Derby County were expected to be up near the top, and the Rams sit in 5th place, but you get the sense that the return to the Premier League will only be complete if they finish in the top two after failing to secure playoffs with poor late season form. So can Gary Rowett get his men over the finishing line?
Over the summer Rowett had to rebuild after he lost two key men to the Premier League. Both Thomas Ince and Will Hughes were integral parts of the Derby side but could not wait any longer to play top-flight football and jumped ship in favour of Huddersfield Town and Watford respectively. However, the manager has managed to keep his side afloat and near the top of the table.
The club are probably where they should be as they have scored the fourth most amount of goals and have conceded the fourth least amount of goals this season. But with the goalscoring form of top goal scorer Matej Vydra the Rams will be hoping they can catch up to Wolverhampton Wanderers in the goals department.
The form of the Rams since the turn of 2018 has been patchy, and they have only picked up two wins out of eleven games, but they do have six draws and one loss in this current year. The draws have affected their progression to the top two, and it has allowed Cardiff City to move further away but also allowed Aston Villa overtake them. Below them as well are Fulham who are just one point behind Rowett’s side.
What Derby need to do is turn those draws into wins. However, with their game against Fulham this weekend even a draw might be hard to come by. The London side are breathing down the neck of Derby and having beaten Wolves last Friday they come into the game in high spirits. Whereas, the Rams played out a ding-dong match against Reading where they drew 3-3 and lost their veteran defender Chris Baird to a red card.
With Fulham this weekend and all the teams above them still to come at some point in the season; they do have a tough run. However, if they can beat all three of these sides, they can make a realistic push for the automatic places which they so desperately need and want. They have not graced the top flight since their worst season ever in 2007/08 where they accumulated just 11 points with one win to their name.
Rowett has brought the good times back to Derby who had been struggling to keep a manager in place for a significant amount of time. When Steve McClaren’s first spell with the Championship side ended in 2015, they have been through five managers; making Rowett sixth person in charge in less than three years.
His side do need to push on because if they only make the playoffs, they will be up against some serious contenders to play their trade in the Premier League next year. It is risky to rely on the playoffs, so Derby have to do all they can to push for the top two places and return to top-flight football.