Derby County reached the half way stage of their Sky Bet Championship season last weekend and can probably be pleased overall with how things have gone.
I’m writing this on Christmas Eve, so before making the trip to Sheffield United on Boxing Day and just after the 1-1 draw with Bristol City.
That result, coupled with another stalemate against Nottingham Forest a few days earlier, means the Rams are far closer to the bottom edge of the play-off zone than they are had they managed to nick wins in either game, but if anything those results summed up the campaign so far pretty well.
The opener against Reading saw Derby win without playing that well, before not playing that well once more against Leeds United saw the current leaders wipe the floor with them a week later.
Things eventually stabilised after one or two other iffy displays and finally Frank Lampard’s stamp on the team began to show as individuals started to shine and points became more regular.
Before a ball had been kicked, there was uncertainty as to whether the Rams would be able to challenge for the top spots given the apparent cut in budget and departure of one or two key players. The introduction of an untried coach, even if one with a superb pedigree as a player, was seen as a way of negating that possibility.
So to be where Derby are at this stage can’t really be seen as anything other than a success, all things considered.
Lampard himself has said that even though he’s pleased to be in the top six, he thinks the Rams could be higher given the nature of the points they’ve dropped, but he’s someone who has spent most of his career at the top of the tree so that desire to sit astride all others and expect the best from those around him will be that bit stronger, which is no bad thing.
Personally, I’d say the position is about right considering some of the performances, a combination of wins that have been ground out, a few really impressive performances and then a few games where the team looked like they’d only just met.
As for what to expect moving into 2019? Well Lampard himself acknowledged that the gap between Derby and the top two is a little too big for his liking, although getting a win at Norwich on Saturday will do that particular situation wonders and Leeds United play host early in January too.
I think the play-offs are realistically the best the Rams can hope for with the current squad, although it’ll be interesting to see what new faces may or may not appear in the January transfer window.
Keeping key players fit, such as Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, Harry Wilson, Jack Marriott and Scott Carson to name but a few, will be key as they’re the main points winners so far and the most consistent performers.
Getting more out of the front three, whoever they may be on any given game, could also be key as with the defence not all that water tight, more goals at the right end will become more crucial towards the latter stages.
This current run of games will be crucial but overall I think Rams fans can go into 2019 with a justified sense of optimism.