Second to none or nothing is quite literally the phrase one would use to describe Derby’s recent seasons.
From second place to not achieving promotion in their last six seasons, Derby have been agonisingly close to achieving promotion; on as many as four of those six last seasons, Derby have been in the automatic promotion places. But it has been to no avail.
This season has seen no change.
Derby, once second, have now slipped outside the play-off places after the ‘embarrassing’ result to relegation favourites and local rivals, Burton Albion.
There has been a bitter change in the chants in recent fixtures. “This is embarrassing”, “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” and “it’s happening again” are just some of the aggrieved words that have resoundingly echoed and followed Derby around in grounds up and down the Championship.
Since their rather surprising 2014-15 season, in which they finished third and narrowly missed out on promotion at Wembley, Derby’s squad has come a long way.
A breadth of experience and quality has embraced the side. But for all that experience and talent, the Rams have never again achieved better than or even equal to that third place.
Big money brings big talent, big egos, and big demands, but not always big results.
Derby, throughout the seasons, have undoubtedly experienced all of the above.
Millwall, however, have spent around £200,000 more than Burton Albion this season, but are currently sitting pretty in sixth after leapfrogging Derby to the last play-off position.
Proving all too well that money, quality and skilful individuals don’t always pay off… unless you’re Wolverhampton Wanders of course.
You only have to look at the cheers for players such as the young Luke Thomas to see what Derby fans really desire. Against Bolton Wanders, Thomas appeared for only the second time of the season and was revered for absolutely everything he did.
The academy prospect showed five minutes of character, desire and want, which was appreciated and admired by all at Pride Park. There is no question that players such as himself and Jamie Hanson (who also developed from the academy) would want nothing more than to play 70 or more minutes of football for Derby.
This inclusion would inevitably give the flailing crowd a much needed and timely lift.
The introduction of young players would have a massive effect on the side who have recorded the oldest starting squad this season for a Championship league match.
And it doesn’t just spring from the ‘one of our own’ academy title either. “We want Palmer” rang around the Pirelli on Friday before he was eventually substituted on.
Never before have louder cheers been heard from seeing a man with his shirt off except maybe at your mother’s hen party.
As the Chelsea loanee Kasey Palmer got ready, the crowd was lifted substantially. More of this could be helpful as Derby head into some crucial games to decide their Championship destiny.