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Aug 6, 2007

Davies blueprint too defensive for Premiership

Derby County looked like earning automatic promotion from the League Championship for much of the 2006/07 season but eventually sneaked promotion via the play-offs, somewhat unexpectedly, beating the favourites West Bromwich Albion in the final.

The Wembley battle was billed as beauty versus the beast; Albion's slick attacking football against the Rams' attritional, hard working and tough tackling style that had churned out narrow wins, including thirteen 1-0 victories during the regular season.

Billy Davies' no frills side soaked up the pressure and took their chances at the other end when the rare opportunities presented themselves. This system worked a like a charm all the way to the play-off final, when Stephen Pearson scored his first goal for the Midlands club in a 1-0 win.

Promotion completed an impressive transformation by Davies, who dragged Derby from 20th in the Championship in 2005/06 back into the Premiership after a five-year absence.

But the Scot's defensive blueprint for success is unlikely to succeed in the Premiership.

Derby's squad may have been capable of coping with the attacking threats thrown at them by Hull, Burnley and Coventry but in the top-flight the opposition are clinical. Give the top-half Premier League teams possession and they will eventually make the breakthrough against a less-skilled defensive team that just sits back.

The Rams' abrasive manager, who was slow to commit his future to the club following promotion because of difficulties with the board, must devise a new plan if he is to keep the club in the Premier League.

It will be the first time the former Glasgow Rangers player has coached in the English top flight. And while Davies enjoyed relative success in the Scottish Premier League with Motherwell, before narrowly missing out on promotion to the Premier League with Preston in May 2005, it will be step up in class for the manager, as well as his players.

Much of Derby's efforts will revolve around a core of experienced players. At the back Andy Todd, a summer signing from Blackburn Rovers, and Darren Moore, formerly of West Bromwich Albion and Portsmouth, have both previously played in the top flight an will be saddled with the responsibility of steadying a relatively young team.

In midfield, club captain Matt Oakley, who played the majority of his career in the Premiership with Southampton, has the responsibility of conducting the team.

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The skilled midfielder, who can pass with excellent quality and goes forward to superb effect, only signed for Derby in August 2006 but proved to be the driving force behind promotion.

He is capable of playing at the heart of the midfield or in a wider position, and provides plenty of options for strikers. He also boasts a long throw as another speciality.

Oakley will be charged with supplying £3.5million striker Robert Earnshaw, who still has to prove himself in the top flight, with the ammunition to score even a fraction of the goals he has enjoyed in the Championship.

Although Steve Howard scored 16 league goals with his battering ram approach last term, he has not played in the top flight before, and will presumably be snuffed out by Premier League defences. So much of Derby's goal threat will fall to the feet of the pacy Earnshaw, who tasted top flight football briefly with West Bromwich Albion.

While the lime-light is on Earnshaw the Derby fans will be hoping that local-lad Giles Barnes can continue his astonishing rise through the ranks.

The 19-year-old is an exciting talent who can play anywhere across the midfield, and operate in a forward position. He has been scouted by many other clubs and was hastily tied down to a four-year extended contract in 2006.

Such is his talismanic value to the club that he was rushed back from injury and limped into action from the subs bench during the play-offs. It was Giles who set up the promotion winning goal for Pearson in the final.

The England youngster was named the club's Young Player of the Year for 2006/07 and even if Derby suffer relegation Barnes could well remain in the top-flight as he is snapped up by another club.

And survival is obviously Derby's target this season.

However, the bookies expect the club to go straight back down and I can't see any reason to disagree. Odds of only 3.25 to finish bottom says it all.

The silver-lining to this particularly dark cloud is that last season Soccernet said the same about Reading.


  • Any comments? Email Dominic Raynor