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Eustace is integral to Derby’s promotion push

February has consisted of three 1-0 wins for the Rams, who, during the month, widened the gap between the club and seventh place and helped narrow the gap on the automatic promotion places.

The month began with a 3-3 draw at Birmingham; there was no doubt that it was two points lost and not one gained. Defensive lapses cost the team dearly after leading 3-1. Clearly McClaren sat down and reassessed the approach because after that Derby showed that they could impressively win in a gritty manner and shut the opponents out.

It is a tough month to pick player of the month, but due to the response to that draw in the second city I have chosen a man integral to defensive duties in midfield, John Eustace.

A goal in the following game against Queens Park Rangers was his first for the club since joining in the summer. The looping header eluded the scrambling Rangers’ backline and, after the game, it was revealed that Eustace shouldn’t have gone forward for that very corner! Football’s a funny old game.

A decisive goal wasn’t his only contribution in that breakthrough for Derby (a first win over fellow automatic promotion chasers), the midfielder also helped shut out the, on paper, exceptional QPR midfield, where the team, in spite of their riches, offered little, as the hosts grounded out a deserved result.

Again, against Sheffield Wednesday, the Rams won 1-0, this time at Hillsborough. Derby were by no means at their best, nevertheless another three points were added to their name due to that new-found dogged resistance after months of free-scoring wins. It may not be as pretty to witness but it can be hugely appreciated – all the tops sides can do it. Once more, the ex-Watford skipper helped shut out the opponents and played the full 90 minutes.

However, against Bournemouth, Eustace was substituted at the interval to make way for more attacking power – the change paid off as McClaren’s side won 1-0.

John Eustace has had a prominent role in this season’s success to date. At the beginning of the season, the ex-Watford captain didn’t feature as often, now he is intrinsic to the side. Another defensive midfield player, in the shape of George Thorne from West Bromwich Albion, was brought to the club in loan in late January. Thorne is yet to feature, with Eustace continuing to impress.

Pivotally, the ex-Sky Blues man’s calm head and experience will be cardinal in the promotion run-in. A salute must also go to Nigel Clough for bringing in such a terrific player in on a free transfer in the summer.

By Nathan Morley

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Bamford begins Rams life with a bang

Since I last wrote on here the Rams have been on a slump. Well, a slump by the standards of recent months under the stewardship of Steve McClaren.

January has seen the club lose two league matches, win two and draw one. The transfer window saw Derby swoop for in-form forward Patrick Bamford from Chelsea following his impressive scoring spree in League One with Milton Keynes Dons.

The Blues attacker has bagged three goals in his first four outings (in January), three of which were substitute appearances. It is hard to select a player for player of the month as a frequent sub during the month but Bamford’s impact on the pitch justifies it. He has helped win points that have kept the club fighting in the highest echelons of the unforgiving Championship table.

This scoring spree began with the Nottingham Forest academy graduate announcing himself to the home support on his home debut with a late winner against Brighton, then he got a late equaliser at Ewood Park, followed by kick-starting the comeback against Yeovil with an early second-half strike.

If the ball falls in and around the area to any Rams player, I’d like it be this man. There’s no stopping him. The quality of the finishes has also been impressive.

It is huge credit to Steve McClaren for bringing such a gem on loan, as he has done with Andre Wisdom and Simon Dawkins (now permanent). The loan system is great if you use it well, there’s no doubt about its effectiveness for the Rams this season. A BBC Sport article featuring the star illustrated just that. In addition to that piece, Daily Mail columnist Martin Allen was recently extremely complimentary of the England Under-21 international – describing him as a ‘young Fernando Torres’ and dubbing his signing as ‘the best piece of business in the transfer window so far’ at that time.

Although inadmissible to my January player of the month considerations, Bamford shone in yesterday’s draw at Birmingham City and, once again, bagged a goal. I noticed that he was fouled quite a bit too; he’s a marked man.

I predict quite a bright future for him and hopefully this spell will be sighted as a helping-hand in his route to the football stars!

By Nathan Morley

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McClaren’s Rams excel in December

December’s events have presented me with a tough choice for player of the month. The month saw Steve McClaren’s side excel and reach the division’s automatic promotion spots. However, a defeat to open January puts the side in fourth place.

Jake Buxton is among my picks. Whilst Richard Keogh has been fit, he managed to keep Manchester United loanee Michael Keane out the side. Composed and a thorn for opponents’ attacks, the defender’s commitment and application has earned him the captaincy in Keogh’s absence.

The quality of loan signings has been marvellous. Under the previous regime the loan signings were largely to fill in the gaps of injured players. Whereas now the additions are of more quality and more than to fill the gaps left by an abundance of injuries.

On-loan Liverpool defender Andre Wisdom has been a shining light in the side recently, demonstrating my aforementioned point. He’s a strong, physical presence at the back and has tightened up a troubled position following the departure of John Brayford.

Going forward Wisdom has shown that he is equally as potent in the other half of the pitch. What’s more, the England Under-21 International is actually yet to play in his alleged strongest position of centre-back. I’d be surprised to see him stay beyond his loan, the youngster’s high calibre surely means he’ll be smashing the door down for a regular place in Liverpool’s first-team soon.

I can’t forget Chris Martin. I, like many, wasn’t massively convinced by him in his loan spell last season. The ex-Canary has proved many wrong and perhaps still doesn’t receive the plaudits he deserves. Now with a permanent deal at the club he’s managed to nail down an almost indispensable role with the promotion-chasing Rams.

The two failed penalties in December was, of course, not good. But a lavish goals record of 15 halfway through the campaign is impressive. Martin is undoubtedly the long overdue answer to supporters’ cries for a “20 goals a season man”.

During the month he managed seven goals. Glasses in the air to Nigel Clough for scooping him on a free transfer.

Although those are all good contenders, especially Chris Martin, I have again opted for Derby’s number 4.

It’s been clear since Craig Bryson has arrived that he is a great player; this season he has gone up by another level. 11 goals and 7 assists, including 5 goals in December, is a cracking return for a midfielder.

The Scotsman is my player of the season so far. As I’ve discussed before and probably will again, he moves forward superbly with his free-running act in a wonderfully tailored midfield and is a serpent figure for opponents.

As I write this, the club are to check on Craig Bryson’s fitness ahead of the blockbuster FA Cup tie against Chelsea later today. He was substituted after a groin problem. Hopefully he can take part.

It’s all set up to be a cracker today. After years of boring all-Football Leagues ties, not mentioning the embarrassment of a bitter Monday night in Sussex 4 years ago, I was glad to get a spectacular tie.

The 7-time champions present an exciting challenge to see how far the Rams have come. On the other hand, I don’t think it is too much of a measure because, as we all know, anything can happen in a one-off match like this.

I’m not expectant of victory – how can anyone be? It’s Jose Mourinho’s team! – yet I remain hopeful, encouraged and even quietly confident for the match. There should, if Derby fall to defeat, be no shame in losing to a side of Chelsea’s calibre. I just hope that the players give it their all, as I’m sure they will.

A tie to relish, enjoy and potentially prosper in – come on you Rams!

By Nathan Morley

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Ward ups his game for Derby

Player of the Month – November 2013

Since the arrival of Steve McClaren many players have upped their game, which is testament to his impact.

Loan signings Andre Wisdom and Simon Dawkins were contenders for November’s player of the month but Jamie Ward is my deserving player.

At the beginning of the campaign, Ward was very ineffective in the side and looked a shade of his best. Now, after the managerial change, he has been part of some inspired form.

It is now five goals in the last seven outings for the ex-Blade. All of those goals have come under the new regime. During the month, the forward bagged the winner in the scrappy, hard-fought victory in Dorset at the hands of Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth.

Jamie Ward offers the Rams a lot more than goals. His liveliness and general attacking positivity is refreshing. The combination with Chris Martin and Simon Dawkins is marvellous to watch, with that Derby are now able to penetrate teams.

I mentioned that both Wisdom and Dawkins have been standout performers in November. The Liverpool loanee has brought more stability to a troubled right-back position that was in the centre of criticism for its occupants on the pitch. A centre-back too, Wisdom has helped tighten up at the back, an area that evidently required strengthening.

Meanwhile, Dawkins can boast similar animation and vigour to striking counterpart Jamie Ward.

Long may the form of Jamie continue. For me, he could be among the catalysts for a real push up the table. He is player that, largely, if he’s playing well, the team is – testament to his influence.

After all you’re my Jamie Ward…..(you know the rest!).

By Nathan Morley

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Player of the Month: October

What a whirlwind of a month; a complete change in structure at Pride Park with Steve McClaren and his staff returning to the area.

John Eustace has, during the month, demonstrated exactly why Watford supporters hold him in such high regard. However, he hasn’t done enough to claim my inaugural player of the month award.

Of course an honourable mention goes to both John Eustace and Jamie Ward for their form during the month but there’s only one man who can possibly claim it – Craig Bryson.

The Scotsman has been a key figure in the side. As I write this, he tops the division’s assist chart along with Ipswich’s Aaron Creswell. In addition to those six assists, the midfielder has bagged four goals in the league this season. An impressive tally from the middle of the park.

It has been in October that the former Kilmarnock man’s form has come to prominence. The month’s opener fittingly represented the mad few days of changeover at the club – a 4-4 draw with Ipswich Town. Regular captain Richard Keogh was forced to sit out the match due to suspension; subsequently Bryson was called upon to skipper the side. Although the first-half displayed some of the worst football many would have seen in the past couple of years, the second 45 was incredible – as was Bryson. He oozed passion, which rubbed off on the supporters, and bagged two vital goals.

Following that bizarre game of two halves, the 26-year-old created four goals in the next two games against Leeds United and Watford. This demonstrates that the team is benefiting from his liberated role in the side – Eustace has allowed this through his protection of the back four. It sounds basic – Eustace hangs back to allow Bryson forward, but it is very effective and has been particularly efficacious in October.

I suppose you could also call this award the player of the season so far. It is clear that the Scottish international has been the catalyst for the impressive away form and a key contributor in providing and scoring the high number of goals the team has scored.

Unsurprisingly the midfielder was linked with a move to Celtic. If his marvellous performances continue, then it’s only a matter of time until a big club makes a move. Hopefully, Derby can resist unless it is senselessly high money because Bryson has the capabilities to aid a genuine push into the top six.

This feature will run on the first Sunday of each month.

By Nathan Morley