By Matt Fortune
For much of the season it has been Groundhog Day for those attending Pride Park.
The Rams have registered one League win at home and shipped six to Midlands rivals Aston Villa in their last outing. Picking the positives from their season has been tough but, barring the hammering against the Villans, Derby have, in recent weeks, shown spirit and fight enough to give them every chance of an instant return to the top flight.
We spoke to Steve Nicholson of the Derby Evening Telegraph for his view on where it has all gone wrong, the departure of Billy Davies, next season's struggle and summer signing 'flop'.
THE STORY SO FAR
"I must say that Derby were in a state when Billy Davis arrived and he became a hero. I think they had 14 players on the books. He turned it around in 10 months and it was an absolutely remarkable story. We went into the Premier League hoping that the players that had written that story would show some fight, that's all anybody wanted, a real determined effort to make it difficult for opponents. But it never worked out like that and they have been too easy to play against.
"It is quite obvious; it has been pretty poor all round. We came up not expecting a great deal - 17th place would have been fantastic. To be one place above the relegation zone was what we were looking for. But it has been a disaster and worse than we would have expected. Right from very early on, it was clear that they were going to struggle badly and it was clear that they would be relegated.
"The gulf, of course, between the Premier League and Championship is huge, but teams have come up and done well before. Wigan did it, under Paul Jewell, Reading did it and Sunderland too could stay up. So it is possible. But Derby came up and it just hasn't happened for them. I think it can depend on what you spend, how much is important, but also who is bought. The manager's judgement of players is also crucial.
"I spoke to Darren Moore in the summer. He is a very experienced defender who was outstanding last season and has played in the Premier League. He told me that in the top flight you must concentrate for every second of the 90 minutes. But what has happened to Derby is that they have made some horrendous mistakes."
"I think a lot of people have forgotten about Robert Earnshaw. He was signed for £3.5million from Norwich City which is a record signing for Derby. He has started very, very few League games and hasn't actually scored a League goal. It has just not happened for him so that signing can be classed as a flop. Kenny Miller was bought in from Celtic but his last League goal came at Newcastle on 23 December I think. That hasn't worked out either so you can see that we have been really short of goals. At the back we bought in Claude Davies but he has not really been fit all season and it has showed in his performances. However, it isn't just at the back defensively, it is all over the pitch."
MAN OF THE MOMENT
"The thing about Paul Jewell is that he has done it before with Bradford and with Wigan. No one expected either of those two sides to survive and both times they did. He even got Wigan to 10th in the Premier League and to the Carling Cup Final which is an achievement that deserves real recognition. His track record of getting teams out of the Championship is very, very good so you can see why Derby went for him. Since arriving, though, the results have been appalling. He won't mind that being said, and I think he agrees with it. They have been shocking. He hasn't won a League game in 21 attempts. That is remarkable because usually with a new manager you expect a couple of early wins but it hasn't happened. Everything really for Paul is geared toward next season. Any pressure that comes down on the manager will be next season because that is when the expectation will rise again. The fans will want to see Derby winning games."
CAUSE FOR OPTIMISM
"Cynics will say they must strengthen right though the team. In any team you need a strong spine. It is crucial. You need a decent 'keeper and they have Roy Carroll. If you look at his experience you would think that that area will be fine. They have Alan Stubbs, an experienced campaigner who should be fine, Robbie Savage, too, who can hopefully produce that gritty, energetic style he is known for. So you're looking at a good spine there and from that point you can fill in around it. It is interesting that they have been strongly linked with an old Derby favourite Lee Carsley. He is gritty and experienced and has done an excellent job at Everton."
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
"I personally think it is a very tough ask to come back up. Discounting this season, of the previous 30 clubs to be relegated, only eight have bounced straight back up. That says it all. It is a big ask. The competition will be fierce straight away and it is a very competitive division. This season you can see an even spread across all of the top sides. Paul Jewell said the other week, without guaranteeing, in fact almost promising, promotion which puts more pressure on him. You have to remember that it has been such an awful season this season; they are in danger of going all season with just League one win. The scars of that might run quite deep and it might take some time to recover from that. They will be a new team and it must be remembered that a new team takes time to bed in and settle. I wouldn't rule then out by any means though."
"They are desperate to give their fans a win. They have been selling out virtually all season which considering the rubbish they have been serving up most of the time is remarkable. They will be looking forward and are very eager and determined to give their fans something to cheer. This is their penultimate home game of the season and they are playing Arsenal, who have for the most part been terrific to watch and they would love to put on a show against a very, very talented team."