This afternoon, in the first of three crucial home matches in Derby’s play off chase, an out of form Bristol City travel to Pride Park.
Both sides are in need of a win. For the Rams, three points are needed to reduce the deficit to the play offs as they currently sit six points behind sixth place Sheffield Wednesday. The Owls beat Birmingham at Hillsbrough last night to further enhance their hold on the final place in the top six.
Bristol City are at the other end of the table, sitting just three points above the relegation zone. City will face a tough task as they play a Derby side unbeaten in nine home league games, in which they’ve conceded just twice.
In recent weeks, 35 year old Robins boss Lee Johnson has been under severe pressure. This is because his side has lost 15 of its last 22 games in all competitions in a run stretching back to mid-October. Also, prior to a draw with Sheffield Wednesday, City were on an eight match losing run which saw them plummet down towards the foot of the table. They sat fifth after twelve games, seventeen later and they are three points and two places from the bottom three.
Bristol City’s key man is 19 year old striker Tammy Abraham who’s been a huge hit since joining on loan from Chelsea. In his 29 appearances he’s scored 16 goals, making him the third top scorer in the Championship – his pace will cause problems for the Rams’ defence. Another player Derby must keep an eye on is Lee Tomlin who’s scored five goals and assisted six this season. New signing Matty Taylor, who’s scored 96 career goals, is looking for his first start after last month, becoming the first player to cross the Bristol divide in thirty years.
A player who is likely to be key for Derby is central defender Alex Pearce. At this point last season his Rams career seemed to be over when he was sent out on loan to Bristol City having not made a league start for Derby. This season, towards the end of Nigel Pearson’s spell as manager, Pearce made his first league start and hasn’t looked back ever since, making 28 appearances so far this term, scoring twice. He’s also formed a brilliant partnership with Rams skipper Richard Keogh at centre back, with the pair starting 22 league games together, in which they’ve kept twelve clean sheets, helping their side to being the best defensively in the Championship.
After making eight changes on Wednesday against Leicester, a number of key players will return to the side fresh and looking to impress. Scott Carson, Tom Ince and Darren Bent will be back in the team after being rested, Craig Bryson and Will Hughes should return from injury. Abdoul Camara is likely to start after impressing in the last two games and scoring his first goal for the club against Leicester.
Though both teams need a win, Derby are in better form and are unbeaten in ten games in all competitions at Pride Park since McClaren’s appointment. A win could improve their chances going into the next couple of games at home against Cardiff and then Burton.