Steve McClaren interestingly described throwing new boy Julien de Sart straight into the Derby County starting line-up at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday as something of a risk.However, the 22-year-old’s display in his customary holding midfield role certainly proved to be a gamble worth taking.
The Derby boss said he was looking to see if the Belgian would sink or swim in the Emirates FA Cup third round victory against the Premier League side.
Swim he certainly did. Darren Bent and Tom Ince’s spectacular goals won it for Derby as they knocked out a top flight opponent in the competition for the first time in 30 years but, pleasingly, de Sart’s display was another big positive to take away from the game.
He’d only had two training sessions with Derby since arriving on loan for the rest of the season from Middlesbrough last Thursday, where he had made just one appearance all season.
If de Sart was phased by the situation, he didn’t show it.
Neat and tidy on the ball, he displayed his sweet range of passing and also the ability to put his foot in when required.
One swallow doesn’t make a summer, of course, but McClaren will certainly believe he now has another alternative to the combative Bradley Johnson in the ‘controller’ role.
Given he’d only been at Derby just over 48 hours when the teams took to the field at the Hawthorns, de Sart is honest enough to admit he couldn’t remember his new team-mates’ names!
Looking back on his Rams debut, a few days on, de Sart clearly enjoyed every second.
He said in his first interview here on dcfc.co.uk last week that game time was what he craved and, after getting 90 minutes under his belt, the legs might have been weary – but the smile on his face at full-time certainly wasn’t.
Speaking to RamsTV, he said: “I enjoyed it a lot being on the pitch.
“It was tough, I have to admit, as I had only trained with the team two times and didn’t know the names of all my team-mates!
“I have to say thank you to the staff and the players because my welcome has been very warm.
“I felt my first touches in the game were good and that helped me in the beginning. My confidence felt better and better and I was happy to play a good game and win.”
While many feel the FA Cup doesn’t boast the shine of the not so distant past, Derby and the Baggies served up a cup treat.
A near full house packed into the Hawthorns and Derby were backed by a truly magnificent following of over 5,300 supporters.
Derby, like every other Championship side, harbour hopes of reaching the top flight – so de Sart feels that the game was a good barometer test for everyone.
“It was difficult but I think that we did well,” he said.
“We did well in the first half and in the second half, after we went in front, they put a lot of players in attack and we had to defend.
“For me, it was my first game against a Premier League team. It was a dream come true to play the game and for us to win.
“To go to a Premier League side and win was a big team effort. I said last week that it was a good test for us and it was a massive, massive, win for us.”
On Derby’s travelling faithful, de Sart added: “I wasn’t expecting us to have so many away supporters in the stadium.
“It was nice and we heard them all game, especially at the end when we needed them.”
Although league games are still on the horizon in the coming weeks, Derby have another Premier League test in round four.
This time, though, it’s the reigning champions coming to town.
Leicester City memorably lifted the Premier League crown back in May, following a stunning season for Claudio Ranieri’s side, and de Sart says it’s a game everyone in the Derby squad will want to be part of.
“It is amazing to play against the Champions,” he said.
“It will be a good test for us and I am looking forward to it.
“Every player wants to play in games like this so I am excited about that.”
Before Leicester, Derby face back-to-back Sky Bet Championship fixtures against sides ahead of them in the table.
First up, McClaren’s men will head to north on Friday (7:45pm) to take on Leeds United who are enjoying a fine season under Garry Monk.
The Whites are fifth in the table and five points ahead of Derby, so de Sart says the game is a big opportunity to close the gap on the division’s play-off positions.
Then, after the trip to Elland Road, third-place Reading head to Pride Park Stadium on Saturday 21st January (3pm).
He said: “I was on the bench for Middlesbrough against Leeds last season and it was a like a derby with the atmosphere.
“I am really looking forward to this game, it’s a massive one for us in the Championship.
“They are in front of us and hopefully we can go there and come back with the points.”
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