Almost eleven months after being sacked by the Magpies, Derby boss Steve McClaren returns to Newcastle hoping to upset the 49,000 Geordies at St James’.
There will also be over 3,000 Derby fans in attendance making the game the most attended in England today. Steve McClaren, who returned to Pride Park for a second spell as manager in October, was in March sacked by then Premier League side Newcastle United. Many Geordies blame McClaren for their relegation and today he returns to St James’ for the first time since losing his job – both McClaren and the Newcastle faithful will be out for revenge in what is sure to be a tight affair at the top of the Championship.
The man who replaced McClaren, former Liverpool, Chelsea and Real Madrid boss Rafa Benitez has, as expected, got his side right in the promotion mix. Though this is the case, he’s had his own bit of drama this week after speaking out on his frustration that there were no incomings to St James’ in the January transfer window. Yesterday, Benitez quashed rumours stating that because of this he was going to walk out on the club.
Newcastle, the Championship’s current top scorers, with 56 goals, are currently just one point behind table toppers Brighton. On Wednesday, they were left frustrated as they failed to finish their chances before conceding a late equaliser against QPR in a 2-2 draw at home.
Newcastle’s key man is Scotland winger Matt Ritchie, the 27 year old dropped down a league when signing for over £10 million from Bournemouth and has made a huge impact since moving North to Tyneside. This season, Ritchie has scored 11 goals and assisted eight in 32 appearances. Another player the Rams must watch closely is 24 year old ex Liverpool midfielder Jonjo Shelvey. Shelvey was signed last season by Steve McClaren from Swansea for a fee of over £13 million, he’s scored four goals and assisted ten for the Magpies this campaign. One player Benitez will be missing is top scorer Dwight Gayle, the ex Crystal Palace and Peterbrough striker has scored 20 goals in 22 league appearances this season but has been out injured for a couple of weeks and won’t feature today.
Derby come into the game off the back of two vital league wins, after coming from behind to beat fellow play off hopefuls Reading 3-2 at Pride Park, before a comfortable 3-0 win at Ipswich in midweek. The Rams currently sit seventh, thirteen points behind Newcastle but just three points off the play off places and with a game in hand on many of the sides above them. Since Steve McClaren’s re-appointment, Derby have risen from 20th place and now sit just outside the play offs. In all competitions, since the return of McClaren, the Rams have played 19 games of which they’ve won twelve, drawn four and lost just three.
The Rams, like Newcastle, will also be without a key player in Will Hughes who injured his hamstring last week in his sides 2-2 draw with Leicester in the FA Cup. 21 year old Hughes, who signed a new contract at Derby a few weeks ago, has scored twice and assisted four goals this season. A player who is fit, and will be key for the Rams, is veteran striker Darren Bent. Bent, who turns 33 on Monday, has recently hit a brilliant run of form under the new boss, scoring seven goals in his last 12 starts (four in his last five), just shy of a third of his sides’ goals in that period. Another man rejuvenated since the return of Steve McClaren is 25 year old winger and arguably Derby’s most influential player, Tom Ince. Since the new boss has come in, Ince has almost matched his form last time he played for the Rams under McClaren, scoring ten goals and assisting three in 19 games.
This is likely to be a tight affair, making a draw the most likely result but I am hopeful of a Rams win, moving us back above Sheffield Wednesday and into the play offs.
Come on you Rams!