This season, we will be gathering the views from our opponents’ local press on their team, progress and hopes for the season. As we return to Sky Bet Championship action with the visit of Derby County to The Den, we spoke to Steve Nicholson, Chief Football Writer of Derbyshire Live.
What was your view on last season at Derby County?
It was a real up-and-down season. A sluggish start with only 13 points from the first 10 matches, they then lost only two of 21 League games to climb to second. Once there, they faded and dropped out of the top six before recovering to finish sixth. They then lost to Fulham in the Play-Offs. The aim for Derby each season should be top-six as a minimum, so in some ways it was a good season that ended in disappointment – although Fulham deserved to progress and go up.
How would you assess the summer, pre-season and the club’s transfer business?
To make nine new signings is more than many people expected after warnings that the squad and wage bill needed to be cut. One of the aims was to reduce the average age of an ageing team. The average age of Frank Lampard's nine signings is 23 and there is a fresher more energetic look to the team.
What have you been able to gather from two rather contrasting opening league matches this season?
The conclusion from the two performances against Reading and Leeds United is that it's still very early days. The last-gasp 2-1 win at Reading gave everybody a lift but the heavy 4-1 defeat by Leeds highlighted that there is work to be done. That is to be expected given that Lampard has brought in new faces and he is implementing a different style of play to what we saw last season.
How confident are you that Frank Lampard can make a success of this team despite his managerial inexperience?
You cannot question his desire to be a success, and his appointment has been well received and has created excitement. All managers deserve time to build a team, get their ideas across and stamp their mark. Unfortunately, time can be in short supply in football. Frank Lampard is Derby's sixth manager in three years and time will tell whether or not he will be a success. Derby have tried many different types of manager in recent seasons – experienced; no experience; ex-players with some experience – and they remain in The Championship. Lampard is new to management and there will be tests and challenges for him, but he is determined to make a success of this.
Who would you describe as Derby’s key men among a talented squad?
Mason Mount, who is on a season-long loan from Chelsea, has started the season with two goals in three matches. The 19-year-old attacking midfielder looks a talent. Mount is one of the nine new signings and it is too early to judge their impact, or the impact they might have as the season unfolds. Goalkeeper Scott Carson has been the best ‘keeper outside of the Premier League in the past two seasons and he is a better ‘keeper now than when he won his caps for England.
What are the club’s hopes for the season ahead?
There is something of a transitional feel to this season but Frank Lampard is ambitious and he is aiming high. He wants Derby to be competing for the top six and for promotion.
Your score prediction for Saturday’s game?
I haven't got one right yet this season... I'll go 2-1 Derby.