It was so near but yet so far for Derby County as they narrowly lost out to Aston Villa in the Sky Bet Championship play-off final last season.
The Rams, under the guidance of legendary former Chelsea and England midfielder Frank Lampard, secured their place in the top six on the final day of the campaign with a 3-1 win over West Bromwich Albion.
It was Derby who got the 2018/19 Football League season underway against Reading at the Madejski Stadium, live on Sky Sports on a Friday night back in August.
That game set a precedent for the next nine months to follow, with Tom Lawrence scoring a dramatic late winner in stoppage time as the visitors competed a second half turnaround against the Royals.
Successive defeats to Leeds United and Millwall preceded three straight wins against Ipswich Town, Preston North End and Hull City as Lampard continued to find his feet in his first managerial role.
There were, however, inconsistencies that needed to be ironed out. Impressive victories over Sheffield United and West Brom were overshadowed by losses to Bolton Wanderers and Stoke City – the sort of results that prevented Derby from making a real assault on automatic promotion.
Following that defeat against the Potters, Derby would go on to lose only two of their next 12 games – including the infamous ‘spy-gate’ against Leeds at Elland Road, which would prove to be a major subplot come the play-offs in May.
Draws were proving to be costly, though, with the Rams being pegged back from winning positions on seven occasions. The 1-1 stalemate with Ipswich in mid-February was followed by three consecutive losses against lowly Millwall, local rivals Nottingham Forest and promotion hopefuls Aston Villa.
However, the Rams would embark on a fine run of form that saw them lose just once in the remaining 12 games. That solitary defeat at the hands of Blackburn Rovers resulted in them dropping to ninth in the table, but a 2-0 win at home to Queens Park Rangers on Easter Monday lifted them back into the top six – a position they wouldn’t relinquish.
Despite losing the first leg of their play-off semi-final against Leeds, Derby went onto claim a memorable victory at Elland Road in the return game.
Goals from Jack Marriott and Mason Mount cancelled out Stuart Dallas’ opener for the hosts, before Harry Wilson’s penalty turned the tie on its head. Leeds replied through Dallas, but Marriott, who arrived at Pride Park from Peterborough United in the summer, scored a late winner to secure a 4-3 aggregate win.
Only Aston Villa stood in the Rams’ way of ending an 11-year absence from the top flight of English football. But history would go onto repeat itself for Derby, who had fallen at the play-off hurdle in three of the previous five campaigns.
Headers from Anwar El Ghazi and John McGinn put Villa in pole position to seal promotion, before Martyn Waghorn provided late hope for Lampard’s side. It was too little, too late though as the play-off curse struck once more.
Derby would have to settle for Championship football for at least another season.
Barnsley fans won’t have particularly fond memories of our last trip to Pride Park as a 4-1 defeat succumbed the Reds to relegation at the end of the 2017/18 campaign.
Our most recent win against the Rams came in August 2016 as a Scott Carson own goal and an Alfie Mawson header sealed all three points for Paul Heckingbottom’s side at Oakwell.