The Opposition View - Derby
1. What were your expectations before the season started? Was there a slight expectation you would be promoted automatically this year?
I would say there were big expectations for us to get automatically promoted this season after the way we have played since McClaren took charge. The squad certainly seemed good enough, with the possible exception of another top striker and maybe a quality center half. I think a lot of people saw this season to be our season. Even as the season progressed, and no team were running away with it, we thought it would only be a matter of time before we would take command of the league. But, throughout the season we had too many off days against weaker opposition. Keeping things in perspective however, to have a chance of finishing in the play offs two seasons running is no mean feat in any league, and we certainly wouldn't have been thinking that two years ago. I can't help thinking we've missed a real opportunity this season though.
2. What do you think the reasons were for your poor form since February?
For me personally it has to be the absence of Chris Martin. I know that one player should not have that affect on a team but he is so integral to how we play that everything looked weaker without him on the pitch. There are also other factors to consider like the loss of a true defensive midfielder - having Thorne, Eustace and Mascarell all injured didn't help. That then started to put pressure on our defence, which had been muddling through all season. The mistakes started to creep in, which in turn led to McClaren not knowing which combination to play. This situation certainly didn't help Keogh - playing with a different defensive partner each game.
3. If you make the play-offs, how confident are you of going one better this time? Especially as form is often irrelevant in the play-offs?
There are two ways of looking at this. We were clearly the best team in the play offs last season but we all know how that ended. So to be possibly the rank outsiders this time around we might cause our own upset this season. Although the way we are defending at the moment, I suspect either Boro or Norwich will be rubbing their hands together. With that said if we got to Wembley then I fancy us in a one off game, but it's a big if.
4. Where do you stand on Steve McClaren? He has been linked with the Newcastle job, but do you want him to stay?
My personal opinion on McClaren is that he will still be at the iPro next season. I know these days there is no smoke without fire in the media but I just don't see it. Although, if the world really did revolve around social media, then apparently he's already signed for them and our replacement is already chosen. What he has achieved at this club in just a season and half is remarkable, yet so many people are judging him on our last 12 games, which is ridiculous.
5. Which Derby player(s) are really excelling so far this season?
Compared to last season not many actually. Will Hughes is possibly our stand out player who continues to defy his years. He certainly has a very bright future, although how long he stays with us is reliant on what league we are in next season. Chris Martin has again been excellent and is actually my player of the season despite being sidelined for a spell. Tom Ince has impressed after coming in on loan, as did Jordan Ibe from Liverpool.
6. If you could take any Reading player, who would it be and why?
His blunder at Wembley aside, Federici is someone I like a lot. Also Gareth McCleary ,even though he's an ex forest player. Although, I don't know if he's a consistent performer for you.
7. What starting XI and shape do you expect to see from McClaren on Saturday?
At the moment this is the most difficult question to answer, as McClaren continually shuffles his defence around. Rather than the one I expect to see I'm going to name the one I would like to see. Grant, Shotton, Keogh, Albentosa, Forsyth, Hendrick, Hughes, Russell, Ince, Martin and Bent. So that's playing 4-4-2. But if Thorne is fit and as it stands I don't he will be then I would drop Bent for him and go back to our tried and trusted 4-3-3.
8. Prediction for the game?
Being the home team and with something to play for then I'm going to expect nothing less than a win. But if you play anything like the cup game then it might be more of a game.
There are a couple of extra items I would like to mention. Firstly our club captain Shaun Barker who over three years ago suffered a serious knee injury (well actually three serious injuries) thought he would have trouble just walking again, never mind being able to run and kick a ball. Earlier this year he started training and has played a number of U21 games, which is nothing short of miraculous. Sadly, we recently found out that he will not play for the Rams again which is a shame, and indeed many are calling for him to be on the subs bench on sat and play the last 5 minutes to say a true goodbye to the fans. Apparently, he is presenting the player of the season award before the game on Saturday.
And lastly to end on rather a sad note, it was announced that one of our ex Radio Derby commentators Colin Bloomfield sadly lost his long battle with cancer. He died on the morning of the away game at Millwall last Saturday and to hear his name being sung before and during the game was very emotional. Colin had raised over £75,000 for a melanoma appeal and was such an inspiration for everyone. There is a minutes applause before the game on Saturday in order for the fans to show their appreciation to Bloomers. It kind of puts things into perspective.