Senior Communications Officer Tom Loakes (@TomLoakes) assesses why Derby County are reaping the rewards of goalkeeper Scott Carson's experience.
“I’ve not won one of these before. I don’t know what to do with it!”
That was Scott Carson’s reaction to being presented with the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award for December at a photoshoot at Derby County’s Training Centre earlier this week.
Such an accolade has been a long time coming for the 32-year-old, but there’s little doubt it’s deserved.
I tweeted after last Friday’s Emirates FA Cup tie at Manchester United that if there’s a better goalkeeper in the division, I haven’t seen them. I stand by that.
Carson has been in fine form throughout the campaign and his statistics make impressive reading.
He has played in all 26 of the Rams’ Championship matches this season and kept 12 clean sheets.
December itself was a fine month for Carson and his fellow defensive colleagues. Derby won five of their six league matches, drawing the other, to move up to second place in the Championship and kept five clean sheets in the process.
It’s hardly surprising that the Rams’ shot-stopper won the award; but it could easily have been either Richard Keogh or Curtis Davies who also played every minute in the backline during December.
It has been nice to hear supporters recognising Carson’s contribution with the ‘Viva Scott Carson’ song in recent weeks. The calls to get him ‘on the plane, sitting next to Kane’ have gained some traction; aided by an impressive performance at Old Trafford last week.
What is clear right now is that the Rams are reaping the rewards of Carson’s experience.
He’s racked up over 400 club appearances in his career to date, played international football and experienced life abroad playing in Turkey.
At 32 he has plenty of years ahead of him as well, especially as a goalkeeper.
Carson has regularly stated in interviews that he firmly believes he’s a better goalkeeper than he was ten years ago when he was playing in the Premier League and for England.
Last season’s unanimous Player of the Year award winner is in his third season at Pride Park Stadium and it’s hard to disagree with his comments.
If anything, Derby appear to have got Carson at the peak of his career.
When he joined from Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2015 the goalkeeping position wasn’t widely viewed as a problem position, given Lee Grant had been the number one for the previous two seasons and performed admirably.
The Rams made a number of significant additions to their squad during that summer transfer window but, as it has turned out, it was probably their most important.
Carson quickly established himself as first choice between the posts. He’s grown in stature and, there’s little doubt, improved as a goalkeeper since he first walked through the door.
His displays have been consistent. It’s a measure of his performance level that there was almost an element of shock on the press bench when his miscued clearance led to Billy Sharp’s opener at Sheffield United back in August.
That’s where his experience came into play. Did it deter him in any way? No. Goalkeepers make mistakes from time-to-time, that’s life, and Carson used his experience to not let it affect him.
He’s made some vital saves this season that have gone a long way to helping Derby to where they sit in the table right now.
In particular the stops at Middlesbrough and Barnsley spring to mind as they were brilliant reaction saves, at key moments, in crucial away victories.
The routine saves are just as important too and what Carson does so well. That, no doubt, comes from experience and sound positional sense.
Another key strength is obviously his concentration level. Again, that comes with experience. Sometimes he’s only had one or two saves to make and, to pull them off, he is only too aware he needs to be totally focussed.
I’ve seen a few comments on Twitter recently that Carson is rivalling the likes of Mart Poom for the best goalkeeper they’ve seen in a Rams shirt in the 20 years or so.
That speaks volumes in itself of Carson’s stock and standing right now. Long may it continue.
There’s still a long way to go in the season but, with 20 games to go, Derby are right in the hunt for a place in the Premier League next term.
If the Rams are to make that step, their goalkeeper and his experience will have a massive part to play.
It’s a time for cool heads and good characters and Gary Rowett has plenty of them in the dressing room, there is no doubt about that.
A return to the top flight would give Carson another deserved chance to test himself on the big stage, and who knows, that England return might just become a reality.
In the meantime; let’s hope he’s found what to do with that trophy.