Can Derby do the impossible and beat the drop in the Championship?: You wouldn’t think at this stage in the season, a team with just seven losses would be sat 23rd in the table — such is the damage inflicted on Derby County after their points deduction. Wayne Rooney’s side have had 21 points taken off their total for breaching the EFL’s profitability and sustainability rules, meaning the Rams are facing the drop despite some good performances this season.
Derby are unbeaten in their last six, boosting their chances in the Championship relegation odds and although they were beaten by Coventry City in the FA Cup, there is still a reason to be optimistic at Pride Park. They have just about lifted themselves from the foot of the table, with last year’s unlikely playoff underdogs Barnsley becoming the league’s new whipping boys, and with rumours of Mike Ashley taking over the club, it could not all be doom and gloom in the Midlands after all. Read on, as we go over how Derby could pull off perhaps the Championship’s greatest ever escape.
Trust in youth
Seeing Phil Jagielka depart Pride Park would have certainly put a spanner in the works for Rooney. A veteran defender that came with plenty of experience, the 39-year-old’s allegiances were tested when promotion candidates Stoke City came calling and eventually Michael O’Neil got his man. It forces Rooney’s hand to play more of Derby’s academy graduates, having already handed debuts to a plethora of young players this season. The Championship preview suggests Derby will struggle in their next run of games, which includes a tough away trip to Nottingham Forest, but should Rooney keep a cool head and deploy his best side, there is no reason why his side can’t take at least a point based on Forest’s inconsistency.
Rooney has clearly had a positive effect on the dressing room and morale appears to be a lot higher. That feel good factor has apparently transcended into the stands as the boisterous Pride Park supporters have amped up their volume a few notches in recent weeks. For Rams fans, having been out of the stadium for so long due to the coronavirus pandemic would have already felt strange, but to return to such a desolate set of circumstances could have easily been enough to stop the numbers coming through the turnstiles. However, the Derby faithful have tried to make the best out of a bad situation and judging on their last few matches in the Midlands, big wins against Sheffield United and West Bromwich Albion, they’ll be there until the final whistle getting behind the players until the very end.
Sides around them
The reality of the situation is that the bottom half of the Championship lacks quality. There are an abundance of sides much worse than this Derby one — even with all their financial shortcomings. Reading and Peterborough United look a far cry from their usual selves and although they may have two games in hand over the Rams, it’s unlikely they’ll savage enough points that the gap between them and Rooney’s outfit becomes completely unobtainable.
Rooney is clearly aware of the size of his task, claiming the Rams survival would surpass anything else he had achieved as a player, a big comment considering how good he was at Manchester United and for England.
“It would be the biggest achievement in football for me, to deal with everything and manage to stay up, but there is a lot of hard work to do before we start to do that,” he said: “If you don’t believe (we can stay up), then we may as well all go home. Football is a crazy game at times, and crazy things happen.”