Bill's Take: Rams Will Need To Be Smarter To Better The Best
Thursday, 20th Apr 2017 15:40 by Bill Riordan
“They wanted it more than us”. “They were the better team on the day”. “We just weren’t up for it”.
Those are just some of the reasons put forward by both players and managers around the world to explain why things did not go quite as planned for this season. Looking back over the Rams’ results this season; I am struck by how applicable those statements might be for this most peculiar of Rams seasons.
The Rams have sixty-three points from forty-three matches at present. The points gained by any team are not going to mount up evenly, but the streakiness exhibited by the Rams this season has been ridiculous.
The first nine games under Nigel Pearson saw only six points for the Rams; this was clearly relegation form, as we looked like one of the worst teams in the division.
The next nineteen matches, a couple under Chris Powell and Steve McClaren for the remainder, saw forty-two points for the Rams; easily automatic promotion form.
That blistering run of form ended with the trip to Newcastle in early February; Steve McClaren’s remaining nine matches saw the team gain only six more points: an identical return to our miserable form under Nigel Pearson.
The six matches under Gary Rowett so far have seen the Rams gain another eleven points; a return to playoff form.
From this we can see that the Rams’ results have come in four distinct phases, ranging from very, very good to abysmal, and not much in between. Here are a few facts that I think might help explain some of what we are seeing.
First of all, there is the Rams’ old nemesis from the last several seasons… plain old bad luck!
Craig Forsyth has played just three league matches this season before missing the rest with injury and George Thorne has not played at all. Those key injuries have certainly hurt the team badly, while several others have had a less definite impact with Jason Shackell and Cyrus Christie both missing a lot of games.
Up front, James Wilson may have helped if his loan spell had not ended so prematurely, while Nick Blackman’s injuries may just provide an excuse for a player who never looked like setting Pride Park on fire.
Bad luck for the Rams has also been accompanied by bad judgement. Chris Martin’s contribution to the Rams cause has been debatable over the last year or so, but it is hard to see how sending him out on loan to Fulham has improved our team. It has certainly improved Fulham’s team, as they sit in the playoff spots with Martin as their most effective goal scorer.
Early last season, the Rams responded to the injury of both Will Hughes and Craig Bryson, two of the best midfield players in the division, by signing Jacob Butterfield and Bradley Johnson. These two have not worked out on any consistent basis, but the club’s massive investment demands that they play regularly; often at the expense of Bryson and Hughes.
The presence of Butterfield and Johnson likely was a factor in the club’s decision to sell Jeff Hendrick in September; a move which made financial sense but may not have helped on the pitch.
Finally, for me there is the inescapable conclusion that the players were just not up for it. I added up some numbers to illustrate this point.
Against the current top six clubs in the Championship; Brighton, Newcastle, Huddersfield, Reading, Fulham and Sheffield Wednesday - the Rams record so far is:
Played 11 - Won 3, Drawn 3, Lost 5.
Goals - For 13, Against 15.
Points - 12.
Over forty six matches, this would give us 50 points; which is relegation form.
Against the other seventeen teams, our record is:
Played 32 - Won 14, Drawn 9, Lost 9.
Goals - For 36, Against 31.
Points - 51.
Over the course of a season, that gives 73; just about playoff form.
The Rams were pretty good against most of the division, but just not good enough against the best teams.
As if to illustrate that, the Rams’ run of form which had taken us to the edge of the playoffs came to an end at Newcastle, currently second, in early February. We never quite recovered from that.
The Steve McClaren revival, which briefly promised so much, ended after a hammering at Brighton – currently top of the division – in March. The Rams have not been quite able to do it when it really mattered.
There is currently a lot of talk in the press about a busy summer in the transfer market for the Rams. The club will have to be not so much busy as a great deal smarter than we have been in the transfer market over the last few years. We also need better luck next season with injuries.
And we also have to be up for it. Especially against those teams considered our promotion rivals.
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