Derby County have enjoyed a fruitful first season under the guidance of ex-England boss Steve McClaren. The former Eredivisie winner has guided the rams into the play-offs after Nigel Clough was sacked at the back end of September.

Having just missed out on automatic promotion back to the top flight for the first time since 2007, the Rams may still have a chance to get into the Premier League via the play-offs. What has played a part in this sudden turnaround and how far can they go?

Steve McClaren

When Steve McClaren walked into Derby, I’m sure his ambition was to achieve a high finish and emulate what Nigel Clough did, but he has taken the East Midlands side to another level. Losing just twice at the iPro Stadium in the process, he has certainly won over the fans and accomplished something Nigel Clough never managed to achieve. McClaren believes the difference between his and Nigel Clough’s approach was the structural changes that he made to the footballing operations and the group of players are helpfully talented. He also stated that having a technical sporting director to control those footballing operations was a boost.

The players’ contributions

Derby have had some exceptional players this term and all-round,have some excellent individuals in this ever-improving squad young squad. Chris Martin has scored 20 goals in 44 appearances, while Craig Bryson has chipped in with 16 goals and notched up 12 assists. Highly-rated Will Hughes has had a mixed season, but has still been a pivotal figure despite the injuries he’s been plagued with. The England under-21 International has scored 3 times whilst accomplishing 5 assists in 36 Championship games. Add to this 60 chances the midfield man has created and an average passing accuracy of 87%. Not to forget Chelsea-loanee Patrick Bamford who has been a magnificent loan signing from the West London side. Scoring 8 times in 20 Championship appearances, creating 16 chances since that loan move. Players of the ilk of Bamford and Hughes are expected to go on and have bright careers if their progress now is focused and composed. I think players who are as highly-rated as these two must be utilised appropriately and carefully otherwise the progress path could be affected heavily and their futures may be harmed.

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Play-off chances

Derby are 3 victories from a return to the Premier League, easier said than done of course but they’ve certainly displayed their capabilities this season, nonetheless.

But can Derby do it? Derby will play Brighton for a chance to play either QPR or Wigan in the final of the play-offs. The Rams definitely have the quality but it’s a case of having the experience which Wigan and QPR both have, this is the only hinder point which I think is stopping the Rams from being promoted. Will the pressure get to them?

Although, I don’t think they should be overlooked, because, as we have seen this season, they can beat the more equipped and experienced teams beating QPR and Wigan this season. They also have nothing to lose, as a young side they’ve blossomed more than they were expected to, personally, they are a very underrated unit.

They are a squad which has the correct mentality, the balance is perfect and the structure of the team is working at the moment, and if they continue this momentum and consistency in the play-offs they could be very dangerous.

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What next?

So what next for this team? There are two possible outcomes here. They will either be promoted or be playing Championship football next season. The consequences matter dramatically and you need to just have a look at a team like Watford, for example. Finished 3rd in the Championship last season, having lost their last game of the season,missed out on automatic promotion by just two points and they seemed to have been derailed by that. Despite bringing in a new man halfway through this season, they finished 13th.

Derby will be eager to win the play-offs for the financial benefit and for the fans. Having been on the coat tails of Burnley for much of 2014, they were overachieving and finishing 3rd reflected how good they really are. If I was to predict the current winners of the play-offs, I would say QPR because of the depth and experience within the squad. I think Derby need to win the play-offs because of the physicality of the Championship and how long they’ve been nestled in the play-offs for. If they aren’t promoted, it would batter confidence and could carry over to performances at the start of next season.