Under normal circumstances, talking about cementing that play-off spot would be considered a success, and I know a host of clubs that would jump at the chance to be in the Rams’ position right now.
But sadly as our season derailed in January – like the very worst of train wrecks – this is all we can now conceivably hope for.
Before the much anticipated local derby with our arch rivals [Nottingham Forest], I sat down and mapped out our last nine games and came to the conclusion that 19 points “should” be enough to ensure a top six finish. Of course the first of those nine matches ended in the perfect way for the Rams.
A game desperately low on quality, as often is the case in these fixtures, was settled with possibly the only bit of quality throughout the entire game. Did anyone in black and white care? Of course not, it’s all about the result in these matches, but maybe this season’s result might just end up being the most important one for years.
We are now in the middle of yet another international break, but by the time you are reading this, all of our international Rams will be back at Moor Farm preparing for the final push of eight games. Having done a bit of research on the respective run-ins of ourselves and the four teams currently below us in the league, Sheffield Wednesday, Cardiff City, Ipswich Town and Birmingham City – I see it as there are two play-off places up for grabs between the five of us.
At first when I looked at our remaining fixtures, I thought our run-in was quite tough. We still have home fixtures with Hull City, Sheff Wed and Ipswich on the last day of the season, with Brighton away on the penultimate weekend. I still feel 16 points is achievable however, and looking at the other team’s final games, I think that will be enough.
Cardiff and Birmingham play each other on the last day and indeed Cardiff play Sheff Wed before that. All the other teams have tough fixtures ahead of them in the coming weeks, and that is why that win over Forest could be so vital now. If we can get on a good run of form from now until the end of the season, then we might stand a chance in the play-offs.
All of this is obviously not how we envisaged our season to go. With the amount of investment made last summer, coupled with the expectancy of the last two seasons, only a top two finish would have sufficed. But we all know that’s not how football works, and indeed for the second season running the two teams at the top of the league are the teams I had written off at Christmas. So my apologies to both Burnley and Brighton fans if that is how the season ends up!
On a more positive note; as well as putting our bitter rivals to the sword last week, around ten thousand Rams fans turned out for Shaun Barker’s Testimonial match at the iPro. A current Derby eleven played against Barker’s team of legends.
Some great names from the past and a fitting tribute to a player who never gave up after his horrific injury ironically against Forest four years ago. It’s a miracle that Shaun even managed to walk again never mind running, kicking a football and playing in an under 21 game last season. A lesson to everyone on never quitting.
To top the evening off; another player coming back from injury made his return, it is so good to have Will Hughes back playing football, and you never know whether he may yet have a say in how the Rams season ends…