After a mixed start, Derby have really got going in the last few months and look like the main contenders to challenge runaway leaders Wolves for the title. What have you made of what you’ve seen?
They seem to have really hit their stride after the slow start with a couple of bad defeats on the road. They lost 3-1 at Sheffield United and 4-1 at Bristol City, but the defeat at Ashton Gate seemed to be a bit of a watershed moment and after that, Gary Rowett came out and said that something needed to be done. He didn’t necessarily shake up the personnel, but he tweaked his tactics and I think, particularly away from home, it was all about creating a more solid base to build on. They are actually unbeaten away since that game in September, which is an incredible feat in this division; they did lose at Man United in the FA Cup but that’s to be expected! They’ve probably been better away from home than they have been at home, though that’s not to say they haven’t been good at home either as they’ve made themselves comfortably in second place in recent weeks. I’ll probably jinx it now, but at the moment, you tend to find yourself going into games expecting them not to lose and it all looks pretty promising.
With that form in mind, earlier in the season you said it looked unlikely that the promotion hoodoo would be broken this campaign – have your thoughts changed?
It shows how much I know, doesn’t it! But I think at that time, I don’t think anyone would’ve really seen what was coming and it’s all credit to Gary Rowett, his staff and the players who have really done the business. I think Rowett would say it is down to him getting his ethos across and fully finding out what his best team and formation was but at the moment, if the season ended today, they’d go up automatically and although there is only a couple of points difference between the teams in second to fifth, it is theirs to lose, really. Teams like Cardiff and Bristol City have been dropping points and losing games, so I think Derby are thinking that if they can keep on doing what they are doing, then they’ve got a really good chance. Naturally they’ll be pretty fed up of the playoffs from the last few years so I think they are desperate to get that automatic spot. The manager and the players are talking about trying to catch Wolves, rather than just seeing off the teams below them and that looks like a long shot but they are not giving up on that yet.
Gary Rowett wasn’t really been an active participant in the January transfer window, other than Cameron Jerome’s transfer. Has it been a successful window?
He said at the start that they didn’t expect it to be a busy one in terms of incomings as he has a fairly well-stocked squad, but he was more talking about getting some players out. He brought in Jerome who brings a bit of pace, power and strength that he didn’t have previously in a frontman so I think he was pleased to get that done. People like Darren Bent and Jason Shackell, who hadn’t featured at all and were sat there on big wages, have gone out on loan, which can only be a good thing. He wouldn’t have expected to be losing Johnny Russell at this stage of the season, but he’s out of contract at the end of June and it’s emerged that he’s turned down a new deal at Pride Park and is likely to head to the MLS. Other than that, there was talk of an experienced goalkeeper coming in to provide cover for Scott Carson, though it is still unclear if that will happen or not. It was important that Gary Rowett didn’t leave himself too short for the remaining months of the campaign.
The Rams boast some real talent in the attacking department at Pride Park, but who would you say has been the shining light over the last few months?
You’d have to say Matej Vydra has been the star man, really. He’s Derby’s club record signing but up until this season he hadn’t really made his mark, due to a number of reasons from not being in the team to being played out of position. This season he has been playing in number 10 role which is his favourite position and clearly his best; he’s had an extended run there and scored 16 goals in all competitions which is a fantastic return at this stage of the season. He’s really found his feet and is the go-to man in terms of goals at the moment.
How are Derby likely to set up against Brentford on Saturday?
That’s a difficult one but I think it’s fair to say they’ll line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Scott Carson in goal and Andre Wisdom, Richard Keogh, Curtis Davies and Craig Forsyth making up the back four. The two holding midfielders are likely to be Tom Huddlestone and George Thorne - though Joe Ledley could feature after returning from injury – while Vydra will play as a number 10, with Tom Lawrence and Andreas Weimann lining up either side of him. He has tended to go for the David Nugent/Vydra combination away from home, so he may opt for that against Brentford.
What’s your score prediction for the game?
Some teams have come to Pride Park and caused Derby a few problems this season and Brentford could be one of those teams. Defensively, they’ve been very good recently so, on that basis, I’ll go for a 1-0 Rams win.
Tickets for Saturday's trip to the East Midlands are on General Sale now. Back Dean and the boys this weekend for £22 adults, £15.50 seniors, £12.50 (13-17), (2-12) £7. Get your tickets here