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Older heads imperative to guide younger Derby County players

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: July 10, 2014

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EXPERIENCED players can be as influential off the pitch as they are on it.

Their know-how and calm approach is often invaluable, especially to the young players and when the pressure is cranked up on the team.

They have usually seen similar situations and scenarios in their careers, and can draw on their experiences.

John Eustace, at 34, played a key role for the Rams last season in the holding role in midfield, as his presence allowed the more attacking Will Hughes, Craig Bryson and Jeff Hendrick to play their natural games.

Goalkeeper Lee Grant (pictured), 31, was ever-present last season, a reliable figure who was able to use his knowledge gleaned from more than 400 senior games with Derby, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday.

The experienced Zak Whitbread and Lee Naylor did not feature as much as Eustace, Grant and the rest.

Whitbread made only four appearances during two loan spells from Leicester City. The 30-year-old central defender arrived at the beginning of October and started three consecutive games before being injured.

His loan spell was renewed in January until the end of the season and his only other appearance came in the final league fixture away against Leeds United at Elland Road when Jake Buxton was handed a breather ahead of the play-offs.

Naylor’s four appearances were all as a substitute. His role in the squad was seen as cover for left back Craig Forsyth, who enjoyed an impressive season.

So, not much was seen of Whitbread and Naylor, but their influence within the squad and around the dressing room and training ground was important.

And they also added competition.

Whitbread was breathing down the necks of centre-backs Buxton and Richard Keogh, while Naylor was keeping Forsyth on his toes.

Both signed one-year contracts last month, although Whitbread’s deal has a one-year option as well.

And first-team coach Paul Simpson has welcomed the addition of the pair.

“They were a big part of the squad last season, two experienced pros who helped the group,” said Simpson.

“Although they didn’t play many games, they were still important.

“We said all last season it is not just about the XI, it is about the squad and we have this thing about squad wins, not just team wins.”

The need for a squad of sufficient depth and a mixture of youthful legs and also experience is crucial over 46 matches in the Championship.

All attributes are needed to cope with such a demanding division.

One of the problems Nigel Clough faced in his early years of his four-and-a-half as Rams manager was working with a squad short of the quality and numbers needed to climb into the top six.

Derby went agonisingly close to promotion last season with the club’s strongest squad for some time.

Proof of this was seen in the strength of the bench – the seven substitutes in the play-off final were Craig Bryson, Patrick Bamford, Simon Dawkins, Conor Sammon, Adam Legzdins, Eustace and Whitbread.

Whitbread joined on loan to play games and so it would have been understandable if the situation was deeply frustrating for him.

If it was, he never showed it.

His attitude and professionalism were spot on.

He knew he had a role to play as a member of the squad, and played it perfectly when other players might have sulked or kicked up a fuss about not being in the starting XI.

Simpson acknowledges this.

“When Zak didn’t play many games people probably wondered what he was doing, but he was a big part of the dressing room,” said Simpson.

“We have a belief that you don’t just win on the Saturday, you win on the Monday to Friday. If your preparation is right Monday to Friday that is how you get your results on the Saturday.

“Zak was a massive part of our training.

“He made training very competitive because we had two central defenders in Richard Keogh and Jake Buxton who knew that Zak was breathing down their necks.

“I am pleased Zak and Lee Naylor have joined us.

“They will come into the squad and it is up to everybody to scrap to get into the team.”

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