Following their East Midlands Derby day win on Sunday over arch rivals Forest, and Derby had recorded six straight victories in the Sky Bet Championship. The 3-0 win placed the Rams in the play-off positions for the first time this season.
Two games later, and another four points gained. Victory over Queens Park Rangers and a 2-2 draw with Fulham has made the poor start made under Nigel Pearson seem a distant memory. The Rams have risen from 22nd to 7th since Pearson’s last game at the helm and on the face of it, the return of Steve McClaren appears to be the reason why.
Since the arrival/return of the former England and Newcastle, Derby have lost just one game in 11 with eight victories. It is the type of form that Derby fans have been accustom to under a McClaren side. However, there is one telling difference so far; Derby are not conceding goals.
In recent memory, Steve McClaren sides have been open and free to express themselves. His last stint with Derby saw many exciting games such as the 3-3 draws at Millwall and Huddersfield. More recently, McClaren’s brief appearance in the Premier League with Newcastle saw games such as a 6-1 defeat at Manchester City followed by a 6-2 win for the Toon over Norwich. It appears that the ethos of McClaren’s teams prior was to outscore his opponents, that now appears to have changed.
During their nine-game stretch, Derby have conceded just three goals. With the exception of a 3-2 rollercoaster at Molineux, every victory since then has had one team with a zero next to their name. Uncharacteristic of McClaren’s recent past. However, 11 games do not define a season, and as we approach the midway point of the season, Derby brag the second best defensive record in the league, only behind title challengers Brighton.
The Rams have not been conceding goals all season. Even under the poor point’s return of Pearson, Derby were never ‘out of games,’ they just could not score. It can be suggested that Mel Morris appointed McClaren to address the lack of goals, and although largely speaking, that has been successful, the defensive record has still remained in tack. This suggests that there is another secret to Derby’s successes; Chris Powell.
Chris Powell is one of the most prestigious assistant managers in the Championship. Having spent time at Charlton and Huddersfield, as manager, he brought experience to Nigel Pearson’s coaching staff, arriving with the goal of promotion back in July. Powell, a former defender, for over two decades, played for Derby in the late 90’s and like he did at Charlton, returned to previous employers as a coach.
From a managerial standpoint, Powell achieved promotion with Charlton from League One to the Championship before being sacked by controversial owner Roland Duchâtelet. Powell also enjoyed a spell at Huddersfield Town, but was sacked after just 14 months due to inconsistent performances in the Championship. With a winning record of just under 40% in over 200 games, Powell does not have an all too impressive managerial career. However, he has been a rare coaching consistency for Derby this season.
Following the sacking of Pearson, Powell took charge of two Rams away days as the interim manager. This resulted in a 2-0 win at Cardiff and a tough 1-1 draw at Reading, having conceded a late equalizer. The latter a very impressive point against a team on the cusp of the top two.
With press conferences galore about the future of Powell and the Derby coaching situation, Powell handled himself with poise and provided a calmness to what was a pretty dire situation for one of the promotion favourites. He also provides the barking orders from the dugout under the new regime at the club. Having been there throughout the entirety of the season, it seems he has enforced his defensive experience on the Derby side, whose shape has been terrific at times.
It appears that with the experience McClaren now has with Powell in his back-room, Derby, from a coaching standpoint, are better poised than under his last regime. His previous right-hand men at Newcastle and Derby, Eric Steele and Paul Simpson provided passion and a desire, but perhaps not the experience. With the likes of Kevin Phillips and ex-Swiss international Pascal Zuberbuhler, Derby’s coaching staff has experience in abundance.
Despite their good form, many believe that Derby have not yet reached the performance heights that saw them play at Wembley in McClaren’s first spell at the club. Regardless of whether that is true or not, throughout the season, Powell has installed an ethos in the team which has made them one of the toughest to beat in the Championship.
This has allowed McClaren time to work on the freedom of Derby’s attacking game and has ultimately led to positive results. Against many beliefs, McClaren has installed an ease and confidence at Pride Park yet again, but the efforts of Chris Powell should not be overlooked. With the culmination of a better squad and better coaching staff from McClaren’s last spell at the club, Derby could be a force yet again in the hunt for promotion.