Is Rowett the man to finally get Derby over the line? Interview
Tuesday, 21st Nov 2017 00:22 by Clive Whittingham
Ollie Wright from The Derby County Blog says that while Gary Rowett’s pragmatic approach isn’t overly easy on the eye, there is progress being made at Pride Park.
First full season under Gary Rowett, how’s it going?
OW: It's ok, ta. He seems unflappable, confident and basically competent, which is refreshing after a (relatively) disastrous run of seasons. He has a big job on his hands, keeping a demanding owner and fanbase on his side, while rebuilding an ageing squad, with too many players on daft contracts - stop me if you've heard that one before - and he is still in the early stages of that task. Hopefully, he will be given enough time to see the required process through and we can ultimately judge him on his "own" team.
Given Rowett’s previous record at Burton and Birmingham, optimism seemed pretty high around his appointment – how’s he done? Met expectations? Any grumbles?
OW: It was generally a well received appointment, although you could say the same about Nigel Pearson last season and look how that ended up. The expectation at Derby is to be competing for promotion and so, at the time of writing, you have to say that he is on track.
Grumbles-wise, I will always bitterly resent his decision to sell Will Hughes to Watford (for a pittance, as well) and I'm not convinced by his functional, rigid style of play - but I wasn't complaining when we beat Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Norwich and Leeds in a row last month. As with any manager, if he gets the results, the means are absolutely justified.
A really good run of form, including the Forest win, then suddenly a 4-2 loss at home to Reading, who’ve been mostly crap this season. What happened there?
OW: To be honest, as excellent as our run of results was, all of the games were decided on fine margins. In October, it felt like everything went our way, whether it was penalty decisions, or opponents missing chances at key times, while we also scored some brilliant individual goals - at times, it felt like our strikers were destined to gobble up even the merest sniff of a chance. It was great, but we haven't exactly been dominating opponents for 90 minutes and have never looked invincible.
All runs have to end at some point, but against Reading, it has to be said that we came unglued spectacularly. Richard Keogh limped off early, then within five minutes, we conceded twice - and that was effectively that, although it became more embarrassing in the second half and could have been a full-on humiliation, had Reading accepted two or three more clear chances. They played out neatly from the back and we simply weren't quick or energetic enough to disrupt it, by pressing them as a team.
Has the chairman calmed down after a couple of years of fairly odd public statements, rapid fire managerial changes and some big money signings?
OW: I hope so. If I could ask Mel one question, it would probably be: "What are the most important lessons you've learned in the last two years?" And in fairness, he attends "Fans Charter" meetings and takes questions, so maybe I will get to ask him one day.
I think he has always needed to feel like he has a positive relationship with the manager and while this obviously broke down with Steve McClaren and was never really established by Paul Clement or Pearson, it seems - fingers crossed - that he respects Rowett’s judgement and work ethic and believes that the club is finally edging in the right direction. The test for that burgeoning bromance, of course, would come if we endure a poor run of form and find ourselves mid-table in February or March.
Stand-out players and weak links in the side?
OW: I think the glaring weakness, as exploited by Reading, is a lack of pace. This is an ageing team and quick, technically able attackers can nip around us, while teams who build out from the back can pin us in for uncomfortably long periods. We simply couldn't get the ball off Brentford, for example and Fulham, inevitably, was another game in which we spent a lot of time sitting and waiting for a mistake while they weaved their patient patterns. This reactive style is a major shift from the possession-based teams of previous seasons, but, Reading aside, we have continued to pick up points without dominating the ball, largely thanks to Carson in goal and a robust defence, ably marshalled by the centre backs, Davies and Keogh. At the other end, whichever strikers Rowett chooses are likely to cause problems, though Nugent and Vydra are his preferred pairing. Tom Lawrence is a skilful wide player and while he is still looking for his first goal in the white shirt, he produced a brilliant assist at Fulham and has scored twice for Wales this season.
Will you be promoted this season and what are the consequences if not?
OW: We are told that the club is meeting the league's FFP targets this season and has a plan to ensure that it remains within bounds if not promoted. They've been consistent since Rowett got here about the need to shift out certain high-earning players, but, as you'll be aware yourself, this is often more easily said than done. If (as I suspect is likely) we don't go up, it's possible that a couple of academy products might start to feature regularly the first-team squad next season - something which doesn't currently happen.
Dare I ask how news of QPR’s record FFP fine went down in Derby – given the season of gross overspend it relates to ended with promotion at Derby’s expense? QPR’s wage bill for that play-off team was just shy of £80m while Derby’s wasn’t much more than £12m.
OW: I think that QPR should be absolutely clobbered for what they did that season. Their subsequent relegation was of no consolation and I found it infuriating that, for years, the Football League seemed unable to enforce its own rules. While QPR of course have every right to appeal against the ruling, I hope that they eventually get the severe punishment that they deserve.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @DerbyCountyBlog
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