Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.
With the vast riches of the Premier League now more alluring than ever, few have tried harder to jump up from the second tier than Derby County.
Since Steve McClaren directed them to a heart-breaking play-off final defeat to QPR in 2014, Mel Morris, the co-founder of the tech company that makes games such as the hugely popular Candy Crush, has taken over and injected over £40 million in a bid to reach the top-flight.
Paul Clement, assistant to Carlo Ancelotti at PSG and Real Madrid, spent near to £30 million as he took over in 2015 but only made it to February as Morris lamented a failure to recognise a “Derby way”.
Morris said promotion was not on the priority list but the fact he allowed Clement to break the club’s transfer record twice in one summer suggested otherwise.
Fifth in the table but with their place in the play-offs under severe risk following a run of seven Championship games without a win meant Clement was replaced by academy director and former defender Darren Wassall.
Derby clung on to that fifth spot under Wassall but after more play-off misery, this time to Hull City in the semi-finals, Morris turned to the tried and tested in Nigel Pearson, bringing with him the experience of winning promotion with Leicester City before keeping them up the following season.
Pearson, of course, laid the groundwork to Leicester’s historic title triumph under his successor Claudio Ranieri but while the Foxes play their first ever Champions League game this week against Club Brugge, the 53 year old finds trouble already mounting at the iPro Stadium.
The Rams have lost their last three games and won just one of their opening seven.
Craig Forsyth’s late header in the 0-1 win at Preston North End remains the only goal they have scored so far this campaign.
Pearson has urged fans to stay positive after the flimsiness of their attack was once again in effect on Tuesday night, Ipswich Town taking advantage to come away from the east midlands with a 0-1 victory thanks to Luke Varney’s strike which squirmed under goalkeeper Scott Carson, always on-hand for an error.
“We have been mugged” Pearson said, “we were by far the better side, created chances throughout the game and come unstuck with one shot”.
His counterpart Mick McCarthy was in agreement.
The manager believes supporters are largely sticking with his team but boos were audible at the final whistle on Tuesday night as they have been on other occasions this season and Pearson will be aware, with Morris’ lack of patience already accounting for Clement, fortunes will have to improve soon.
He is likely to point to the time needed to gel a squad that was refreshed late in the transfer window but having received Morris’ permission to again break the club’s transfer record on Matej Vydra, the chairman is entitled to expect a fast return on his investment.
The reluctant sale of Jeff Hendrick, a regular part of Derby’s midfield for the last six years, to Burnley is a blow while the decision to loan out Chris Martin, Derby’s top-scorer over the last three seasons, to league rivals Fulham is a head-scratcher.
Not least because the attackers Pearson has replaced him with, Ikechi Anya, James Wilson and Vydra, scored only 8 league goals between them last term.
Bar Martin’s contribution of 15, goals mostly came from midfield last season with Andreas Wiemann their next top-scoring striker with 4.
Pearson will have to hope for a similar effort from Johnny Russell, Tom Ince, Bradley Johnson and Jacob Butterfield, who combined for a total of 35 goals last term, but he may find that difficult as he attempts to install a more direct style.
Vydra and Anya both met a stern defence and an in-form Bartosz Bialkowski against Ipswich before Nick Blackman was sent on to force a superb stop from the Polish ‘keeper in injury time.
Darren Bent, sent on for the ineffective Wilson, and Will Hughes both wasted good chances as Derby’s attack appeared blunt in the absence of Martin.
The Rams have now hit registered 99 shots in their opening 7 games, bettered only by 4 teams in the Championship, but still only have that solitary Forsyth strike to show for it.
How long Morris is willing to put up with that as the “Derby way” is unclear but one can only speculate on the chilling effect the usually confrontational Pearson has had on his new players.
It wasn’t until after he departed Leicester that the likes of Riyadh Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, Danny Drinkwater and co. blossomed into title-winning forces, free from the shackles of Pearson’s rigidity.
The manager needs his team to score goals quickly for the doubts to stop, it must be hoped that he’s not the one burying his head in the sand.
Written by Adam Gray
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