In many ways, the rams have made an excellent start to the season. Fans of the club have so far been appreciative of the efforts made to play attractive football on a budget, and the skilful, 'head up' pass and move football so far exhibited by the rams has not really been seen at the club since Wanchope and Sturridge terrorized defenders, and Jim Smith ruled the roost. Good football breeds confidence, and suggests a manager happy with his squad.
Like Smith, Clough has shown a desire to scour less attractive areas of the transfer market for hidden gems. So far Cloughie acquisitions Bailey, Cwyka, and Brayford have all made positive starts to their County careers, arriving from less than auspicious places. Even last season's left back Dean Moxey, a Burton boy, has looked okay as an emergency striker.
Jim Smith, however, took Derby straight up in his first season as manager, and established us as a respectable side in the top division. Harsh, yes, as obviously times and budgets have changed, but currently the rams have a mediocre four points in four games. While good performances will assuage fans nerves that points will eventually come, the danger of falling into an attractive mediocrity could be a lot more costly in the ever-unpredictable Championship than in a newly minted Premier League. The fall from the Premiership eight years ago, along with the downright criminal deviations of our previous owners, left the club in a financial pit we have, apparently, still not entirely managed to climb out of.
And that's fine. Keeping in mind that we were at one point in further debt than Crystal Palace, we're very lucky to be in the position we currently are, and not, say, in Luton or Southend's shoes. However, I can't help but wonder about how tight the purse strings really are at Pride Park. For one, we should not be fielding a left back (or utility player, whatever you want to consider him) such as Dean Moxey on his own up front three games into the new season.
The coaching staff is similarly kidding itself if it considers Commons or Cwkya to be out and out strikers. Commons is a creator, keen to drop back and pull the strings, take on a defender - that was seen at the Ricoh, where he was initially cast as the lone striker, until he almost immediately pulled back. Cwkya is better in the outside forward role, where his pace, vision, and technique have so far caused defences problems and improved our speed of play dramatically.
In this situation, why are we sending Luke Varney on loan? Yeah, I don't really rate him much either (he's one of numerous players we have had that score for everyone but us - annoying bunch they are too), but it's preposterous to send him away when half of our so called strike force is out injured. Especially when Capello rates him so highly!
Taking a moment to examine the squad, it's clear other areas of the squad really only need tweaking, a player or two added here or a bit of dead wood removed there - Cloughie has generally got rid of most of the dross Jewell bought in, while improving the play of the better players he purchased.
Our midfield five so far have performed very well together - Cwkya, Green, Commons, Savage, and Bailey have all played their part as a unit. Bailey in particular has shown a cool head and passing ability that makes it hard to believe he's only nineteen. It's almost like having Tom Huddlestone back - only he's not the size of a small rhinoceros. Commons gets most of the press - and deservedly so, his fast, skilful play has been key for the rams since he's been at the club. If he keeps working on his fitness (his removal at half time against the R's, after a hamstring twinge, hurt) who knows where it could take him. For me the player of the season so far has been Paul Green - fast, strong, and superb vision exhibited in every game so far, he's been the fulcrum for every good move we've made.
The defence has been solid enough, showing slight improvements on last year, with Barker being the overall standout performer (although the rangy Patrick Agyemang exposed, not his slowness exactly, but an inability to match the pace of the fastest players). The defence haven't yet cut out the panicky, melt down moments that lead to us conceding goals, something that will hopefully come with more games together. At the moment, the current starting back four (Brayford, Leacock, Barker, Thomas) look pretty solid, and we have capable back-ups in Buxton, Anderson, and Moxey.
It's one thing to be working on a budget, but another entirely to lose your entire front line because of two minor injuries. Over the last five years we've had owners - Peter Gadsby, Adam Pearson, and now Tom Glick - who have been committed to the club, and invested where able. We are, I hope all readers know (and a fact I'll shout from the rooftops) the 12th best supported club in England attendance-wise. Surely a club of such stature should be able to support a working front line?
Now Nigel needs to (to quote Vince Vaughn in 'Dodgeball') put his money where our balls are. As long as the squad continues to show ability and desire, the rams faithful will be content - but when a club pulls in 25,000 plus fans and sits mid table in the second tier, it's only so long the fans will be content before a bit of ambition needs to be shown. We can never expect to contend without reasonable (but not foolhardy) investment in the current squad...