Regardless of what happens in the coming weeks, this has been a wonderful season and much better than most, including myself, expected. It has been a year that the club has, instead of offering rare glimpses of excitement, took the fans on an intriguing ride that I hope isn’t about to end.
Mid-table mediocrity improved almost each year with Nigel Clough and there was a sense that he was edging closer to masterminding a push towards the top six. Looking back, could he have ever done that push? It has become clear since his departure that Derby required someone to push them to the next level with not only more experience but more effective methods for the players on the pitch.
However, there is no denying Clough’s remarkable work to transform the Rams back in to a prospering club after sinking to its knees in adversity during the Premier League dark days. Craig Bryson, one of the league’s top midfielders, was brought in for around £350,000, nothing when you compare it to the millions that both of our East Midlands neighbours have ploughed into their squads. That is just one example, there are many more successes of players being bought in for little and thriving a lot and there is the youth development, which needs little explaining with Will Hughes destined for the top flight one day.
Steve McClaren has been the biggest game changer of the season (and I’m not just talking about his in-game tactics), Derby are now almost a ready-made Premier League club. Now for the players that have had the biggest impact on a magnificent campaign as I consider my Rams player of the season.
First of all, a word on Lee Grant. The goalkeeper has improved hugely since Eric Steele’s arrival and is most certainly the most enhanced player under the new regime. Craig Forsyth is another to have enhanced his game since McClaren arrived, as well as Jake Buxton.
Now, loan signings have largely been made to fill in for injured regulars in the past few years but this season there have been some incredible additions. Andre Wisdom has been key in the defence’s tightening up and been a menace for opponents going forward and defending in the right-back role. Patrick Bamford has brought his quality to the team too, he has hit some vital goals and, most recently, showed he has more than a knack of scoring, he has demonstrated his awareness and ability off the ball. Also, George Thorne has recently impressed and I’m still in awe of that pass to Johnny Russell in the 3-1 win over Huddersfield Town!
It is testament to the new management that the club can attract and develop such stars.
Elsewhere on the pitch, John Eustace has showed Watford fans what they have been missing this season. A very good signing and integral to how the Rams line up.
Goals, goals and more goals have been scored by Chris Martin, another free signing brought in by Nigel Clough. There have been many calls from fans to the board to splash out on a ’20-goals-a-season striker’, surprisingly one has come in the form of a free agent. Anyone who scores so many goals is always a contender for the player of the season prize.
Furthermore, much praise of how well the Rams have done this season must go to midfield magician Craig Bryson, a certain frontrunner for the award (he was extremely close to getting my award).
The Scotsman has hit two hat-tricks from midfield, a great feat from anyone, yet against Nottingham Forest it has an extra meaning so, Bryso, I salute you for helping make one of the best games I’ll ever witness so very sweet. Goals from midfield, marvellous runs forward, extensive box-to-box running and a never-say-die attitude (remember the Ipswich match!) make the 27-year-old a sensational all-round player.
Having said all of that, my player of the season is Jake Buxton. The central-defender wears his heart on his sleeve and would put his head where others wouldn’t put their feet, but you need more than that to be a great player. Bucko has developed hugely in his time at the club; there is nobody that has worked at their overall game more than this fellow.
Michael Keane, an under-21 international tipped for big things, from Manchester United and Zak Whitbread, a Liverpool academy graduate that was more recently involved in Norwich City’s successive promotions, from Leicester City have both been brought in with the aim of presumably being an upgrade on Buxton alongside Richard Keogh in the heart of the Rams’ defence. Neither has managed to get much of a look-in with the Mansfield lad getting the better of both purport upgrades.
From non-league to Premier League and developing so much would make a great story. Top work from Derby’s ‘footballing genius’ throughout the season and in his time at the club, he must have wondered if he’d ever play for the Rams again when met with a long-term back problem in the 2010-11 campaign.
It is worth pointing out too that since his arrival and including the summer of his arrival Derby have signed Shaun Barker for around £900,000, Jason Shackell for around £750,00 and Richard Keogh for over £1 million all in the same position as Bucko.
Player of the season would be good recognition for the man that has turned from being capable in non-league to being very competent at the top end of the Championship.