This season Rangers Report will run a series of Match Previews entitled the Big Three prior to each match. Rather then write in generalities about teams I rarely see – we will ask people who follow the opponent on a daily basis to provide some insight on their club. Their task is to identify a Big Three — three aspects of their club that Rangers supporters should keep an eye on.
Derby County welcome Rangers to the iPro Stadium on Saturday in our final game of a pre-season campaign which has seen us face one other high profile opponent, Zenit St Petersburg, after several friendlies against English lower league opposition.
Derby these days are a good passing side and went mighty close to securing promotion to the Premier League last season. They will provide tough opposition for the Gers, who have their own Premier League promotion push to mount.
Derby County: The Big Three
1. The Key Players
The Rams go into the game missing their big summer signing, George Thorne, who suffered cruciate ligament damage in that Zenit friendly. However, first-choice goalkeeper Lee Grant has returned to fitness after his own knee problem and no other key players are missing through injury at the time of writing.
Derby’s star player is arguably Chris Martin. A strong centre forward who likes to drop deep to link up play, Martin scored 25 goals last season and assisted a further 12. Technically excellent, the number nine also has a habit of irking opponents by his aptitude for winning free kicks – a reputation which went against him last season in a key game at Burnley, when the hosts succeeded in getting Martin wrongly sent off for ‘diving’ when he had in fact slipped (yes, I’m still bitter).
2. An Englishman, an Irishman, & a Scotsman
Despite Thorne’s absence, we have midfield talent to call on in the shape of the dynamic, goalscoring Craig Bryson – we don’t understand why he hasn’t been capped more by Scotland – the rapidly developing Jeff Hendrick, who has emerged from our academy to star for the Republic of Ireland, plus Will Hughes, one of the youngest players ever to represent England at U21 level. So, an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman – there’s a joke in there somewhere.
There’s also a conundrum, in that the attacking instincts and attributes of those three midfielders has meant – so far – that it has been impossible to successfully for Steve McClaren to play the three of them together as a trio.
3. Rangers are coming back to town
From looking at the two squads, I would expect Derby to come out on top, but the result isn’t really important. The fans will be expecting their players to show that they are ready for the difficult season ahead and this fixture will make a fine dress rehearsal – and hopefully a special occasion played in the right spirit, with plenty of atmosphere generated by a big crowd.
Many Derby fans have fond memories of the Ted McMinn testimonial match in 2006, when Rangers brought a huge contingent of fans to help raise money for Ted’s chosen charity. Both sets of supporters enjoyed socialising in the city centre afterwards, with no reports of any trouble. Hopefully we will see another good occasion on and off the pitch. With a reported 10,000 Gers supporters making the trip down, let’s hope that Derby County have ordered in extra booze – beer sold out during the first half last time!