Derby County: Why West Ham United should fear a giant killing at the hands of resurgent Rams’ dad’s army
It’s only six months since Derby County’s nightmare ended but already they are starting to dream big again.
The former champions of England and founding members of the Football League spent two years with their existence in the balance – nine months of it languishing in administration, which they only exited after being relegated to the third tier last summer.
But since their £50m takeover by local property developer David Clowes and helped by a host of new faces, Derby have been resurrected.
Sitting fourth in League One, they are firmly in the hunt for promotion back to the Championship at the first attempt and on an unbeaten run of 19 games, of which the last six have been wins.
On Monday they are due to host West Ham United in the fourth round of the FA Cup, in what is probably the most high-profile fixture at Pride Park since Manchester United visited in 2019-20.
It is another sign that the good times have returned to Derby, who were dumped out of the competition in the third round in both of the last two seasons, including once to non-league Chorley.
This season they have had to overcome Torquay United, Newport County and Barnsley to get their crack at Premier League opposition – and the financial boost of being selected for live broadcast.
Derby’s transformation has come despite being forced to operate under a strict budget of £8m over the next two years, as stipulated by league chiefs.
It saw an exodus of 22 players following relegation, replaced by 15 free transfers and loan signings, and has gathered pace since the arrival of manager Paul Warne in September.
Under Warne, who took Rotherham up from League One three times in five years before being lured to Pride Park, Derby’s motley crew of journeymen have built up a head of steam.
Former top-flight defender Curtis Davies, 37, is the most senior but a glance at their top scorers – David McGoldrick, Nathaniel Mendez Laing, Conor Hourihane and James Collins are all in their thirties – underlines the sense of a dad’s army.
They may be older than most but they still have stamina, going by the midweek game at Port Vale which saw McGoldrick and Mendez Laing score in the last four minutes to snatch a 2-1 win.
“The feel around the place is totally different and there’s now stability. People aren’t looking over their shoulders any more,” Davies told the Daily Telegraph.
“The laundry staff, kitchen staff and scouts aren’t hedging their bets and thinking ‘am I going to be the next to go’? It’s a much better feeling and it’s given us a platform to rebuild and to be competitive again.”
West Ham head to the East Midlands with a whiff of giants waiting to be killed.
David Moyes’s side have lost six of their last 11 games in all competitions and, with a European adventure vying for importance with securing top-flight survival, could be forgiven for considering domestic cups a distraction.
At this stage last year the Hammers came within a last-minute Declan Rice equaliser of losing to sixth-tier Kidderminster Harriers.
A plum home tie is the least that Derby supporters deserve, having backed their club to the tune of 20,000 season tickets sold this season.
They took 5,600 to Anfield for a Carabao Cup clash with Liverpool, which they only lost on penalties, and had 30,000 at their last game at Pride Park, against Bolton Wanderers.
“It is under the lights at Pride Park, on TV and on a Monday night – the lads can just go out and enjoy it and that’s what I want them to do,” said Warne.
“We will send the players out trying to win. We won’t be going out and trying to stay in the game for 60-70 minutes. If they perform at their very best and they lose, then I’ll be proud of them.”