fans had been calling for his return with a neat finish inside the box against Bristol City, but found himself left out again as the Rams rolled over in a tumultuous second half at Bramall Lane.

LISTEN TO THE LATEST SBW DERBY COUNTY PODCAST:

Ultimately, Derby were blown away by clever, committed opponents and were unable to push on after another Wilson wonder-strike – a near-carbon copy of his free-kick against Stoke.

The defeat to Sheffield United set up a daunting visit to an entertaining, but leaky Norwich City …

Battle of Carrow Road

The post-Christmas prospects looked bleak after half an hour in Norfolk – 2-0 down and repeating the defensive mistakes that have crippled us this season. The Wisdom-at-left-back experiment looked unsustainable and Fikayo Tomori was threatening to prove more liability than benefit next to Richard Keogh. But then came the change…

While no-one saw a Tomori strike in off the bar being Derby’s lifeline, it neatly summed up the craziness of the next 90 minutes (floodlight break included). The momentum swung Derby’s way and by the time Mount netted his first goal since September to equalise it was a deserved riposte following a spell of intense pressure where we finally looked threatening from corners.

Norwich City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - Carrow Road
Mason Mount had a much-needed return to the scoresheet in the Norwich thriller.

Derby were unfortunate to go behind midway through the second half, but until we get organised at the back we will always be susceptible to conceding at crucial moments. Defensive fragility is not unlucky. It is an achilles heel that needs to be fixed.

Thankfully, the staff at Carrow Road were able to fix their floodlights and Super Frank made more of the break than his widely celebrated opposite number, Daniel Farke. Duane Holmes and David Nugent made telling contributions as Florian Jozefzoon and Jack Marriott completed Derby’s most thrilling comeback since that FA Cup replay at the City Ground in 2009.

If Derby can use the Carrow Road victory as impetus, Tomori’s intervention may prove to be the most important goal of our season.

Midfield decisions

With George Evans completing 90 minutes on an impressive return at Norwich (followed by another 77 against Boro), Lampard now has his full array of midfielders available and it will be interesting to see the pecking order emerge through January.

From the little evidence available, Evans brings much-needed attributes – mobility and anticipation in midfield, strong in the tackle and calm on the ball. Evans was a central part of Jaap Stam’s Reading side that were a penalty shoot-out away from promotion two seasons ago. Their success was built on an obsessive (often intensely frustrating, but extremely effective) possession game, which demonstrated Evans is comfortable retaining and offloading the ball in uncomfortable areas.

Derby County v Swansea City - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park Stadium
Another month, another scream from Harry Wilson – this time against Swansea.

Bradley Johnson’s four-match ban and Craig Bryson’s underwhelming December are poorly timed in the context of Evans’ return and he has immediately jumped ahead of them. It appears Frank is keen to explore Wilson with Mount in the middle again, which suggests there is room for only one of Evans or Huddlestone at the base of midfield.

The option remains of pairing the two together in a 4-2-3-1 with Mount, Wilson and one other playing ahead of them, behind Marriott. It would sacrifice an attacker, but free up Huddlestone to concentrate more on his passing game and add a degree of much needed solidity and control. The Rams now have healthy options to discover the magic formula in the second half of the season, not to mention Max Bird and Joe Ledley (remember him?), among others.

Carson revival

Scott Carson’s place should never have been under threat and any calls for a new goalkeeper were hugely premature, but his form has not been as consistent as last season. Combine that with an obvious desire to have a ‘keeper comfortable with the ball at his feet and you could imagine a world where if Carson fails to deliver the kind of match-winning saves we became accustomed to last season, more questions would begin to be asked.

Pep Guardiola was originally criticised for prioritising a ball-playing goalkeeper over a proven shot-stopper, but his decision has paid off and other clubs have followed a similar approach. Keogh and Tomori are often reluctant to ‘go home’ and our play at the back has often got us into trouble.

Carson’s distribution has improved generally in December, and he delivered a string of important late saves against Nottingham Forest, Bristol City and Norwich City.

This month we also enjoyed …

  • Lampard leading from the front in the “desire and commitment” stakes. He calls for it from his players and shows it on the touchline too. It (rightly) got him into trouble away at Rotherham, but he looks to have the found the line now and seems to enjoy winding up opposition fans and benches in equal measure. He’s quick to stick up for his players and Norwich demonstrated the strong team spirit he’s developed at Moor Farm.
  • The final whistle celebrations at Carrow Road. They were always going to be epic after that match and finish (how many times have you watched it now?), but I’ve never seen the players run instinctively straight to the fans like that before. Whether on loan or here permanently, the whole our squad are really bought into this season and want to take the fans with them on the journey.

Goal of the month

From a technical standpoint, Harry Wilson ran his own Goal of the Month contest once again. His first against Swansea City and his free-kick at Sheffield United are the main contenders, while Jack Marriott’s winners against Wigan Athletic and Norwich City were vital – the latter standing out due to the composure needed so late in an emotional, rollercoaster top of the table clash. But Wilson’s 25-yard swerving strike at Pride Park gets it.

All too often Wilson gets overlooked because it’s too obvious or there are so many, but you’ll struggle to find a better goal than that across the whole division, let alone just from those in a Derby shirt.

SBW Monthly: Stop-start November poses more questions than answers

NOV1

The last month, wrapped around the final international break of 2018, was a stop-start four weeks for Derby, with performances fluctuating between scintillating and infuriating.

A second-half blitz swept aside in-form Birmingham, but just a week later city neighbours Aston Villa punished a Rams side who were sloppy in possession, turning us over at home with ruthless efficiency.

Derby returned from a two-week hiatus with an ugly away win over Sheffield Wednesday that will have done wonders for belief. Playing fast, fluid football is all well and good, but in the relentless grind of the Championship a win without playing well is always the sign of a competitive team.

However, days after winning ugly, the tables turned again during the A50 reunion with former manager Gary Rowett.

A sub-par performance – where Derby failed to pick up at least a point having played against ten men for an hour – finished November with a bitter taste in a game fans were desperate to win.

Marriott makes his mark

Two more goals for Jack Marriott this month, now six in nine Championship games – an excellent return after stepping up from League One. The ex-Peterborough man could not be more different to Derby’s last two prolific strikers.

LATEST SBW PODCAST: LISTEN BELOW:

He doesn’t hold the ball up with his back to goal like Chris Martin, nor drop off into pockets of space like Matej Vydra. Marriott’s lightning pace though, off the shoulder of defenders, creates space between the lines for Mount, Wilson and others, and he’s the hardest-working forward we’ve had in years.

Marriott’s ‘fox in the box’ instincts also compliment Derby’s overlapping full-backs and their dangerous whipped crosses, meaning the Rams have plenty of variety in their attacking play.

MARRIOTT1
Ticking over: Jack Marriott celebrates November goals against Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham City.

Defensive woes continue

Derby’s three clean sheets in 19 is the lowest return of any side in the Championship top half.

Scott Carson remains by far our best keeper, but he’s definitely going through a rough patch. Poor distribution and lack of authority in the box are causing uncertainty, and lapses in concentration at the back meant the tide of goals conceded didn’t stop in November.

Do we have the right formula at centre half? Do we even have other options? Tomori and Keogh may be the ball-playing defenders for Lampard’s possession-based ethos, but the return of Curtis Davies seemed a logical switch at Stoke.

Derby County v Aston Villa, EFL Sky Bet Championship, Football, Pride Park, Derby, UK - 10 Nov 2018
Rough patch: Scott Carson wasn’t in the best of form last month.

Minutes into his return, though, his own injury woes continued with an Achilles problem which will keep him out well beyond Christmas.

Our full-backs are also a concern. Jayden Bogle is clearly a talent, but failed to cut out crosses which led to goals twice this month. Scott Malone didn’t cover himself in glory defensively either – and he’s now Derby’s only fit left back. Lampard’s January shopping list may just have got longer…

It’s not all doom and gloom – Derby’s next two opponents Swansea and Wigan aren’t exactly full of goals themselves. Surely another clean sheet is just around the corner.

The Rowett reunion: A night to forget

A defeat by a single-goal margin, against ten men? Sounds familiar…

Despite 73% possession at the bet365 Stadium, Derby couldn’t break down a resolute Stoke, who did exactly to us what we did to others last season.

Stoke City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship
All smiles: Harry Wilson celebrates his latest stunning striker v Stoke… before it all went a bit wrong.

When Rowett sipped his pre-match tea, he may have imagined the perfect manner in which he’d mug off his former employers. Something like this:

‘Take a first-half lead against a sluggish Derby side, then get a man sent-off to give them hope and hold on until half-time. Perhaps we could let them back in the game, then score a winner from their own former hero, park the bus, and hang on for a smug, if deserved three points.’

Now you think about it, the defeat at Stoke had Rowett’s fingerprints all over it – and we should’ve seen it coming.

This month we also enjoyed…

– That sublime piece of skill that saw Tom Huddlestone flick the ball over his shoulder before striding into the final third and launching an arrowed strike towards goal, leaving fans purring. Shame Wednesday’s keeper tipped it over, the spoil sport.

– Okay, I didn’t enjoy the referee’s poor performance in the Villa game, but the near-universal agreement on social media that we had a pretty rubbish ref made for some very amusing tweets.

Goal of the month

I’ll controversially overlook Harry Wilson’s brilliant free-kick against Stoke as we went on to lose the game. I’m also getting a bit bored of seeing him bang in those long-rangers (Please note: sarcasm).

Instead, I’ll go for Jack Marriott’s goal in the 3-1 win over Birmingham. A perfectly-timed run to beat the Blues offside trap, and a drilled finish from a ridiculous angle which squirmed under daddy’s boy former Rams stopper Lee Camp to seal the points.

OCT1404

SBW Monthly: Clear progress and fun times with Frank

October was an important month for Derby. Two seemingly winnable games against Norwich and QPR, followed by three arguably tougher games against promotion rivals.

The Carabao Cup tie at Chelsea on Halloween would be an interesting way to end the month – a free hit if ever there was one but also an opportunity to test our young, athletic team against one of the best in the country.

The context was important too. Could Derby move on from their ‘consistently inconsistent’ September and make progress in the League before our perhaps inevitable traditional collapse in February and March?

Derby went into the Norwich home game having won only one of their last five, and only avoided defeat through Craig Bryson’s 86th bundled equaliser off his knee. Not very impressive. However, Norwich won their previous four home games, continued this form after playing the Rams and are currently fourth. Taking this into account, you would have to say a draw was reasonable.

QPR at Loftus Road, on paper at least, looked like a good chance for Derby to return to winning ways, but sadly ended in a cagey, scrappy draw. The one positive and significant moment was Jack Marriott’s first League start – and his first league goal. He also demonstrated a willingness to track back and work hard off the ball, which will prove essential for the way Lampard wants to play.

Derby County v Norwich City - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park Stadium
Craig Bryson’s bundled equaliser earned a valuable point against in-form Norwich.

The result meant our run was only one win in six and there were some grumblings from the fans afterwards (albeit mainly on Twitter). However, QPR won all of their games in October apart from their draw against Derby. Another result which wasn’t actually that bad, given context?

We were playing teams who were hitting form and, in due course, would have an excellent October. However, even bigger tests were to come.

The Championship’s taking notice…

Sheffield United topped the table when they arrived at Pride Park on October 20, but Derby eventually ran out 2-1 winners. It was a strange game in my view, with Bryson slotting home after a record breaking and frankly outstanding goal after only 19 seconds. Despite the perfect start, Derby struggled to keep possession and string passes together in that first half, handing momentum to the Blades.

The equaliser had a certain inevitability about it. However, two decisions by Lampard ensured victory for Derby. Firstly, Huddlestone was recalled to the side in place of Bradley Johnson, giving Derby more midfield control.

Derby County v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
Off and running: Bryson netted again in October in Derby’s rapid start against Sheffield United.
Derby County v Sheffield United - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
Jack Marriott’s superb volleyed finish earned Derby all three points against the Blades.

Secondly, when Bryson came off injured in the first half, Lampard moved Wilson inside and stuck Lawrence on. A brave decision but one that paid off, instantly giving us more tenacity and mobility and adding to our attacking threat.

The winning goal from Marriott was fantastic – a dynamic, athletic poacher’s goal from an excellent driven Forsyth cross. 2-1 was a great result.

The game at the Hawthorns was an almost perfect performance which no one really expected. Another predatory finish from Marriott before a moment of wing wizardry from Tom Lawrence saw the Rams coasting at half time against a West Brom back three who simply couldn’t cope.

West Bromwich Albion v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - The Hawthorns
Harry Wilson is all smiles after smashing home number three at West Brom.
West Bromwich Albion v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - The Hawthorns
Four goals and even the left back scored: Malone gets in on the act at WBA

Harry Wilson’s latest long range special and a fourth from Scott Malone after a lung-busting run completed a comprehensive thrashing which will have made the Championship take notice.

This was the game where Lampard’s preference for skilful, mobile, youthful players really began to pay dividends. It was an easy win to be honest.

Expectations were high by the time we arrived in Teeside to play Middlesbrough – and Derby were less than 10 minutes from an outstanding win. Almost completely dominant in the first half, we led at half time through a George Friend own goal but allowed Boro back into the contest by sitting back in the second half.

Middlesbrough v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - Riverside Stadium
Sucker punch: Derby were ten minutes away from a huge victory at Middlesbrough.

Derby briefly topped the table at 1-0 up and there were six different leaders that day – a perfect demonstration of how open the Championship is this year. No one is dominating like Wolves, Leicester and Newcastle have in previous years.

Both West Brom and Middlesbrough changed their defensive formations either during the first half or at half time in each game. This seems a clear sign that Derby can rattle the top teams with our mobility, intensity and attacking flair. How many games can we do that in? Perhaps the second half of the Middlesbrough game demonstrated what can happen when we let our foot off the gas.

Up for the Cup

The pressure was off, in my view, for the Cup game at Stamford Bridge. It was gracious of Chelsea to let Mount and Tomori play, albeit a reminder they are playing for Derby for their development and won’t be here next season. The game itself was ridiculous, chaotic, and thoroughly entertaining.

The Rams more than held their own overall and could have at least forced penalties had Keogh (!) taken a late chance or Nugent not agonisingly hit the post. The first two goals conceded were freakish, but still sloppy.

Chelsea v Derby County - Carabao Cup - Fourth Round - Stamford Bridge
One game too far: A brave, entertaining performance at Chelsea, but the cup run is over.

Against a nearly full strength team, including two World Cup winning midfielders, we were always going to get punished. It was one miracle too far – but we came mighty close.

Overall, you have to see October as a month of progress. Unbeaten in the League, four goals from Jack Marriott, the re-emergence of Tom Huddlestone and some bravura attacking performances. The only concerns have to be those woeful own goals and the lack of intensity in that Middlesbrough second half. Here’s to more fireworks in November.

This month we also enjoyed:

– The perfect implementation of the much talked about ‘high press” at West Brom. The harried Baggies defence were constantly hassled into mistakes, it was amazing to watch and contributed to the best League performance of the season so far. Lampard has talked about this way of playing a lot but we’ve only seen it in fits and starts so far. Long may it continue.

– Scott Malone’s goal against West Brom. He made a great defensive interception, drove forward, quickly exchanged passes with Mason Bennett before drilling low into the bottom corner. Not the best goal technically this month or the most significant but a thrilling example of what he could add to the team’s attacking options.

– While I wouldn’t normally enjoy us conceding two own goals in quick succession, the banter about us scoring four goals in the first half at Stamford Bridge, without them having a single shot on goal, was pretty amusing.

– Lampard, just like at Old Trafford, named an unchanged, full strength team in a Cup game when we’re in the middle of a dogfight to get out of the Championship. Other managers might have rested players or seen it as an opportunity to give some game time to some squad players. Not Frank. How refreshing.

Goal of the month

Must go to Jack Marriott for his magnificent match winning goal in the Sheffield United game. A fabulous poacher’s finish from Jack and significant too. Like a lot of fans have been saying, it was a finish reminiscent of a Dean Sturridge or a Bobby Davison (for those of a certain age). Vydra and Martin scored goals, but we haven’t had a striker who charges around causing chaos, while also showing a predatory instinct, for a long time.

SBW Monthly: Magical memories… then reality bites

SBW_SEPT

In August, ‘Flexible’ Frank Lampard reworked his strategy after early setbacks to produce Derby’s best start in seven years.

We hoped more settled selections would see Derby hit their stride – but two months in, the Rams’ results are that pet-hate phrase of fans everywhere… ‘consistently inconsistent’.

September started with a smash-and-grab away win, and finished with the second of two wall-punchingly frustrating 1-0 defeats.

It’s still impossible to draw conclusions about our long term 18/19 prospects, but a couple of kinks have arisen for Derby which need ironing out before Christmas.

Sluggish starters

Craig Noone’s back post header for Bolton was the seventh time Derby conceded first in 12 games.

What’s more, five times this season we’ve gone behind in the first ten minutes. It’s a worrying trend which Lampard needs to eradicate.

Derby have still rescued games from these losing positions, most notably *that* night in Manchester, and the Brentford blitz before that.

However, if we keep starting games cold and having to score twice to win, a top six finish would be miraculous.

Fikayo Tomori summed up the ’sublime to the ridiculous’ September Derby had.

A good young athlete capable of composed interceptions, in general terms he’s improved since his baptism of fire against Leeds.

On top of that, no Derby defender in recent memory covers the pitch quicker. When Keogh’s lapse put Lukaku in at Old Trafford, he ate up the ground in seconds and made a last-ditch intervention from nowhere.

PA-38616241.jpg

For every raking long ball and speedy dispossession though, there’s a clumsy foul to concede a penalty (Rotherham), there’s losing your man in the first minute (Brentford), or failing to cut out a cross (Bolton).

It’s imperative to say, at this point, that Derby concede as a team – Forsyth was flat-footed for Bolton’s winner and Wisdom got bullied by Fellaini at Old Trafford.

Tomori is only 20, and one of several young stars who will make mistakes, as we pointed out after Rotherham.

Whether Curtis Davies comes straight back in will be a big test of Lampard’s commitment to bring on young players.

But if the Chelsea loanee – and others – can cut out those lapses, it could be the basis for a big unbeaten Derby run.

Old Trafford emotional rollercoaster

In years to come, 3,000 Derby fans who made the journey to Manchester expecting a character-building defeat will instead talk about a glorious night in Rams history.

Forget that Man Utd are a mess thanks to two clashing egos. The second best team in England last season had £300m of talent on display – but at times Derby played them off the park.

The 8-7 win on penalties after a pulsating 2-2 draw was as thrilling as it was unexpected.

Manchester United v Derby County - Carabao Cup - Third Round - Old Trafford

Manchester United v Derby County - Carabao Cup - Third Round - Old Trafford

Harry Wilson’s astonishing free kick epitomised the chaos. With everyone expecting a Mason Mount curler, the returning Wilson unleashed a left-footed 30-yard howitzer which dipped viciously under the crossbar past a staggered Sergio Romero.

For technique and audacity, the only Derby set piece which comes close in my lifetime is Asanovic v Chelsea in 1996/97.

Then there were the penalties, where Derby transformed into a team of German cyborgs to dispatch some of the best spot kicks you’ll see in a shoot-out. No Derby fan will forget Tuesday September 25th in a hurry.

Back down to earth

Such an epic triumph was always going to be draining, mentally and physically.

Even so, Derby’s squad depth and the Old Trafford feel-good factor had fans anticipating a win which would’ve put us a point off leaders West Brom.

The resulting defeat – which echoed the pattern of Rotherham – left fans tearing their hair out.

Bolton Wanderers v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - University of Bolton Stadium

Against Blackburn and Bolton, Derby had 39 attempts on goal, but just four on target, along with no goals, and one point.

Lampard’s Rams also have the 3rd highest average possession share in the league.

For all Derby’s ball retention and attacking intent, momentary lapses at one end and a lack of ruthlessness at the other are costing us.

This month we also enjoyed:

– Everyone doing The Bounce. It should be retired after Old Trafford and only used again after a Forest victory or promotion.

– Keogh’s 300th appearance. Whatever your view on him, a triple century of games is a helluva achievement. And while we’re here, 250 for Bryson and 150 for Carson.

– Marriott off the mark: His first goal got swallowed up slightly in the Man Utd hysteria, but we’re made up for him.

– Jody Morris’s Instagram: Just all of it. Give him a follow, you won’t regret it.

Goal of the Month:

Harry Wilson v Man Utd. Lost count of how many replays we’ve watched. All three goals v Brentford had a touch of quality, but let’s be honest – there’s only one winner.

SBW Monthly: Flexible Frank bounces through August

BOUNCE1200

Frank Lampard’s Derby County© have hit the ground running. Four wins and 12 points from six games represents the Rams’ best start to a campaign since 2011/12.

Lampard’s six wins in all competitions by early September are all the more impressive for a rookie manager’s first month – even more so when compared to the eight wins in 29 for a certain Mr Karanka down the road.

Derby are keeping up with the Championships pace-setters, thanks to Frank Lampard’s flexibility, both in tactics and selection.

Flexible Frank’s identity

Under Lampard, the Rams are trying to build their latest new identity. The shorter, quicker, more creative passing game has been well received so far and is a far cry from the direct, mundane, possession-lite ‘Rowettball’.

Derby’s 54.6% share of possession is the joint second best in the division, bettered only by table-topping Leeds.

Reading v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - Madejski Stadium
Off to a flyer: Tom Lawrence celebrates the last-gasp winner at Reading.
Derby County v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park Stadium
Finding his feet: Lampard has had to adapt to the rigours of the Championship.

We’ve always shown defensive frailty at some point in recent seasons, and after the 4-1 home drubbing by Leeds, followed by a chaotic first half at Millwall which cost Derby the game, there were fears that Lampard’s determination to play out from the back would do more harm than good.

However, Derby’s new boss adapted his 4-3-3 formation to include two deeper midfielders, bringing a more solid structure.

It’s no coincidence there have been four wins since and only one conceded in more than six hours. Recognising weaknesses and a willingness to act upon on them deserves plaudits.

Sandwiched between the two last-gasp away wins were home victories over Ipswich and Preston. Sending Ipswich packing was a huge relief and got a particularly annoying monkey off Derby’s back, having not beaten the Tractor Boys at Pride Park in more than a decade.

Derby County v Preston North End - Sky Bet Championship
Richard Keogh nodded in the crucial second goal against Preston.

Preston will probably finish highest from those four sides – three of whom are surely bottom-half fodder – but picking up points with several key players absent, with a side which still hasn’t gelled, is hugely promising.

Derby have found different ways to win, a desirable trait to say the least.

Striking the balance

Lampard has embraced and taken full advantage of his big squad. Eight different players have scored already this season and substitutes have had a clear impact – last-minute winners at Reading and Hull both came from Mason Bennett cameos.

As well as embedding academy products Bennett and Jayden Bogle into the team, Lampard hasn’t been afraid to raise eyebrows with team selection. Jack Marriott’s recent omission from the match day 18 was met with bemusement, but shows Lampard will make decisions for the good of the team.

With a fully fit Tom Huddlestone and the return of Curtis Davies and Harry Wilson still to come, Lampard’s weekly selection headaches will only get more intense.

A chance to set a statement

Admittedly, Derby’s first six league games threw up a favourable run of fixtures, but the unforgiving Championship punishes teams who underestimate anyone.

September provides two home fixtures and two winnable away games at Bolton and Rotherham, meaning that the next four games presents a great opportunity for the Rams to make a promotion statement.

Derby County v Ipswich Town - Sky Bet Championship - Pride Park
Breakthrough: Mason Bennett and Florian Jozefzoon have impressed in August.
Hull City v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship - KCOM Stadium
All smiles: Bryson and Nugent celebrate the league win at Hull.

The Championship is a long slog, paved with twists and turns, but we head into the first international break with momentum.

No-one should care about the league table at this stage, but after six games there are signs that Frank Lampard isn’t just starting the bounce, but planning a promotion push too.