Derby County’s FA Cup story of the 2010s ranged from the lows of defeat to non-league opposition to the highs of beating Premier League sides. And it was all played out against a backdrop of big changes that saw the Rams move from mid-table anonymity to become regular challengers for a return to the Premier League – only to suffer consistent heartbreak.
The decade began with Nigel Clough a year into his job having taken over in January 2009 following the resignation of Paul Jewell. Clough had kept Derby in the Championship at the end of the previous season but 2009/10 hadn’t been going brilliantly as the turn of the year approached. The Rams had been as low as 20th in the table at points and were only up in 18th as 2009 came to an end after an excellent goalless draw at table-topping Newcastle United. To illustrate their inconsistency, that point had come on the back of a pair of dismal showings in successive 2-0 home defeats, to Doncaster Rovers and Blackpool, either side of Christmas.
A trip to League 1 Millwall in the third round of the FA Cup looked to be a tricky one in what was to be Clough’s 50th game in charge and when Lewis Grabban put the Londoners in front on 49 minutes, those concerns were looking valid. But Kris Commons equalised just three minutes later to take the tie to a replay at Pride Park Stadium. Highlights can be viewed here.
Derby’s home troubles continued the following Saturday with a 4-1 defeat to Scunthorpe United in front of their own fans, only increasing the nervousness of the Pride Park faithful ahead of the replay. The second 90 minutes against the Lions finished goalless but Millwall then took the lead through Steve Morison three minutes into the second period of extra time. An upset looked likely until Steven Davies scored a neat solo effort six minutes from time, taking the night to penalties where the Rams had the advantage after four kicks each thanks to Stephen Bywater’s save from Danny Schofield. Dean Moxey then stepped forward to score with his effort from 12 yards, setting up a home tie against Doncaster in round four.
The Rams had looked more like their normal selves when winning 3-0 at Peterborough United in the Championship after beating Millwall but once again they struggled back on home turf against Doncaster, although just as a replay loomed Jay McEveley scored the only goal of the game with two minutes to go.
Championship form improved ahead of a last-16 tie at home to Premier League Birmingham City, including two cracking Pride Park results – 1-0 against Nottingham Forest, who had been on a long unbeaten run, and a 3-0 demolition of Newcastle. That sent the Rams into the Birmingham game in good spirits and when McEveley was on target again from distance ten minutes into the second half, a quarter-final place was in their sights. Scott Dann headed in an equaliser from a corner on 73 and then just as Derby looked like they would at least earn a replay, Liam Ridgewell scrambled in a 90th-minute winner – although there was still time for Joe Hart to produce a stunning save from Robbie Savage’s strike. Highlights are here.
Derby were 15th at the time of the Birmingham defeat but only won five of their remaining 16 Championship fixtures, although they did finish the season by beating Cardiff City on the final day to finish 14th.
They were only 13th by the time of the 2010/11 FA Cup third round after very up-and-down first half of the new campaign. Clough’s side won at Leeds United on the opening day but then sat 22nd by mid-September only to lift themselves up to fourth at the start of November, a position they held until the end of the month when a late defeat at Burnley kicked off a run of five successive losses.
A semblance of stability was restored to kick off 2011 ahead of a trip to Crawley Town, who at the time were riding high at the top of the National League and looking well set to earn promotion to the Football League for the first time in their history. Clough also had some history with Crawley boss Steve Evans. Evans, in his time in charge at Boston United, had once called Clough’s Burton Albion a “pub team”, while Clough, on leaving the Brewers for Derby, had said that he would relish “never having to go to places like Crawley again”. The ESPN cameras were in attendance on a rainy Monday at the Broadfield Stadium to watch a dramatic night unfold.
Clough picked a strong side while Crawley included among their line-up ex-Rams defender Pablo Mills, former Alfreton Town man Kyle McFadzean, and winger Scott Neilson, who once had a trial with Derby. Kris Commons saw an early penalty saved by home goalkeeper Michael Kuipers as Clough’s team struggled to impose themselves on their hosts, who took the lead on 30 minutes through Craig McAllister’s close-range finish. Roared on by a vociferous home crowd, Crawley were dogged and snapping in to every challenge but they were pegged back just after the hour by a towering header from Miles Addison on his first start since the previous season’s third-round replay at home to Millwall, just a couple of days shy of an entire year, following a lengthy injury absence.
But just as a replay at Pride Park looked likely, Sergio Torres thundered in an effort from the edge of the box to win the tie for his side, sparking huge celebrations in West Sussex and sending Derby home on the wrong end of an embarrassing result. Highlights can be viewed here. It was the Rams’ first exit to non-league opposition in the FA Cup since a 3-1 home reverse to New Brighton in 1956/57, back in the Third Division (North) days.
Whether that Crawley defeat sparked the collapse that followed is impossible to pinpoint, but Derby only won three more Championship matches in the rest of 2010/11. They had dropped down to 19th by the start of March and other than a brief spell in 17th, that was where they stayed and four straight defeats to end the season left them seven points clear of the relegation zone.
In contrast, their start to 2011/12 was the best in a long time as they won their first four matches, before momentum slowed somewhat the longer the year went on and they were down to 16th ahead of Christmas, although they had got back up into the top half by the time they welcomed Crystal Palace in the FA Cup third round. The Londoners, still a Championship side at that point, were beaten 1-0 thanks to Theo Robinson’s ninth-minute effort on a pretty routine afternoon for the Rams. Footage can be seen here.
That set up a home tie against Stoke City, established in the Premier League and beaten finalists in 2011, and the Potters eased their way through 2-0 with an early goal from Cameron Jerome and a late one by Robert Huth. Highlights here.
Derby struggled after the Stoke game and dropped to 16th by March but they did manage to turn things around and finish 12th – only their third top-half finish in any division since coming eighth in the Premier League in 1999.
But consistency still would not come through 2012/13, although the season had been illuminated by the emergence of 17-year-old midfielder Will Hughes as a first-team fixture and a player with a great future ahead of him. Derby were tenth in the table when they welcomed League 1 Tranmere Rovers to Pride Park for the FA Cup third round and had no problems in seeing them off with a 5-0 victory, notable mainly for another prospect – 16-year-old Mason Bennett, already the youngest to appear for the club in a first-team game – becoming the youngest player to score for the Rams in the FA Cup. Highlights are here.
That was as good as it got in the competition that season and a 3-0 dismantling at home to Blackburn Rovers in the fourth round sent Clough’s men tumbling out. Little did we know it at the time, but that defeat would prove to be Clough’s final FA Cup tie in charge at Pride Park. Derby did then get themselves to the fringes of the play-off race but their form deserted them through the spring and they dropped to 15th in mid-March, dangerously close in terms of points to the relegation zone in a very congested table. A 2-1 win at home to Leicester City with Chris Martin scoring on his debut was enough to spark an upturn in form and Derby eventually edged themselves to tenth with a last-day victory at Pride Park against Millwall. But big changes were on the way.
A very patchy start to 2013/14 cost Nigel Clough his job following a 1-0 defeat at Nottingham Forest in September and the club’s board turned to a familiar face in Steve McClaren. Former England boss McClaren had played for Derby in the 1980s and then coached under Jim Smith in the 1990s before going on to enjoy success in various roles with Manchester United, Middlesbrough and on the continent. He was joined by former Rams favourites Paul Simpson and Eric Steele and they made an immediate impact, lifting the side from mid-table to promotion contention by the end of 2013.
The FA Cup campaign ended at the first attempt with a 2-0 defeat at home to Chelsea, although a brave and committed performance from McClaren’s men meant the Premier League giants didn’t open the scoring until the 66th minute through John Obi Mikel. Oscar added a second five minutes later. Highlights are here.
But in the Championship, Derby maintained their form and spent almost all of the final three months of the campaign sitting in third, which was where they ultimately finished. Their points tally of 85 was a club record and would have normally been enough for automatic promotion but with Leicester leading the way on 102 and Burnley reaching 93, the Rams had to settle for a place in the play-offs. Brighton & Hove Albion were overwhelmed in the two-legged semi-final and McClaren’s side were the red-hot favourites going into a Wembley final against Queens Park Rangers, who had been relegated from the Premier League in the previous season. Derby were the better side on the day but couldn’t break through, a frustrating scenario made even worse by their failure to capitalise when Rangers went down to ten men on the hour, and when Bobby Zamora struck seconds from the end of the 90 minutes with their only shot on target, Harry Redknapp’s side had broken the Rams’ hearts. For good measure, McClaren had spent the first part of the season as part of Redknapp’s coaching staff at Loftus Road prior to joining Derby.
But despite that setback, Derby were promotion contenders again and McClaren had them right in the mix throughout 2014/15. Finishing in the play-offs again was looking like the minimum outcome and a place in the top two was a serious possibility. The FA Cup gave Derby a home tie against National League Southport in the third round and what should, on paper, have been a straightforward afternoon. McClaren mixed his side up a bit and they dominated but they found visiting goalkeeper David Raya – now of Brentford – in inspired form. Big-hitters Chris Martin, Jordon Ibe and Johnny Russell were introduced shortly after the hour and it took a 90th-minute Martin penalty to see Derby through to the next round. Highlights are here.
Their opponents were Chesterfield in only the 15th competitive meeting between Derbyshire’s two professional sides, and the first since Derby had been beaten at Saltergate in February 1986. McClaren again took the opportunity to experiment, giving a debut to Spanish defender Raul Albentosa as part of a back three and handing a first start to Darren Bent alongside Martin in attack. Former England man Bent, recently signed on loan from Aston Villa, opened the scoring in the 20th minute and Albentosa lasted until half-time of what was a team performance lacking in fluency. But Will Hughes scored the second goal eight minutes from time to send Derby through and leave Chesterfield concentrating on their League 1 season, in which they ultimately lost out to Preston North End in the play-off semi-finals before starting their spiral into non-league football. Highlights are here.
The Rams also had strong promotion ambitions and went into the last-16 tie at home to Reading on the back of a pulsating 2-2 draw at fellow challengers Bournemouth, during which they had lost talismanic striker Chris Martin to a hamstring injury. McClaren again mixed his team up against the Royals – the Rams’ eighth successive FA Cup tie at Pride Park – and they were down to ten men before half-time when Stephen Warnock was sent off. Bent was on target in the 61st minute, equalising Hal Robson-Kanu’s goal from eight minutes previously, but Yakubu sealed Reading’s progress to the quarter-finals with a goal on the break eight from time. Highlights can be seen here.
Derby returned to the top of the table the following week but that injury to Martin really destabilised their performances. Winger Jordon Ibe had been recalled by Liverpool, George Thorne was sidelined after his pre-season injury and John Eustace was also out, then the Rams would soon lose Jake Buxton, Omar Mascarell and Bent to their own injuries. What should have been a fight for automatic promotion became a battle to stay in the play-off places, which ran until the final day when just a point was needed at home to Reading to secure sixth spot. At 1-0 down to an early goal for the visitors, Bent saw a penalty saved just before half-time and two more Reading goals after the break were enough to see Derby finish eighth, the first time they had been outside of the play-offs since October. The season had been concluded alongside strong rumours of Steve McClaren being targeted for the Newcastle United job and he was soon relieved of his duties at Pride Park. It wasn’t long before he pitched up in the north-east.
Highly regarded former Real Madrid and Chelsea coach Paul Clement was appointed in McClaren’s place during the summer of 2015 as Derby once again looked to build a setup capable of taking them to the Premier League. A club record transfer fee of around £4.75m had been spent on Tom Ince, who had enjoyed a fruitful loan spell at Pride Park in the second half of 2014/15. Darren Bent was also signed on a free after his own temporary stay, and the record was broken again when £6m was wired to Norwich City for all-action midfielder Bradley Johnson at the end of the August window.
Derby’s off-field situation had changed and the era of US consortium General Sports and Entertainment was at an end – instead, multimillionaire local businessman Mel Morris had taken sole ownership of the club. Big money was also spent on midfielder Jacob Butterfield from Huddersfield Town and defender Jason Shackell, who returned from Burnley two years after leaving Pride Park for Turf Moor, along with forward Andreas Weimann from Aston Villa. On the pitch, Clement’s season had started slowly, not helped by long-term injuries to Craig Bryson and Will Hughes on the opening day. Derby didn’t pick up a win until 12 September but they warmed into the campaign and were in the top two by the end of the year after being beaten only once from the end of August onwards. They had hit the summit after a 2-0 win at home to Fulham on Boxing Day – although that would prove to be Clement’s last Championship win in charge.
Clement took the Rams to League 2 Hartlepool United in the FA Cup third round and opted to rotate his squad, including a debut for Hartlepool-born goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell – signed from Newcastle in the summer of 2014. Jake Gray had the hosts in front just after the hour but Butterfield climbed off the bench to equalise with his first touch on 67 and then Bent poached the winner with five minutes to go, sparing any blushes. Highlights are here.
Then came a 1-1 draw at home to Reading, after which Morris had apparently entered the dressing room to berate Clement and the players for their performance. Successive heavy defeats to Burnley and Birmingham City followed, dampening the spirits ahead of a home tie with Manchester United in the fourth round. Wayne Rooney’s curler opened the scoring on 16 minutes but Derby rallied well and deservedly levelled eight minutes before the break through George Thorne’s clever finish. They were well in it in the second half but United managed to raise their levels at the crucial moments and restored their lead through Daley Blind on 65, then they wrapped the tie up on 83 with Juan Mata netting. Highlights are here.
Clement had spent again in January, including £2.5m on Reading forward Nick Blackman and £1.25m on winger Abdoul Camara from French club Angers, but he was out of a job in early February after a seven-game winless run in the Championship. Derby were fifth in the table at the time and the job was handed to Academy director Darren Wassall until the end of the season. Wassall, later aided by ‘football adviser’ Harry Redknapp, did well in stabilising the situation and ensuring that the Rams finished fifth, although they went down 3-2 over two legs to Hull City in the play-off semi-final.
So it was all change again at Pride Park in the summer of 2016 and handed the job of mounting another promotion assault was Nigel Pearson, who knew just what it took. Pearson had guided Leicester to those 102 points in 2013/14 then kept them up in the Premier League miraculously the following season, before handing over to Claudio Ranieiri for the Foxes to amazingly go on and win the top-flight in 2015/16. But Pearson’s appointment turned into an unmitigated disaster and an awful nine games produced only one win, just three goals, and a 1-0 defeat in front of the Sky Sports cameras at Burton Albion. The Brewers, with Nigel Clough back in charge at the Pirelli Stadium, had won promotion to the Championship in 2016 and would go on to work wonders in surviving, albeit by just a point.
Matters came to a head for Pearson following a 2-1 home defeat to Blackburn Rovers, in which new record signing Matěj Vydra opened his goalscoring account, and he was suspended a few days later then left by mutual consent on 8 October. Pearson’s assistant, former Rams left-back Chris Powell, oversaw four points from two games but there was a surprise in the choice of his permanent replacement as Steve McClaren was re-appointed. McClaren set about rebuilding his bridges with the Derby fans over his handling of the Newcastle rumours in 2015 and that season’s dramatic collapse.
And his impact was almost identical to when he first took over in 2013 in terms of the points he gained, so much so that he had the team in play-off contention again by the time of the 2016/17 FA Cup third round. An away tie at Premier League West Bromwich Albion proved a memorable one as excellent strikes from Darren Bent and Tom Ince in the second half overturned Matt Phillips’s first-half effort for the home side and gave Derby a 2-1 win. Highlights are here. It was the Rams’ first FA Cup victory over a top-tier side while in a lower division themselves since beating Norwich City while on their way to relegation from the Second Division in 1984. That set up an enticing fourth-round tie at home to the Premier League champions – Leicester – under the Pride Park floodlights.
Both managers fielded near enough full-strength sides and after Bent’s comical own goal opened the scoring, Derby powered back with Bent atoning for his error in the 21st minute and Craig Bryson putting them in front five minutes before half-time. Leicester dominated the second half and just when it looked like Derby might do enough to hold on, skipper Wes Morgan powered home a header with four minutes left to earn them a replay. Highlights can be seen here.
Neither manager truly wanted that replay, as shown by the reactions of Steve McClaren and Claudio Ranieri to each other on the final whistle, and both then fielded vastly weakened line-ups back at the King Power Stadium. Andy King put the Foxes in front early in the second half but Abdoul Camara’s deflected effort on 61 minutes took the tie to extra time, where Wilfred Ndidi and Demarai Gray earned a 3-1 win for the boys in blue, highlights of which are available here.
The wheels then started to come off Derby’s Championship season and they soon slipped away from play-off contention, leading to McClaren losing his job after a 3-0 defeat away to Brighton. Mel Morris moved quickly to replace him with former Rams player and Academy coach Gary Rowett, who had been available for a couple of months after being sacked by Birmingham City. Rumours of Norwich being interested in Rowett may have forced Morris’s hand, and his new appointment secured a final placing of ninth – 14 points adrift of the top six.
But in 2017/18 they were right back in the mix again with Rowett looking at one point as though he could guide the team to a repeat of what his own playing group had achieved in 1995/96 in winning automatic promotion to the Premier League. They were second at the turn of the year, helped by a quite remarkable run of conceding no goals from open play in their previous TEN matches. That sequence had come to an end by the time they travelled to Manchester United for a Friday-night encounter at Old Trafford in the first of that season’s FA Cup third round ties.
Derby were resilient, so much so that United had to throw on some of their big guns in the second half, and they eventually opened the scoring six minutes from time through Jesse Lingard’s strike. A Romelu Lukaku goal on the break in stoppage time then put the seal on the result. Highlights can be seen here.
Derby’s ability to keep clean sheets deserted them in February and they went from looking like a solid, well-drilled unit to a side with a soft underbelly and lacking in composure. They dropped out of the top six in April but seven points from the final nine available saw them secure the final play-off spot, and they took a 1-0 lead to Fulham after the first leg of their semi-final only for the Londoners to score twice in the return and send Rowett’s men out. It was a disappointing way for Rowett’s time in charge to come to an end – a couple of weeks later he moved to Stoke City, fresh from relegation from the Premier League. Curiously, it was the first time in Derby County’s entire history that they had lost a manager after an approach from another club. All other departures had been sackings or resignations.
But before May 2018 was out, Derby had their new man in Frank Lampard – the Chelsea and England legend as a player, who was embarking on his first managerial role. Lampard quickly built a connection with the Rams’ supporters, helped by some exciting signings and some dramatic matches as 2018/19 progressed. In the League Cup he took his team to Manchester United and triumphed on penalties after a thrilling 2-2 draw, then in the next round he was back at Stamford Bridge where Derby were desperately unlucky to go out 3-2 to his old team. In the Championship they were looking like play-off contenders, helped by a dramatic 4-3 win at eventual title winners Norwich to close out 2018.
The FA Cup gave Lampard a home tie against Premier League Southampton in the third round and once again supporters were not treated to a routine affair. It had, however, looked like they were going to be after Nathan Redmond scored a cracker in the 48th minute, adding to his fourth-minute opener and seemingly putting the Saints in command. But a lovely move saw Jack Marriott halve the deficit just before the hour and then a couple of minutes later Tom Lawrence’s excellent long-range strike restored parity. Highlights are here, and Derby almost won it late on but the teams headed down to the south coast for a replay at St Mary’s Stadium 11 days later. Craig Bryson finished off a slick move in the first half only for it to be ruled out for an offside in the build-up, becoming the first decision involving the Rams to be made by the new Video Assistant Referee system. Stuart Armstrong then put Southampton in front after 68 minutes and when Redmond scored again shortly afterwards, that looked as if it was going to be that. But once more Derby had other ideas. Harry Wilson whipped in a free kick on 76 – the goal was given after a VAR check – and then Martyn Waghorn headed them level on 82. Extra time came and went so a penalty shoot-out was required and after Redmond fired his effort wide, it was advantage Derby – which they wouldn’t relinquish, skipper Richard Keogh scoring the winning penalty. The Rams had been perfect with their five kicks, as they had been with all nine at Old Trafford in the League Cup. Highlights are here.
Their next challenge came at League 2 Accrington Stanley, and it would prove anything but a straightforward afternoon for Lampard’s side. On a terrible pitch at the Wham Stadium, Derby struggled to really dominate their hosts despite having the better chances. They had lost pivotal young midfielder Mason Mount to injury in the first half and even a second-half dismissal of Accrington’s Dan Barlaser didn’t help them take control. Eventually they found the breakthrough via Martyn Waghorn 12 minutes from time, but they were still thankful for a stunning stoppage-time save from Kelle Roos as they edged their way into the last 16. Highlights are available here.
The absence of Mount was huge for Derby and they were starting to stutter by the time they travelled to Brighton for their fifth-round tie. They had barely laid a glove on their Premier League opponents before Anthony Knockaert opened the scoring on 33 minutes and when Jurgen Locadia doubled Brighton’s lead just before half-time, that looked to be game over already. This time there would be no stirring comeback from the Rams, although they did at least give their fans hope when they got a goal back nine minutes from time. The scorer, however, was an unexpected one – Ashley Cole, the former England, Arsenal and Chelsea left-back, popped up at the far post to head home a loose ball. Cole, the most decorated player in FA Cup history with seven winners’ medals, had joined Derby as a free agent in January to help out his old Chelsea colleague Lampard and had scored in the competition for the first time, 18 years since he first appeared in it. Highlights are available here.
Back in the Championship, three successive defeats followed and Derby looked like they were in trouble as the business end of the season approached. But Lampard’s men rallied well and after just one defeat in their final 12 matches – plus the return of Mount – they had done enough to finish sixth, earning a play-off semi-final against Leeds United.
Leeds, under Marcelo Bielsa, had battered Derby twice in the league matches between the two sides and had not been in any real trouble in winning the first leg 1-0 at Pride Park. What followed in the return at Elland Road was remarkable as the Rams overturned all the odds to record a stunning 4-2 victory on the night, going through to the final with a 4-3 aggregate win. The Spygate story of the previous January and the Leeds fans’ chants of ‘stop crying Frank Lampard’ had been put firmly in the past as Derby became the first team in the history of the second-tier play-offs to lose the first leg of the semi-final at home and then reach the final. Wembley proved a bridge too far, however, as the Rams lost in the play-off final for the second time in the decade, going down 2-1 to Aston Villa.
And Lampard was soon on his way – although the drawn-out conclusion of the deal did Derby no favours and lowered his standing in the eyes of many fans – with a return to Chelsea as manager of his old club. In his place came Phillip Cocu, a 100-cap Netherlands international midfielder who had been a key man at Barcelona for a long time, and who had won three Dutch titles with PSV in his homeland. As another decade came to an end, it was another time of change for Derby County.