Young Rams squad in play-off final
23 May ~ The Championship play-off final is said to be the most valuable game in world football – apparently worth an eye-watering £120 million this year, due to the massive hike in TV revenues. However, this season's match threatens to be fascinating for a number of reasons that have nothing to do with money. Derby County are not only the division's form team, but also its highest scorers. The Rams have won eight of their last ten games, and have scored 84 goals in 2013-14, one more than champions Leicester and 12 more than promoted Burnley.
Queens Park Rangers, on the other hand, are in average form, having won only four of their last ten matches, while scoring only 60 goals this season.
After the semi-final victory over Brighton, Derby were praised for the quality of their attacking football at home, and for the swiftness of their counter-attacking away from the newly rebranded Pride Park. Either way, coach Steve McClaren, a member of Harry Redknapp's coaching staff at the beginning of this season, has his team playing some of their finest and most exciting football since the heady days of the mid-1990s under Jim Smith.
McClaren even has the luxury of keeping the young and talented Chelsea loanee Patrick Bamford on the bench, and was able to replace the injured Craig Bryson (16 goals from midfield) with Will Hughes, a player widely scouted by clubs in the Premier League and Europe. A player that has gone somewhat underappreciated this season is striker Chris Martin, the first Derby player, unbelievably, to score more than 20 goals in a season since Dean Sturridge in 1996. Add to this two defensive-minded loanees in Andre Wisdom and the impressive George Thorne, it seems that the Rams have solidity at the back, and flair and goals in midfield and attack. What could possibly go wrong?
Looking through Derby's likely starting team reveals a lack of Premier League and big-game experience. The team is young, with many players, loanees aside, joining from lower down the English leagues and Scotland. Defensive stalwart and fan favourite Jake Buxton has enjoyed an excellent season, but his previous clubs are Mansfield Town and Burton Albion. Of the team that recently beat Brighton at Pride Park, three have Premier League experience, a handful of games between them.
This fact could give QPR a huge advantage. Their team is full of experienced and highly paid players accustomed to the Premier League. Whether they know how to actually get there again is another matter – certainly, many of them had no clue how to keep their club in the top tier last season. Of the team that started the win against Wigan at Loftus Road, ten had experience of top-flight football.
The money that Harry Redknapp continues to spend at QPR has not led to the automatic promotion that many of their fans must have been hoping for. The club's sheer financial power might be one of the factors that makes Derby the neutral's favourite, as well as the bookmakers'.
Whatever happens, Rams fans will be delighted with the way this season has gone and will be fully behind McClaren next season, whether they are in the Championship or the Premier League. Charles Robinson