Friday 24 November 2017

Erratic Derby behaviour sums up unpredictability of Championship

Derby manager Steve McClaren is focused on the Rams' promotion charge
Derby manager Steve McClaren is focused on the Rams' promotion charge

With nine points between the top eight with four games remaining, it's been another typically chaotic Championship season.

The pressure to secure a Premier League ticket can do strange things to a team and Derby County are a case in point.

Steve McClaren's side should have gone up last term but ended up fluffing their lines in the play-off final at Wembley following an unfortunate slip from the reliable Richard Keogh.

They were on course to go up automatically this term until the last week of February when the train left the tracks. Derby have won just one of their last nine matches and needed a last-minute equaliser against Brentford on Saturday to cling onto fifth spot.

Martin O'Neill was spending a fair bit of time watching Derby at the start of the season and he had three reasons to enjoy their work with Keogh in the heart of the defence, new recruit Cyrus Christie racking up the assists from right-full and Jeff Hendrick continuing his emergence in the centre of the park.

The struggles of the Irish trio are a microcosm of the problems suffered by a side that have the quality to be alongside Bournemouth at the top.

Christie has lost his form since Christmas and, while he missed the Brentford match with tonsillitis, he is no longer a regular starter. Keogh, who did play at full-back in his younger days, was relocated to deputise in that berth, which made for strange viewing.

Meanwhile, Hendrick has only just recovered from another injury setback in a stop-start campaign that has stunted his progress. They are a better side when he is able to advance a pose threat in the opposition box; his last goal came against Charlton on February 24, the last match before the spectacular slump.

McClaren is fortunate that the personality of this topsy-turvy division and the existence of the play-offs gives his group a second chance to atone for their sloppiness. Mick McCarthy's Ipswich, who were at the front of the grid at midway, are also hanging in there following a turbulent patch.

With a number of Irishmen immersed in the battle, the only certainty is more drama. Don't be shocked if Derby end up in the middle of it.

Indo Sport

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