What a difference a year makes.
This time in 2005 the Rams sat in 17th position, struggling for consistency and not having a regular striker. Then, coach Phil Brown, was trying to balance the team and the Rams` purse strings with the clubs off-field situation, still up in the air. Brown`s hands were tied and he could only bring in on-loan players, but they had failed to score in three of their last six games and only one of their last five goals had come from open play.
Brown had tried a number of on loan strikers – Stern John, Mounir El Hamdaoui, Dexter Blackstock and Danny Graham, but the Rams still had trouble finding the back-of-the-net. Brown had a Christmas shopping list that contained three or four new signings but players had to leave Pride Park to relieve pressure on the purse strings.
What a difference this season, as the New Year turns in 2006 the Rams sit in second spot in the league and are playing with confidence. Yes, Billy Davies would like to strengthen the squad, but the club are in a position to buy players instead of loan deals. The Rams have a competitive squad at present and coach Davies feels the increased competition for places at Pride Park is keeping everybody on their toes and the team is reaping the rewards. He says the battle for first team places has seen a number of players step up their fitness, strength and hunger.
‘Sometimes competition makes you a better player and I think we have seen that with a number of players at the club,’ said the Rams manager.
Back in 2005 the Rams squad was depleted by injuries, but in this term they have a fully fit squad, which means players are also fighting for a place in the starting eleven and on the substitute`s bench, while others have had to be content with watching from the stand.
In the recent 1-0 win against Leeds United at Elland Road the Rams had Adam Bolder, Mo Camara, Ryan Smith, Bob Malcolm and Richard Jackson in the stands.
The bench consisted of veterans Michael Johnson and Paul Peschisolido, who have had become fringe players. There were also a number of players, whose future at Derby, looked uncertain earlier this season, that started in the game and sent a strong message to the manager that they want to be a part of the future at Pride Park.
Darren Moore, who nearly joined Coventry City at the end of the transfer window, has been excellent at centre-back in recent games and midfielder Seth Johnson, who Crewe asked about in the summer, has started 11 of the last 12 games and is playing well.
One of the players who has made the most of his playing time is Paul Boertien. He is currently keeping one of Davies’ summer signings, Camara, out of the team.
Boertien slotted in at left-back when Camara served a one-match ban for reaching five yellow cards and has now made seven consecutive starts.
Davies has nothing but praise for Boertien, and said he is a great example of how the competition for places works.
Davies said: “‘Obviously, when I first came to the club I was very concerned because Paul had not played for two years due to horrendous injuries,’ said Davies.
‘We had only one left-back and so it was important to bring in competition and we did that by signing Camara.
‘Paul had to be patient and wait his time but he has come in and grabbed the opportunity with both hands.’