Derby County are coming towards the end of their 12th consecutive season in the Sky Bet Championship, but the Rams have continually found themselves as top six contenders throughout as they look to return to the top flight.
Last season’s beaten Play-Off finalists had a point to prove after Frank Lampard’s solitary season in charge, with another decorated former player, Phillip Cocu, taking the managerial reins at Pride Park prior to the 2019-20 campaign.
Although the Rams sit 12th as the league table stands, their highest league position since August, they are in a packed fight for the Play-Offs - sitting just three points behind sixth-placed Preston North End.
Derby still have plenty to play for in the remaining eight games of the season, so let’s take a look at how their fortunes have panned out so far…
Steady start at Pride Park
Having had the disappointment of missing out on Premier League football last term, the Rams started this season with six draws in their opening 10 matches to provide a solid if unspectacular base for the campaign ahead.
Tom Lawrence nets his second of the game against Huddersfield on the opening weekend
Within that, though, strikers Martyn Waghorn and Chris Martin started the season well. Both are now up to double figures in front of goal, with Martin in particular chipping in with seven further assists.
While not flirting with the danger zone in the Championship table, a seven-game run without a win in November and December left the Rams in need of a change of fortune, having sat in 18th place at the season’s halfway point, 12 points behind the Play-Off places.
A festive flurry of points
A run of six wins in eight matches would propel the Rams closer to the teams above them in the table, bolstered by the signing of England’s record goalscorer, Wayne Rooney, as a Derby player - having taken the captain’s armband at Pride Park after his high-profile arrival in the East Midlands on New Year’s Day, and is now being used primarily as a central midfielder.
Wayne Rooney remonstrates on his Derby debut
Supplementing the Rams’ league form would be a run to the Fifth Round of the Emirates FA Cup, taking a Premier League scalp on the way as they overcame Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park. Rooney and his new teammates could not overcome his former club however, with Manchester United advancing to the last eight prior to lockdown.
Back-to-back wins before football’s suspension put the Rams in the top half of the table for the first time since the season’s beginning, within striking distance of the top six.
Sibley stars in Rams return
Eyebrows were raised last weekend as Derby returned from lockdown, with the Rams picking up where they left off by earning their third consecutive Championship victory (albeit 105 days since their last).
They came from behind to earn a 3-2 win away at fellow Play-Off chasers Millwall at The Den, with all three goals coming courtesy of England U19 international attacking midfielder, Louie Sibley.
Sibley made his senior debut for the Rams at Madejski Stadium back in December, as he came off the bench on a difficult afternoon for Derby, with the Royals running out comfortable 3-0 winners after Scott Malone’s early red card.
Louis Sibley completes his hat-trick last weekend
The quality of his hat-trick belied his experience, with the 18-year-old shrugging off his marker to fire left-footed into the top corner. He then followed it up with a fine right-footed finish after latching onto a Martyn Waghorn through-ball, before earning the match ball with a deftly placed slotted strike into Bartosz Bialkowski’s bottom left corner.
A couple of former Royals could be involved against their former side this weekend, with Academy graduate, Ben Hamer having started in goal, and George Evans and Martin coming off the bench against Millwall.
How they last lined up…
Derby County: Hamer, Bogle (Davies 76), Wisdom, Clarke, Forsyth, Rooney (Martin 85), Bird (Evans 85), Holmes (Knight 62), Sibley, Lawrence, Waghorn (Shinnie 76).
Unused subs: Roos, Jozefzoon, Lowe, Whittaker.