Derby County kicked off their preseason campaign on Tuesday night with a comfortable 4-0 win over Kidderminster. First half goals from David Nugent, Craig Bryson and Chris Martin were complemented by a second half header from Darren Bent, in a game which saw Rams boss Gary Rowett field two different XIs in each half.
In an interview with the Derby Telegraph, Rowett stated he was “really pleased” with the performance, particularly in the first half. The Rams gaffer went on to praise the “energy” and the “brilliant runs” that forwards Martin and Nugent provided.
Although somewhat withdrawn from praising the second half performance, Rowett played down the opening fixture by suggesting “match exposure and exercise” were more important than the result itself. However the fixture did bring eye-opening performances to Rams fans who, for the first time, saw a Rowett side prepare for a new season.
There were lots of positives on the night for Derby. New signings Curtis Davies and Andre Wisdom both featured in the game, to intrigue the 488 travelling away supporters. Furthermore, youngsters Mason Bennett, Jamie Hanson and Derby Under-23 player of the year Callum MacDonald collected a lot of positive attention from the gaffer and fans alike.
It was also pleasing for Rams fans to see Craig Forsyth and Chris Martin on the pitch again, after turbulent seasons for both. However, with the departure of Will Hughes and Thomas Ince, there seemed to be something missing at the Aggborough stadium, something Gary Rowett wants to address.
In several interviews with the Derby Telegraph and BBC Radio Derby, Rowett has continuously stated the Rams intent to land new signings. One target linked heavily with Derby, is Leicester City midfielder Tom Lawrence. The Sun on Sunday reported that Derby were ‘eyeing up’ a £7 million offer for the 23-year-old.
To further strengthen the link, Bet Victor slashed their odds to make Derby even favourites to land Lawrence, who had an eye-opening season last year in the Championship, scoring 11 times in 36 games for a 16th placed Ipswich Town. Speaking about Lawrence, to the Derby Telegraph, Rowett stated: “He is a good player…whether or not we are interested…wouldn’t be fair for me to comment…but we have some good targets.”
Lawrence would appear to be a like-for-like addition to the Derby squad to fill the void left by the departure of Ince to Huddersfield Town. The Rams are arguably more interested in adding the Foxes midfielder after an Evening Standard report revealed Brentford manager Dean Smith ruled out a Championship switch for Jota due to an “imminent Premier league bid”.
The Spanish winger was once a heavily rumoured target for the Rams by the Derby Telegraph, but Smith compared Jota’s relationship to John Terry at Chelsea, as he suggested that Jota would not want to play in the Championship, due to his relations with Brentford.
However, if the Rams’ trip to Kidderminster is anything to go off, it appears the club need for an out-and-out winger, to replace Ince, is not as vital as it first appeared. Derby played with a 4-2-3-1 formation in both halves of their opening preseason fixture. Ince would normally have been a fit in the three attacking midfielders, behind the lone striker, in this formation.
Derby saw Mason Bennett, David Nugent, Johnny Russell, Andres Weimann, Nick Blackman and Matej Vydra play across the three over the 90 mins. With Derby’s youngster Bennett a hot prospect, and five established Championship players, is there a need to splash the cash on Lawrence, a man who has had one solid season in the division?
One position Derby would undeniably needed to attain was that of a holding midfielder. Bradley Johnson was a mainstay in the position last season. However, with Rowetts 4-2-3-1 formation, Johnson requires an accomplice. Although Will Hughes was not a holding midfielder, per say, the now-Watford signee played their on numerous occasions to help the injury stricken George Thorne.
Youngster Jamie Hanson has filled in this role on few occasions, including the 2nd half at Kidderminster, but his inexperience did show on a couple of occasions last season, before a departure on loan to relegated Wigan Athletic. With Jason Butterfield and Bryson both spending time at holding midfield in their Derby careers no-one has really locked down the position beside Johnson.
According to the Daily Mail, Derby were linked with Premier League veteran Glenn Whelan to address this problem. Those rumours have since fallen quiet due to interest shown from Aston Villa and Premier League side Burnley. Instead, the Rams went ahead a completed a return to Pride Park for 30-year-old England international Tom Huddlestone.
As reported by BBC Sport, Derby activated a £2m release clause on Huddlestone’s contract at Hull City. The midfield power house, who made his senior debut with the Rams, spent time at Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur before moving to Humberside. A move for Huddlestone has proven very popular and appears a real statement of intent as the club look to achieve promotion to the top flight this season.
Derby County have built a reputation in the Championship as one of the big spenders in the league. However, it has evidently not worked. With their willingness in recent seasons to continue to splash cash on big Championship names, the caution they have displayed in this transfer market so far has been a welcomed change.
With the dust now settled from the departures of Hughes and Ince, Rowett will look into potential targets almost £20 million better off than when he arrived at Pride Park.