Take an inside look at Reading’s upcoming opponent, Derby County, with The Athletic’s Rams reporter Elias Burke…

Talk us through Derby’s season so far…

It’s been tough in many ways. The off the pitch stuff has dominated Derby’s season, two points deductions, 21 points in total. But really, if you speak to the players or the manager, the thing to take out of it in how it’s effected the on the pitch stuff, is that they’ve just tried to band together. ‘Siege mentality’ is a phrase they often use.

It’s such an awkward situation for players and Derby are a mish-mash of super experienced players such as Phil Jagielka and Curtis Davies and also lots of young players. They’ve had many players make their debuts this season. Luke Plange who scored against Stoke a few days ago, he now has two goals in two starts and before that he’d just come off the bench - someone who just came from the academy this year.

Reading Chronicle: Curtis Davies blocks a John Swift effort earlier this season. Image by: JasonPIXCurtis Davies blocks a John Swift effort earlier this season. Image by: JasonPIX

So it’s been quite an astounding achievement for Derby to have done so well in light of all the issues off the field. 

How would you evaluate Wayne Rooney’s tenure thus far?

He took the job permanently about a year ago now, he got off to a really good start, then dropped off and then plummeted alarmingly to the point where they needed a draw against Wycombe on the final day of the season to stay up. 

There was a lot of pressure on Rooney going into this season. He’s on a big wage, he’s obviously a big profile, and reservations remained. This was a guy who just retired from playing, he hadn’t completed all of his coaching badges, so there were a lot reservations about whether he was the right guy to keep Derby up. But now you can’t really do much more than praise him.

Reading Chronicle: Derby County manager Wayne Rooney. Image by: PADerby County manager Wayne Rooney. Image by: PA

The hand he’s been dealt with the combination of picking up free agents on tiny contracts, lots of players coming up from the academy. He’s cultivated a spirit within the team and a belief that they can actually compete against Championship sides.

Tactically also he’s proven to be really versatile. He switches most commonly between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-3-3, based on what personnel he has available and how he thinks he can attack the other team. He plays a nice progressive style of football, he’s very keen on playing out from the back. Tactically he’s quite astute which seems to surprise some people.

Obviously Derby have had 21 points deducted which has put them in a real hole, but what do you think is the aim for Derby this season?

Pretty much everybody had Derby finishing 24th going into the season and actually on the eve of the first game of the season Rooney sat down with his staff and had a look at the squad. And they said ‘even without a points deduction it would be an absolute miracle to stay up here.’ That was completely fair.

Going into the season they had a squad limit of 23 players, could only sign free agents…it was a really really tough situation. And the fact that right now they’d be 13th without a points deduction…that is an astounding achievement considering the challenges Derby have had.

Reading Chronicle: Danny Drinkwater goes into a tackle against Derby in September. Image by: JasonPIXDanny Drinkwater goes into a tackle against Derby in September. Image by: JasonPIX

In terms of the aims right now, three wins on the bounce has fans feeling really optimistic. If that could be made four against Reading on Monday then you can really start to believe. That would make it ten points between them and 21st. There’s a possibility that survival could happen.

But as of right now they’re just trying to take it each game at a time - it’s a long season left still but looking ahead to the future, the January transfer window is going to be really big. If they can keep hold of a lot of their first team players - Jason Knight, Max Bird, Tom Lawrence. If they can keep these players and get out of adminastration, I think Derby and Rooney will feel they can survive in the Championship. But if the vultures come in and take all their players…an impossible task becomes even more impossible. 

Players likely to cause Reading problems on Monday?

Luke Plange


Age: 19

Squad #: 48

Luke’s 19 and this will be his fifth game for Derby assuming he starts. He’s been in red-hot from, he’s looking really confident. He’s quick, he’s strong, agile mover, and importantly he’s a really clinical finisher. He’s someone Reading will have to look out for.

Tom Lawrence


Age: 27

Squad #: 10

Tom Lawrence has great quality in the Championship. He’s got Premier League quality, it’s just about putting that together consistently. He’s had flashes this season where he’s looked easily Derby’s best player.

Reading Chronicle: Tom Lawrence in action against Reading. Image by: JasonPIXTom Lawrence in action against Reading. Image by: JasonPIX

Colin Kazim-Richards


Age: 35

Squad #: 13

He’s on a good goalscoring run, he’s got two in two. The question is whether he’ll start or not because Rooney often doesn’t like going with two up front. There’s a chance he could come off the bench and cause issues. His physicality, he’s got quality on the ball, he’s really good at holding the ball up and bringing others into play. He gives Derby some extra attacking impetus.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of this Derby team?

It’s a strength but also a weakness that can be exposed - very experienced centre-back partnership of Phil Jagielka and Curtis Davies. They’ve got a combined age of 75 and perhaps aren’t the quickest so if Reading can attack them with pace...Rooney likes to play a high line also so sometimes they struggle with balls in behind. There’s definitely a chink in the armour in terms of pace in defence.

Talking about a strength…I would say Derby’s main strength is the midfield. The midfield is really strong so Derby can often impose themselves in the midfield battle. So if Reading can’t stamp their authority in midfield I think Derby could really set the agenda and control the match.

Score Prediction?
Derby are in super high confident spirits. I think they’ll be looking at Reading who haven’t played in three weeks now and be thinking there’s a real chance to get at them. I’m predicting a goal in the first half for Derby and another in the second. I’ll go for 2-0. There’s absolutely no reason they won’t go into the game thinking they can get three points.