Derby County missed out on the chance to play in the Premier League at the death for the second time in two seasons with a 3-0 loss at home to Reading causing them to finish outside of the top six. Derby had been top less than three months ago and looked to be cruising to the Championship title, however a poor run of form saw them drop out of the promotion picture all together.
One key absentee from Derby’s run in was defensive midfielder John Eustace. Eustace had been a key member in the Derby squad that had reached the Play Off final a year previous and seemed to be favourite of Rams boss Steve McClaren, but an injury in mid January, coupled with a lengthy absence due to a previous injury saw his game time limited in the 2014/15 season.
Eustace’s contract is up in the summer and there has been little indication that the 35 year old will be retained, despite his performances rarely stealing the headlines he is still an important player and someone that Derby should be looking to keep.
Eustace only played for Derby 13 times last season, managing 1059 minutes in that time, and they certainly benefited from his influence. Derby only lost one game in which Eustace appeared in, that being a 2-1 loss to Wigan in which Eustace scored. Of his 13 games derby won eight, His defensive work is evident when you consider that Derby only conceded once in Eustace’s last eight games, winning six of those games.
In terms of stats, Eustace once again is shown to be an integral member of the Derby midfield, he averaged 2.9 tackles and 1.5 interceptions and 1.5 aerial battles won in his 13 games. In terms of passing he averaged nearly 42 passes a game at a success rate of 84.8. The only downside to Eustace’s game is his lack of attacking presence. He did manage one goal in 13 games, but no assists and 0.2 key passes per match meant that it was his only contribution. His lack of discipline is another concern, with him averaging 2.3 fouls a game last season, but his ability to get stuck into the opposition provides intensity to Derby’s defensive duties.
At 35 Eustace is certainly not a player for the long term but his stability and experience could be crucial for a Derby side that will be shaken following consecutive failed promotion attempts. He would also be a good mentor for younger midfielders such as Will Hughes and George Thorne, and his lengthy Championship career means that Derby have a proven asset at their level.
Overall, a short loan spell and his two years at the club permanently, Eustace has played 62 times and managed three goals, this is a different John Eustace to the man that played 168 times for Watford and scored 16, assisting 13, with the potential to threaten the goal from any distance, he is more mature and conservative in his deeper role, a role that Derby will be desperate to fill if the veteran is to leave The Ipro Stadium.