Come on Derby, let’s go party! (Season 1, Part B)

For the first instalment of this series check out https://medium.com/@danstapleton89/come-on-derby-let-s-go-party-part-1-14bccff48ab7#.z0vwr0cv0

Season One (2016/17)

We start the season with a tricky trip to Brentford and win out 3–2 after debut goals from Jesse Lingard, Robert Muric and Zach Clough. We go on to win our next three league games and progress in the League Cup after scoring 3 in each game but are knocked out of the cup in the next round by Jamie fucking Vardy in extra time. This loss throws us off as we lose by a goal to nil at home to Brighton the following weekend. From there we go on a decent little run where we pick up 10 points from a possible 12 until Rotherham manage to put us away at the New York Stadium. This defeat knocks us from 2nd to 5th in the space of 90 minutes. And this is the moment that the inconsistency begins.

The ability to look back on this season and write about it whilst being 18 in-game months ahead is a strange one. I notice that from here for the next year or so it is nigh-on impossible to predict how well we will do on any given weekend. After the loss to the struggling Millers we make the short trip to Hillsborough and quickly dispatch of a Sheffield Wednesday side sitting pretty at the top of the table. But just five days later we lose at Pride Park to bottom-of-the-table Colchester United. Unreal. Next is a tough test at the new league leaders QPR and guess what? We win 1–0 after we see out the lead that Lingard gave us in the third minute. We continue the inconsistent form all the way up until Christmas and pick up a mediocre but acceptable 17 points from the next ten games. One of those points should easily have been three as we concede a last minute equaliser in an East Midlands derby at home to Nottingham Forest that we absolutely dominate. That said we do pick up a point at Elland Road, home of the Championship’s newest pace-setters Leeds United.

At the halfway stage of the season I have to say I am happy that Derby County occupy fourth place in the Championship. This position would not only meet the board’s demands, it would meet my own for us to go into the play-offs with a nice home tie in the second leg. Jesse Lingard is my player of the season so far and Muric has adapted to the English game really well on the right side. Ravel Morrison appears to have escaped his inner demons and has struck up a good little partnership with Zach Clough up front. Aron Gunnarson is impressing as expected in his ball-winning midfielder role and Jeff Hendrick alongside him is second only to Lingard in the average rating stats. The back line has been poor at times but Cyrus Christie has impressed at right-back. Ben Mee has disappointed massively and has been ousted by Lukas Schmitz. Schmitz is a player who arrived on a free with no fanfare whatsoever and has made the left back spot his own. In January, I go out and sign James McClean for £500k as back up for Lingard despite his high wages. Tom Lawrence arrives from Leicester on loan and we secure another loan signing in Kelechi Iheanacho from Man City. I hope that both of them can provide good cover and competition for my front two. But before these signings are confirmed we begin a disastrous run of form.

A home victory over Brentford and a half decent draw at the Reebok Stadium are the two results that see out the year but then we go on a run of seven games where we crash out of the FA Cup and only pick up one point from a possible 15 in the league. This results in a team meeting in which I blast the players for the run of form that has seen us drop to ninth in the table. Having been too hasty to shake up the first XI in an attempt to get the season back on track during this run, I revert back to my favourite starting eleven as we take a trip to Milton Keynes to face the Dons. We come from behind to win 3–2 and this win is the start of a five game run where we pick up maximum points. This run features our standout performance of the season so far as we demolish a high-flying Birmingham City side 4–1 on their own turf, a result that appears to start an implosion from the Blues as they lose 12 of their final 14 matches. We hit the heady heights of third before our run is halted by a QPR team who are hot on our heels in fourth. The 2–2 draw at Pride Park is a disappointment given our win in the reverse fixture.

In our final ten games we do just about enough to finish fourth in the final table just three points off second-placed Sheffield Wednesday who, along with champions Wolves are promoted to the promised land. Knowing that a loss at the City Ground to our arch rivals Forest in the run-in is what ultimately cost us automatic promotion is a particularly bitter pill to swallow. But would I have taken fourth place at the start of the campaign? You betcha. And so we head into our two-legged Play-off semi-final showdown with Aston Villa. In an epic, we secure a 3–3 draw at Villa Park but are disappointed not to get the win after a Jack Grealish equaliser in the 82nd minute. But we now know that we are just a home win away from securing our place at Wembley. It sounds simple. It never is though. In a tense game, the score is 0–0 as we hit 90 minutes. And then as we hit 105 minutes too. Zach Clough pops up to score what is surely the winner in the 110th minute but celebrations are short-lived as Adama Traore hits an equaliser three minutes from the end of extra-time. Penalties it is then. It’s a mixed bag of attempts from the spot and ultimately it is Player of the Year Lingard who misses the decisive penalty and keeps us in the Championship for one more season. Well, let’s hope his head isn’t turned by other clubs given that he cost us a place at Wembley, eh?

Not a disaster of a season by any means, but it is hugely disappointing to be so close yet so far.

Elsewhere

Arsenal win the title on goal difference ahead of Liverpool with Man City and Chelsea in the remaining Champions League places. Sunderland are the highest profile relegated side and Manchester United only just manage to hit sixth place after replacing Louis van Gaal with Carlo Ancelotti. Real Madrid are champions of Spain and Monaco pip PSG to Ligue 1. Juventus secure the Serie A title for the sixth time in a row and Bayern, unsurprisingly, top the Bundesliga. The German champions also win the Champions League after defeating the Italian champs 3–1 at the Millenium Stadium in Cardiff.

Thanks for reading this instalment and hopefully there will be a new one posted in the coming days documenting my experiences of the 2017/18 Championship season.