This is it then. The first match in what Darren Ferguson has called ‘a three game’ season. For Posh to still have a competitive season is a remarkable achievement after the start that they had, but their hard-work will be undone if they don’t finish the campaign well.
On Saturday, they travel to Pride Park to take on Derby County with The Rams still not entirely sure on their safety, in the most incredible of Championship seasons.
It promises to be a cracking game, with both sides realising how important three points could be for their respective teams.
The Derby View
Ahead of the game I caught up with Sam Moseley, a Derby season-ticket holder and fan, to get his opinions on their season so far, Paul Coutts and a prediction for Saturday’s result.
What have you made of your season so far? Ordinarily 55 points would keep you up, but do you think it will be enough this year?
Consistency has yet again proved a major obstacle in Derby’s season, as it has done throughout Nigel Clough’s tenure at the club, in particular away from home where Derby have won just 4 times all season. In stark contrast, the Rams have made Pride Park a fortress losing only 4 of our 19 home games so far, winning 10 of them and scoring 39 goals in the process. The third best record in the division. A lack of consistency has halted any potential push for the play-offs, and a recent few wobbles in which we went 8 games without winning meant we started to look over our shoulders a little. However, our last gasp point away at Barnsley on Tuesday night and with 2 of our last 3 games being at home, we should now see the job through with ease. Though a team with 55 points this season, could potentially go down in what has been yet another tight and fascinating campaign.
What’s your opinion on Nigel Clough? He appears to be doing a steady if unspectacular job at the minute?
When Clough was appointed in January 2009, his task was simple. Keep Derby competitive in the Championship while reducing the wage bill. He has managed to do this and great credit must go to him for doing so. The current squad is incomparable to that of which he took over from former manager Paul Jewell, and while on paper it may not look as strong, the current players have a strong desire to do well for the club, while young players such as Will Hughes and Jeff Hendrick have also been given a chance to make an impression. While Derby have finished in the top half only once under Clough (12th last season), he realises that next season the fans will expect more now he finally has his squad in place. A play-off push will be firmly on everyone’s minds and questions may be asked if this isn’t delivered.
You have a very young squad at the minute. Would you like to see a bit more experience added or are you happy to see inexperienced talent trusted?
The average age of Derby’s squad is lower than the vast majority of clubs in the Championship, which bodes well for the future however this has prevented us from making a real impression in the league. While usually you would see young players sent out on loan to gain first experience, the nature of Derby’s financial position means that the young players have been sent straight into the first team, and inevitably they have made mistakes at times. On the Brightside, it has unleashed a few gems such as Will Hughes, Mark O’Brien, Jeff Hendrick and Mason Bennett to name a few, who will no doubt go on to have long and successful careers in the game. Though experience is needed within the squad for us to go to the next level, as it can’t be expected that 17 and 18 year olds will perform consistently all season and they are in need of a bit of help with the introduction of 2 or 3 more experienced players to further help them improve. It has been a season of small margins this season, and if we can bring in these players in the summer, it could make all the difference between mid-table mediocrity and a play-off push.
Will Hughes has earned himself a reputation as one of the finest players outside the Premier League. How highly do you rate him?
As I’m sure everyone is aware, Will Hughes has been labelled as “the next best thing” and over the coming years this could prove to be true. Since making his first team debut, ironically away at Peterborough in November 2011, Hughes has established himself as one of the first players down on Derby’s team sheet and one of the countries brightest talents. Calm and composed both on and off the ball, he has shown both the ability and maturity to control the game for Derby over large spells throughout the season. A central midfielder, Hughes’ eye for a killer pass and driving runs have seen him being linked with moves away from Pride Park, with Barcelona and Manchester United, among others reportedly keen on signing the youngster. Unfortunately out injured, possibly for the rest of the season, he has just put pen to paper on a new contract for the Rams, which will see him at the club until at least the end of the 2015-2016 season, though it wouldn’t be surprising to hear a number of the world’s top clubs making offers for him. A very down to earth lad, he has the potential to make it to the very top and could be the face of English football for years to come.
And another player Posh fans will be familiar with is Paul Coutts. How is he getting on for you?
After a promising start to his Derby career, Coutts’ has failed to live up to expectations in the second half of the season, in which his level of performances has dropped. He has predominantly been used on the right hand side of midfield by Clough this season, though his best performances have arguably been when playing in a more central role. With only 2 goals so far in his first season with the club, more will be expected of him next season both performance wise and a tally of goals that backs this up.
Who else are your key players?
Despite only being involved in 23 of Derby’s games this season, forward Jamie Ward has still found time to make himself the clubs top goal scorer with 12 goals so far this campaign. With the ability to play out wide or up front, Ward has the capabilities to hassle the opposition wherever on the pitch he may be. He is a vital part of Derby’s attacking options. Summer signing Richard Keogh has also been a revelation this season, having taking the captains armband in place the injured Shaun Barker, Keogh has made his presence known at the heart of Derby’s defence and his leadership and experience has been vital in helping the younger squad members.
Are there any Posh players you are particularly wary of?
Looking in from the outside, Posh look as though they have a good influx of attacking players within a young squad, and for me Lee Tomlin has always impressed me whenever I’ve seen him play. It looks as though him and Dwight Gayle have established a good partnership up top and their goals between them could prove vital in your bid to stay up which would be a great achievement.
Finally, a prediction for Saturday’s result?
While many will overlook Derby for relegation to League 1 this season, another couple of points are still needed to ensure safety, while Peterborough will be fighting for their lives come Saturday. With 2 teams who both like to play attractive, attacking football on the deck I have no doubts it’ll be an exciting match to watch between both teams going all out for the 3 points. Neither team have great defensive records, and neither team really being able to afford to lose in the context of their seasons, I’m going for a draw.
Derby County: Paul Coutts – A tidy and creative midfielder, Posh fans know all about Coutts’ talents after he was plucked from Scottish Third Division side Cove Rangers and brought to London Road where he immediately impressed. Often used out on the right-wing at Derby, his major strengths are perhaps not allowed to flourish as much as they are in a central role, but he did get a late equaliser in Derby’s last game against Barnsley in mid-week. He has the ability to hurt Posh if not marshalled and will be a threat, if given time on the ball.
Peterborough United: Dwight Gayle – Darragh has stated this week that his star-striker is worth over £10,000,000 to the football club already and, although the fee may be far exaggerated, it is a perfect indication of how crucial he has become at Posh since his arrival. It is an incredible rise, too, this is his first season as a professional and it is easy to forget he was representing Stanstead FC just two-years ago. Pacey, predatory and improving Gayle has the ability to be a threat at this level, and higher, but if he is to do that at Posh next season he will need to improve on his already impressive scoring record between now and the end of the campaign. With Derby’s defence lacking pace, it could be the perfect game for him to get on the score-sheet if he is found with the right service from those behind him.
Match Odds (William Hill)
Derby 21/20 – Draw 5/2 – Peterborough 9/4
Up The Posh!