From being the team that looked like being the ones to push Wolverhampton Wanderers all the way for the Championship title, Derby County have slipped from second to fifth in as many games, and are now in real danger of not just slipping out of the promotion race altogether, but having their playoff place tested also.
Saturday’s loss at home to Fulham was only Derby’s second reversal in their last seventeen Championship games, but it also signalled their second loss in four and they have only won 1 in their last 9 fixtures – albeit securing 6 draws along the way. But they are now seven points behind Cardiff in second and have also fallen behind Aston Villa and Fulham….but of more concern would be the teams now behind them, with Bristol City, Middlesbrough, Sheffield United and Preston North End all within striking distance of the Rams.
Tonight’s trip to Loftus Road to face mid table Queens Park Rangers now becomes Derby’s singular most important fixture of the season – and whilst that can be said for whatever the next game is for any team, this is one that Derby County MUST win if they are to harbour any chance of promotion this season – automatically or even via the Play Offs.
Since their surprise New Years Day win over Cardiff, QPR have only beaten teams that are in relegation trouble – Burton, Barnsley and Bolton Wanderers. They have lost every other game – Middlesbrough, Bristol City, Wolves, Sheffield United and (even!) Nottingham Forest, who managed to smash five goals past the hapless Hoops at Loftus Road on Saturday. Only a handful of Championship teams have conceded more home goals than QPR, with only Fulham and Middlesbrough having scored more away goals this season than Derby.
But it has been Derby’s recent performances that are more a cause for consternation to their fans. Derby have suddenly lost a step of pace and the spark that carried them to second place over recent months. Fans of many an opposing team suggest that this is usual Derby ‘choking’ on the pressure as they have done in recent seasons. It has felt at Pride Park that Gary Rowett has instilled a different, sterner, mentality in his players – but after conceding just three goals in twelve games, scoring 19, the Rams have conceded 10 in their last 4, scoring just 6 – the past brittle mentality now being more apparent once the pressure is applied.
Derby County remain very much in the Championship promotion picture – but with local, fierce, rivals Nottingham Forest lying in wait at the weekend, who have little else to play for this season than spoiling their enemy’s own season, and games against Cardiff, Preston and Wolves all fast upcoming, Derby cannot afford anything less than three points tonight….or again, it could be another season of what could have been for all at Pride Park.
Forecast : QPR 1 – 3 Derby County
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