McClaren’s Rams excel in December

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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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