So, here we are again; as the penultimate games of the SkyBet Championship season fast approach, an exhilarating season looks set to unfurl in style. Although the Birmingham survival antics of 2014 will not be repeated at the bottom, the race at the top looks set to end in the most dramatic style in recent memory. With the top three separated by two goals, and Cardiff traveling to Hillsborough this weekend to take the play-off fight to the final day, the neutral can’t look away, the fans simply can’t look.
Brighton and Hove Albion are the ‘surprise’ package of this season. I say ‘surprise’ lightly as the Burnley of 2014 and Bournemouth of last year suggest that almost every season in the Championship, a team that were thought of having nothing more than mid-table ability in pre-season, show up to throw egg on a sports pundit’s face. Chris Hughton’s side find themselves one of the three on 87 points with two season-defining games remaining. A lot look to the final game for Albion; an away day at second placed Boro, that is posed to be a ‘winner takes all game,’ however before that, they have the small matter of Derby County to attend to.
After an impressive 3-2 win at Ashton Gate against in-form Bristol City last Tuesday night, Derby confirmed themselves a play-off place in their hunt for the promise land. A late Darren Bent equaliser on Saturday against fellow play-off rivals Sheffield Wednesday also looks to have all but confirmed a top five finish for the Rams, and with that, a play-off semi-final with Steve Bruce’s Hull City. Derby appear to have hit form at the right time, after stuttering their way through March, the collapse of last season lay worryingly at the back of any Rams fans head, but the downfall has been stemmed, and hope reinstated at the iPro.
Derby will look to throw a spanner in to the works of the Seagulls’ automatic promotion push on Monday and build on a rare away win in Bristol. The Rams’ last encounter with the ‘Guls lead to an enthralling 2-2 draw in December, after Chris Martin equalised from the penalty spot late on to secure what; at the time, seemed like a crucial point in the challenge for top spot, but this season has been another all too familiar story for Derby. The Rams, who again were top at Christmas, saw a slide down the table reminiscent of last season and a slide which can only really be matched by their East Midlands rivals Forest. One might suggest that perhaps that is ‘the Derby way’? However, this time, there was a glitch in the story, with the appointment of football advisor Harry Redknapp to assist Darren Wassall in stopping the Derby hemorrhage. So, what do we expect from Derby on Monday?
That is an incredibly difficult question to answer. I would like to believe Derby treat the trip to the Amex as a play-off warm-up, after-all, especially if Derby were to get a result on Monday, it could very well be that this is a dress rehearsal for the final on 28th May. Derby have no pressure on them, which one could argue should thus allows the Rams to play with freedom – a freedom which the iPro saw not so long ago in wins against Bolton and Hull. Brighton meanwhile will have all the pressure as I feel this is a must win for them to take as much pressure as they can from the decider at the Riverside the following week. However, there are so many questions for Derby ahead of this game.
Who should the Rams boss select to play in their starting eleven? Derby want to have the best squad available to them in the play-offs. We know that Jeff Hendrick and Bradley Johnson will not return to action until then anyway, but should a healthy George Thorne be forced to the sidelines again and should Chris Martin and Craig Bryson follow him? Or, should Derby allow their pivotal players to gain more momentum? Is it important Derby do all they can to finish 4th to be at home second in the play-offs semis? I would like to think that all of these questions are being closely considered by Redknapp and Wassall, while also hoping that The Rams give a good account of themselves on national television again on Monday.
Speaking from the recollection of our year that never was in 2014, I would argue that momentum is vital in the build up to the play-offs. That year where Derby were the third best team in the championship, that moment before Richard Keogh passed the ball to one of only ten Rangers players; Bobby Zamora, at Wembley. Yes, well, that year Derby won nine of their last ten games
before the play-offs and that was followed by a 6-2 aggregate win against Brighton. I would like to think Derby go to Brighton and get a result, followed by a win against Ipswich on the final day.
The play-offs are a lottery which Derby find themselves in. In order to best prepare for that highly pressurised situation, I believe that Derby need to go in with momentum. A defeat against Brighton would not be disastrous as it is a difficult game which The Seagulls will want more than Derby, however the Rams fielding a disjointed team for the sake of resting players will be disastrous in my opinion. Allowing players to gain momentum and perform in big games such as Brighton is the tried and tested way of 2014 to prepare for the Play-offs and Wembley.
By Cameron Storer
Do you think that Derby County will have a successful run in the Play-offs this time around and gain promotion to the Premier League in dramatic style? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below.
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