As Derby recover and recuperate from the most brutal of play-off final defeats, there can be many positives to take from the season that had inexorably, inevitably led to the fateful showdown with QPR.
In the coming weeks, as the dust settles and plans for a renewed assault are tentatively drawn up, this season’s third-placed finish can be considered a huge success for a young, potent team with the ability to dominate next season.
Over the past few seasons, Derby have quietly constructed a strong, young squad with little outlay, and this season the fruits have been borne in rather spectacular fashion. If they can ignore interest and continue to add to their current crop, continued success will be almost guaranteed. Whilst many of Derby’s players have drawn admiring glances, keeping this squad together will be vital to next season.
The ebullient, intriguing Will Hughes is likely to be a transfer target for many of England’s elite this summer, yet even if he leaves Steve McLaren can still call on 16-goal Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendricks in midfield, whilst long-term injury victim Paul Coutts will be keen to demonstrate his ample qualities in the engine room.
In attack, Russell Martin has been a revelation, with 20 league goals at a total cost of £0. Connor Sammon, Jamie Ward and £750,000 purchase Johnny Russell have all also contributed throughout the season, and with perhaps another top-quality addition, Derby would have the best forward line in the division.
In contrast to the verve and drive ahead of them, Derby have not won many plaudits for defensive work this season, conceding 55 goals in 49 matches. Lee Grant has the fifth highest number of clean sheets in the division with 13, which is far from disastrous, and is almost commendable when considered alongside this sides attacking ethos and desire to win well.
For such a young team, the Play-off experience will only add fuel to their greater ambitions. Having been in place since last September, Steve McClaren’s positive impact on his young charges is shown by the huge strides of progress they have made over the course of this season, and this upward curve can be continued.
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