Mixed, I would say. Derby have gone from looking like they'd turned a corner after a dreadful start to the season, looking like a team under Wayne Rooney that had an identity, had defensive solidity, had ability to really grind out games and most importantly picking up crucial points to get them away from the bottom of the table. That has now, seemingly, come to a halt because the last two to three weeks have been anything but what we saw in the previous couple of months. They appear to have lost their defensive structure, they haven't won in the last five games, they've not scored in the last four, which has increased relegation concerns. So it has very much been a season of two halves since the two sides met back in early December, with the first half really good and the second half a real struggle. Derby need something quickly otherwise it could turn into a very stressful end to the season, if it's not that way already.
It's safe to say few expected them to be in the position they are currently at the start of the season. What do you make of their chances of survival?
I still think they'll be ok, though some of the fans are less convinced and I understand why because recent performances have not been good. There are two reasons why I'm confident: firstly, it would take a turnaround from a team below them that, at the moment, don't look like producing that turnaround. Wycombe don't look great at the bottom, Sheffield Wednesday have gone through their managerial problems, so too Birmingham and Rotherham have lots of games in hand. The other thing is, yes they have 39 points, but they are only two points off Forest in 17th and five points off a clutch of teams on 44 points in relatively safe mid-table. I won't take much to get them back on the winning streak and, as we know in this league, you can go through a terrible run and it only takes one performance in one game and you can be back winning. I still feel that Derby will have enough to stay up, albeit that it will be tight.
Since the reverse fixture towards the end of last year, Wayne Rooney has been appointed as permanent manager. Has it been a relatively seamless transition, given his previous player-coach role?
It has, yes. It came with a couple of complications early on because when he was appointed first of all, it was part of a quadruple management team and lots of eyebrows were raised at the suitability of that. It's safe to say it didn't go well. Rooney was still playing and Liam Rosenior was calling the shots on the touchline and it was clear that it wasn't working. When he was given sole interim charge, he absolutely embraced it and said he had no desires about going back into playing. He made sure he really did approach the managerial role with 100 per cent commitment and he's impressed everyone. You speak to people around the club and they say that he takes an interest in absolutely every single aspect, from the academy, right the way through to the first team. He's impressed a lot of people with his openness and directness in press conferences, he's honesty and seems to be getting the best out of the players who really like playing for him. It has been a very impressive transition from player to manager; a transition many thought might be difficult, given the calibre of player he was - would he find management as easy as he found playing? There's still a long way to go in this season in whether it can be defined as a success, but so far he's impressing everyone.
Which player should Brentford fans be keeping an eye on on Tuesday night?
I think I said it last time, but Colin Kazim-Richards is still very much the talisman for Derby. He was given the captain's armband for the very first time against Millwall because goalkeeper David Marshall was just coming back from injury and Andre Wisdom was only on the bench. He makes them tick and when he is on form, he's a brilliant leader of the team, he holds the ball up really well and is the club's top scorer with seven goals. It's not so much his goals - clearly, seven is nothing to write home about - but it is what he brings to the side. He gets them going, he leads from the front and has an insatiable desire to play the game. You can see the team gravitate towards him and when Derby are winning games, he's often at the forefront of that. Perhaps it's no surprise that in the last five games, which have been a struggle, Kazim hasn't quite been at his top level.
How is Wayne Rooney likely to set up his side at Pride Park?
This is a really interesting question because he has shown in his managerial career so far that he doesn't settle on a formation and often chooses one to match the opposition. Against Millwall, he played five at the back as they did and he's been known to go five at the back and change it at half-time to go to a 4-3-3. My hunch is that he will return to a 4-3-3 tomorrow, with Kazim-Richards leading the line. He'll play a couple of wingers either side, maybe Kamil Jozwiak and Martyn Waghorn, while Tom Lawrence might be in the side. The midfield engine room normally comprises of Graeme Shinnie, Jason Knight and sometimes Max Bird. That's my hunch, but it's not set in stone because Rooney has proven that he's got a couple of ways to go.
Brentford are unbeaten in their last four meetings with Derby, while the two sides played out a goalless draw last time around. What’s your score prediction for this one?
The form guide points to a Brentford win but when Derby have been in this situation this season, when they've needed a performance against a side gunning for promotion, they've tended to provide one. I'm going to back them to come good and I'll go for a 1-1 draw.
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