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Why is David Nugent a big statement signing by Derby County?

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A proven goalscorer in The Championship is often the key to success and ultimately promotion. Look no further than the recent teams to be promoted, Burnley‘s Andre Gray, Hull City’s Abel Hernandez, and last season Jordan Rhodes was instrumental in Middlesbrough’s campaign. The ambition around Derby County has been clear in recent years. However, achieving it has proven to be tough for The Rams.

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The 2013/14 season ended in play-off heartbreak for Derby, a match many will not get over, after seeing their side lose 0-1 in the last minute to ten man Queens Park Rangers, after dominating the game. The season just gone by saw Derby shoot themselves in the foot in their first leg 0-3 defeat to Hull. Despite putting up a good fight in the second leg, winning 0-2, it was another season of disappointment at Wembley for The Rams.

Within touching distance of the top six at Christmas is always a nice place to be in, and what better way to bolster your chances for the rest of the season, than to sign a striker who knows the Championship like the back of his hand.

Billy Davies took a punt on the Huyton born man in 2005, playing for Bury at the time, Davies brought Nugent to Preston North End for £100,000. Nugent soon proved his quality and became an all time fan favourite at Preston. Since then he has become one of the most recognised and effective strikers at Championship level and has gone on to help last season’s Premier League Champions Leicester to promotion in 2014 and Middlesbrough last season. Nugent scored some big, big goals for Karanka’s side last season – a last minute winner against fellow contenders Hull most notably.

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11 years on from the £100,000 fee Davies paid for Nugent, he joins Derby for £2.5 million, uniting with the man who gave him his first International cap for England. There are many reasons why I feel this is the sort of signing Derby have been crying out for in seasons gone by, where at the final hurdle, or when the pressure is on, they have disappointed.

Nugent, as McClaren has said, has that valuable experience, he’s been there and done it before, and you can’t put a price on having someone like that in the squad, and in the dressing room.

For someone only 5″11 he poses a real aerial threat. He has the ability to score from distance, and produce the spectacular, as we saw at Anfield with that unbelievable scissor kick goal for Leicester City. Nugent’s someone who will step up and take a penalty, he won’t ever shy away from the chance to score a goal.

He possesses that knack of being in the right place at the right time and put together his predatory instinct, it makes him a defender’s nightmare.

Derby, without doubt, have the quality in midfield to provide Nugent with the ammunition to score goals. Players like Thomas Ince, Craig Bryson and Will Hughes will thrive playing with a forward like Nugent, looking up and seeing him on the move. It is a recipe that I feel will serve Derby County well, should he fit into their system quickly.

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Derby County

Thriving in America, ex-Derby star Johnny Russell deserves a Scotland recall

The forward has been in fine form since his move to MLS.

Max Cohen

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Johnny Russell
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Johnny Russell has been setting Major League Soccer on fire this spring, most recently bagging a hat-trick against Vancouver Whitecaps on the weekend to take his goal tally to five in eight matches.

Russell controversially left Derby County for Sporting Kansas City in January, but his impressive form in America should convince Alex McLeish to recall the 28-year-old to the Scotland set-up.

After 182 appearances and 30 goals over five years at Pride Park, the winger departed England for a shock move to Sporting Kansas City in MLS.

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The winger had scored five goals and provided two assists in the first half of the 2017/18, yet left the Rams just 12 days after playing 90 minutes in their 0-0 draw with Bristol City in late January.

Yet the Scot has been thriving across the Atlantic and showed his devastating finishing qualities during Kansas City’s 6-0 demolition of Vancouver on 20 April.

Russell’s first goal was a lashed first-time finish from the edge of the box after receiving an intelligent cutback, and just six minutes later he had doubled his goal haul.

The winger cut in with precision from the left wing and drove past multiple defenders before slotting home a low drive at the near post. It was a wonderful individual goal that was a fine reward for his rampant opening quarter of the match.

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And his third goal was perhaps the pick of the bunch. Russell took a short corner from the right wing, exchanged a one-two and delicately chipped the ball from a tight angle over the keeper.

The 28-year-old’s sublime hat-trick is evidence of his unique talents, and although his exploits have come in a weakened league, they are deserving of praise nonetheless.

With upcoming away friendlies approaching in Peru and Mexico in late May, McLeish should strongly consider granting Russell his first cap since 2015.

Given the geographic proximity and the winger’s outstanding form, Johnny Russell seems set to feature for his country in the midst of his American revival.

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Who will win the race for the Sky Bet Championship play-offs?

The Championship play-offs are just around the corner.

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The Championship is a league renowned for its unpredictability and twists and turns in what is a 46 game long season.

On any given weekend, any team can beat another which makes it one of the closest and exciting leagues in the world.

This season has proved no different, with six teams still competing for a play-off place with just six games to go.

In 5th place currently is Derby on 68 points, three points clear of 7th placed Millwall with a game in hand.

They are at the moment the favourites to secure a play-off spot, with the top three having already practically guaranteed their places if they do not gain automatic promotion.

Aston Villa look to set to join them, with a maximum of eight points needed from their last five games to be sure of making the play-offs.

Gary Rowett’s side have bounced back well from the loss of Johnny Russell in January to the MLS and a string of first-team injuries that have decimated the squad in recent months.

Most of their stars, including Tom Huddlestone and Joe Ledley, returned for their 1-0 away win over Preston on Easter Monday, a result that was desperately needed.

They followed that up with a 3-0 win over Bolton at the weekend, and the goals of Matej Vydra plus the defensive experience of Curtis Davies and Scott Carson should see them over the line.

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Two points behind them in 6th is Tony Pulis’s Middlesbrough, who have seen an upturn in form since the former West Brom man took over in December.

Pulis is known for his defensive style of play but Middlesbrough have scored plenty since he came in, with Adama Traore in particular impressing.

A club like Boro will be expecting play-offs as a minimum, and you would expect them to achieve that goal given the quality of their squad, although even if they don’t get there this season, they will be one of the favourites to go up next season under Pulis.

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The surprise package of this season has been Millwall, with Neil Harris leading his side to an unexpected 7th place berth at this stage of the season.

The Lions have only lost one game all season, that being on New Years’ Day at Norwich.

They have relied on a mixture of youth and experience, with younger players like Jake Cooper, Jed Wallace and George Saville complemented by the likes of veteran Steve Morison, and an immense run of form has given them every chance of making the play-offs, which would be a remarkable achievement.

Most fans surely would have been happy with a mid-table finish on their return to the Championship, but they have defied expectations so far.

They face tricky trips to Middlesbrough and Sheffield United, and home games against Fulham and Aston Villa, but win at least a couple of those and the Lions could be roaring at the end of the league season.

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Behind them on 62 points is Bristol City, who have had a mixed run of form since the turn of the year.

They briefly went 2nd in the table after a Boxing Day win against Reading, just a week after Lee Johnson’s side defeated Manchester United to reach the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup.

They eventually lost on aggregate to Manchester City after giving them a stern test, but have only won twice since then.

Like Millwall, they too face a trip to the Riverside to play Middlesbrough and host Sheffield United on the final day, but they are only four points off the top six and can still make it in.

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Another side who had an excellent first half of the season is Sheffield United, Chris Wilder’s side briefly sitting in top spot after a 2-1 away win against Leeds in October.

They have fallen away since then, currently sitting 9th and behind Bristol City on goal difference, but regardless of whether they qualify for the play-offs or not, it has still been a good season for Wilder’s men.

They drew 1-1 with Cardiff last week, a game which they had the better chances in, showing the fine margins that exist in the Championship.

The Blades lost in the Yorkshire derby against Barnsley on Saturday, a result that puts them four points behind Middlesbrough.

They host Preston before the season is out, a game which could still prove crucial for both teams, and also play Bristol City and Millwall.

Brentford sit just one point behind them in 10th, having shown some resurgence in recent weeks.

Their transfer policy is a very effective one, using a stats model to sign players both from England and all around the world.

Some of their signings appear to be gelling together well, with summer signing Neal Maupay netting the winner in both of their previous two games.

Manager Dean Smith has been linked with Premier League jobs in the past, and has done an excellent job at the Bees, who will surely be challenging at the end of the season.

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The final team that have a realistic chance of reaching the play-offs is Preston North End, Alex Neil’s side currently occupying 11th place on 60 points.

They have lost their last three league games, although they were unlucky to lose against Derby and had the fair share of possession and chances against Reading.

Neil’s side face only one team out of the top 11 in the remaining fixtures – Sheffield United – which could work in their favour.

They have missed the firepower of top scorer Sean Maguire, who missed four months of the season due to injury, but his return has boosted the team, who have seen some outstanding performances already this season from the likes of Ben Davies, Ben Pearson and Alan Browne.

If Neil’s side can get substantial points out of their remaining games, they still have a chance of qualifying for the play-offs, although like the teams above them up to 7th, will need to rely on Derby and Middlesbrough dropping points.

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Derby County

West Ham should consider Derby County striker Matej Vydra this summer

The Czech Republic ace has 20 goals in all competitions this term.

Max Cohen

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Matej Vydra
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In January, West Ham United purchased promising Preston North End striker Jordan Hugill, hopeful the 25-year-old could revitalise a misfiring Hammers attack.

Nonetheless, the £10 million move has turned out to be little more than a squad addition, playing just 22 minutes since signing in January.

The East London club would have been far better off signing a fellow 25-year-old Championship forward: Derby County star Matej Vydra.

Vydra sits atop the Championship top scorer charts this season, with 19 goals in the league and 20 in all competitions. These stats are simply remarkable, revealing Vydra’s lethal finishing ability and vital contributions to the Rams’ promotion push.

Derby manager Gary Rowett tipped Vydra for Premier League greatness last week, in quotes reported by the Derby Telegraph, claiming that the Czech Republic international has the ability to score 20 goals a season in the top flight. Rowett commended the frontman on his knack for creating opportunities and also his defensive work-rate.

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This impressive duality will appeal to West Ham supporters, who have been aching for a consistent striker for many a season now. Vydra can provide an impressive striker’s instinct along with a tireless work ethic, serving as a poacher and a crucial first defender alike.

The sorry state of West Ham’s attack is summarised by the pathetically low goal tally their strikers have amassed to date. Their highest goalscorer is Marko Arnautovic with nine goals, and Javier Hernandez and Andy Carroll have just ten goals combined this season.

No player has reached double figures for the Hammers, a truly sobering statistic for a Premier League club.

The addition of Matej Vydra this summer would certainly shake up the goal-shy West Ham frontline, and the Hammers should make acquiring the services of the Derby striker a top priority.

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