As the Rams visit Oakwell tonight, Tom Bestwick previews this npower Championship clash...
Reds vs Derby County
Barnsley vs Derby County– Tuesday 16 April – kick off 19.45
Form over last five league fixtures – W, W, W, L, L
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Since their record-breaking relegation from the Premier League back in 2008, the foundations are finally being re-laid after a very troubling time for the East Midlands outfit.
After a record low points total of 11 in their first season back in the top flight since 2002, the Rams, under the new American ownership of General Sport Entertainment (GSE), had a squad overhaul as they looked to establish themselves as a Championship force – as well as trying to win their first game in over a year whilst they was at it.
Paul Jewell, the then manager after replacing Billy Davies in the dugout, failed to lift the gloom that was surrounding Pride Park, and departed midway through their first season back in the second tier. The vacancy was to be filled by a familiar name. Following in his father’s footsteps, Nigel Clough left his post at Burton Albion in January 2009 and immediately set about trimming the squad he had inherited, as well as an extortionate wage bill, adding an injection of youth, and most importantly steering the club away from a second successive relegation. A slow process, but one County really needed.
Fast-forward four years, and despite still having his critics, Clough Jr has transformed the side. Youth has been made a priority, they are a comfortable and stable Championship side, and still attract some of the best gates around the division. He might not have achieved the success his dad Old Big ‘Ed Brian once did, but he is going about his job in a respectable and quiet way. It has been a while since Derby has had this sort of stability, stability that is precious commodity around football these days.
Right back John Brayford made his return to the first team in Saturdays 2-0 defeat to Blackburn Rovers after a six-week absence. The 25-year-old replaced Kieron Freeman was Clough’s only change to the side that lost to Ipswich Town in the previous game. Jamie Ward (hamstring) and Craig Bryson (groin) have both continued playing despite recent injury problems so could be rested for tonight’s fixture. If that is to be the case, Derby could call upon both Ben Davies and Michael Jacobs to the squad.
Their season so far:
Another mid-table finish is on the horizon for Clough Junior’s young side with their away form costing them dearly in another season of ifs and buts. A pulsating 5-5 draw in the first competitive game of the season against Scunthorpe in the Capital One Cup, not only highlighted their potential, but also exposed their downfalls. On home soil, the Rams boast one of the outstanding home forms over the course of the season as they have only lost four games, and also have the joint third best scoring record. Away from Pride Park, and it has been a different story. Four wins all season on their travels, and also having the third worst scoring record across the Championship shows where the side’s troubles lie. You can argue that if they had held on for at least a draw in most of those games, Derby could have very well been in the end of season play-off shake up.
Who is their star man:
Will Hughes has been a big hit since he was unleashed onto the scene at the start of the season, but after being ruled out with a hamstring injury back in February, all eyes have turned to Jamie Ward to inject the much-needed creative spark to the side. The 26-year-old Northern Ireland international himself has been plagued with injuries, but he is the Rams top goalscorer this season with 12 goals and can play all across the forward line that makes him a menace for opposition defenses to deal with.
Derby County’s biggest win of the season came in their first win of the season. A 5-1 win over Watford back in September was the Rams first win on home soil for more than five months, and Nigel Clough’s side was out of sight within the first half of this game after Richard Keogh, Jeff Hendrick and Conor Sammon had given them the upper hand. 17-year-old Will Hughes bagged his first Derby goal, and Jamie Ward made it five just after the hour. This years Player of the Year, Matej Vydra, did pull one back but it proved only to be a mere consolation.
The King Power Stadium is not proving to be a happy hunting ground, and for the second season in a row, Clough’s side conceded four goals against Leicester City in the East Midlands derby. Zak Whitbread and Martyn Waghorn gave Leicester a deserved lead after 23 minutes before Derby came into the clash. Theo Robinson, who is now on loan at Huddersfield Town, halved the deficit but substitute David Nugent’s late double knocked the stuffing out of the visitors as Leicester moved up to third in the table.
Blast from the past:
New Tykes manager Mark Robins picked up his first win since taking over when he took his Barnsley side to Pride Park back in the 2009/10 season. Rob Hulse had given the hosts the lead, but Derby were left stunned as Barnsley rallied with Adam Hammill, Andy Gray and Anderson Silva hitting back for Barnsley to give them a 3-1 lead. Derby skipper Shaun Barker pulled one back in injury time, but Robins’ side was not to be denied as they picked up their first win of the season.