I couldn’t resist using the phrase ‘bouncebackability’ as the title for this blog entry, a term famously (or infamously) coined by Iain Dowie and promoted on Soccer AM. Derby County’s 3-0 victory against Brighton at the weekend not only underlined the obvious progress which has been established under Steve McClaren, but it emphasised to me how well we now respond to defeats.
Nigel Clough had many qualities as Derby County manager, and it was because of his hard work that McClaren had a promising platform to build upon last season. However, what irked many fans was how one defeat in the league often led the club into a downward spiral, with lengthy winless runs the norm. When Clough (eventually) stopped the rot, small winning streaks would often follow, but this meant slow progress in the league, as these wins were too often negated by the dearth of points that preceded them. Under McClaren, defeats are rare, and so too are winless runs.
Let’s look at some statistics as evidence. It wasn’t until McClaren’s 4th game in charge (excluding the Ipswich 4-4 game) that the Rams tasted defeat, and that was a respectable 2-1 loss away to QPR (don’t point out the irony). A week later, Derby crushed Sheffield Wednesday 3-0, the start of a run of 7 consecutive wins, with a draw and another win following that run. Derby lost 1-0 to Wigan on New Year’s Day, followed by a 2-0 FA Cup loss to Chelsea (once again, respectable). The following 4-1 away loss to Leicester on January 10th was arguably the worst it got under McClaren last season, but Derby didn’t lose again until March (to promotion rivals Burnley), with 17 points amassed in 7 games in the mean time.
After the Burnley loss, Derby lost to Millwall and drew to Bolton and Reading. Instead of giving in to old winless habits, Derby crushed bitter rivals Nottingham Forest 5-0 after this mini-crisis, and they only lost two more times in the league; the last of those defeats to Middlesbrough was followed by a run of 5 wins on the bounce. This rich vein of form was key to Derby’s impressive 6-2 aggregate win over Brighton in the Play-Off semi finals, even though the positive football on show came up short against QPR.
It’s not only the statistics that are encouraging, but the general optimism around the club. The defeat to Leeds United was frustrating, especially due to the nature of the rivalry, but I had little doubt in my mind that we would put that right the following week, and I think I can safely assume that many of my fellow Derby fans felt the same. The Brighton win was enjoyable, but it was also expected, whereas many games under Clough which had followed a defeat often had a hopeful feel to them. Credit where credit is due, I often expected us to win at home under Clough, but away from home, whoever the opposition, I was pessimistic.
The most crucial defeat to respond to was the Play-Off Final defeat in May. With Derby top after 20 games and 38 points, they are well on the way to epitomising the phrase ‘bouncebackability’.