Now I feel you’ve left me standing. In a world that’s so demanding
Derby County (finished third – lost to QPR in the final)
Derby’s semi-final victory over Brighton, following a six-game unbeaten run, marked Derby out as the form team in the play-offs. Steve McClaren must ensure that the hangover from their undeserved loss does not linger. McClaren’s assertion in January that “I’ve got to be…more patient now than I have been in the past” suggests that he will take a measured approach to this.
Derby are dizzying to watch in full flow. Their strategy of getting bodies forward quickly in support of the focal point (usually Chris Martin) yielded the harvest of Craig Bryson’s 16 goals from midfield, in addition to Martin’s 25 goals. Will Hughes continued to play with a composure beyond his years and fellow midfielder George Thorne produced some eye-catching performances in the play-offs.
McClaren’s key task is to adequately replace Derby’s loanees. Andre Wisdom, who nailed down the right-back spot from October onwards, Patrick Bamford and Thorne will all return to their parent clubs, leaving Derby with three big gaps in a squad which, while still well equipped, will lose some vital components.
Wigan Athletic (Finished fifth lost to QPR in the semi-finals)
Wigan look well placed to thrive in 14/15. Uwe Rosler said after their loss to QPR: “I’m a strong believer that…you have to fail before you become a winner” points to a manager bullish in his approach. The upward curve in form since Rosler succeeded Owen Coyle in December is undeniable. An underachieving squad sitting 14th when Rosler arrived were propelled to a fifth place finish, after winning 19 of Rosler’s 37 games in charge.
Wigan’s attacking weapons, James McClean’s pace, Shaun Maloney’s guile and set-piece excellence, Martyn Waghorn’s industry and Callum McManaman’s trickery, flourishes due to the base provided by the metronomic Jordi Gomez and a solid, experienced defence. Correcting last season’s periodic goal shyness, even if top scorer Nick Powell returns to Manchester United, should be a given. Wigan’s other kink is a tendency to drop points to teams at the bottom of the table. Home losses to Millwall and Blackpool and a 3-3 draw with Yeovil across March and April stalled momentum at a crucial time. With no European campaign this time, it looks like Wigan need a little fine tuning to secure a return to the Premier League.
Brighton & Hove Albion (Finished 6th, lost to Derby in semi final)
The Seagulls of 13/14 were a different proposition to Gus Poyet’s expansive team of 12/13. Oscar Garcia’s model was built from the back, and a mean defence (only 40 league goals shipped, the joint second lowest in the division) was counterbalanced by a goalscoring problem which saw them score 55 goals. Only six teams scored less than Brighton, all of whom finished in the bottom seven. A reliance on Leo Ulloa up front and on the injection of stardust from Jesse Lingard late in the season illustrate holes at the sharp end of Brighton’s team, exacerbated by Ashley Barnes’ departure for Burnley, which Garcia’s successor must address quickly.
The loss of Matt Upson to Leicester will deplete the defence he marshalled for 43 games. This is not to say Brighton are in a bad position, Tomasz Kuszczak’s quality in goal allied to the solidity the likes of Bruno Saltor, Gordon Greer and Rohan Ince provide mean that Brighton will remain a difficult proposition. However, it is difficult to see them going one better in 14/15 unless Garcia’s successor can do as good a job of making maximum capital of their defensive toughness.
How do you think QPR will get on back in the Premier League? Will Derby bounce back from play-off final heartache and secure promotion in 2014-15?