Match Preview | City vs. Derby County
Derby County came back as strong as any Championship team last month, winning three on the bounce against Millwall, Reading and Preston North End.
But heading into this evening’s crunch clash at Cardiff City Stadium, the Rams have taken just one point from the last nine on offer, that coming in a 1-1 draw with Nottingham Forest that preceded back-to-back defeats against West Bromwich Albion and Brentford.
What must be said is that their last three games couldn’t, arguably, have been tougher, coming against three of the sides currently sitting in the top-five positions.
Tonight, they face sixth-placed Cardiff City, and, for Phillip Cocu’s men, it has now become a must-win fixture.
It’s been said in many media circles that if Derby County reach the Play-Offs this season then they’ll have thoroughly deserved to do so.
Prior to the cessation of fixtures in March, the Rams had seen off Play-Off hopefuls Blackburn Rovers, 3-0 at Pride Park. Blackburn currently sit 12th (on 60 points) and are now the final side in the division in with a shout of making it in to the top-six.
Since restart, the current league placing (as of today) of the Rams’ opponents reads as follows: Millwall (9th); Reading (13th); Preston (8th); Nottingham Forest (5th); WBA (2nd); and Brentford (3rd).
Tonight, they face City in 6th. And on Sunday, you guessed it, they host league-leaders Leeds United.
So, ostensibly, Derby aren’t in great form: but there are mitigating circumstances when considering their recent opponents and indeed the opposition they’ve faced (and beaten) prior to the past three games.
It all makes for a mouth-watering contest in South Wales this evening.
Ones to watch
It’s easy to single out Wayne Rooney as a central figure for the Rams. Since England’s record goal-scorer swapped Washington for Derbyshire back in January, Derby have seen an upturn in form which has brought only five Championship defeats (and two of those in the past seven days).
Rooney has five goals in 17 Derby appearances thus far, now operating deeper than what he will be remembered for in a (forgive the term) quarterback role in front of the back four. Former Bluebird Tom Lawrence and the battle-hardened Chris Martin have 10 goals apiece to date, whilst 19-year-old Louie Sibley – an Academy graduate whose red card against WBA last week has been rescinded – has shown promise with four goals in eight Derby appearances.
Leading scorer Martyn Waghorn saw a straight red against Nottingham Forest and thus sits out the third of his three-game ban tonight. Polish international Krystian Bielik and the enigmatic Jack Marriott also miss out through injury.
In the hotseat
Phillip Cocu has been afforded time and understanding since taking over at Derby last summer and it looks like it could well pay off in the longer term for the Rams.
Citing the ‘Rooney effect’ since the turn of the year doesn’t give full clarity in what’s been taking place at Pride Park. A side that had previously ploughed money into big money signings without return now appear to be blooding young talent around the experienced Rooney. Louie Sibley, Max Bird, Jayden Bogle, Jason Knight and Morgan Whittaker are likely to be future stars nurtured by former Netherlands midfielder, Cocu.
Following a career that included over 200 appearances for Barcelona and 101 caps for the Dutch national side, Cocu began life as a manager with PSV Eindhoven back in 2012: initially in a caretaker role and then in a full-time capacity between 2013-18. An unsuccessful three-month spell with Fenerbahçe in Turkey followed, prior to his appointment at Derby County in July 2019.