Derby County Under-23s, for the second straight year, proved they can take on the elite and come out fighting.
Darren Wassall’s side churned out some huge results throughout the season to retain their status in Premier League 2 Division 1 for a third year, the only Championship side to hold that achievement.
Coming up against Premier League giants, the likes of Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea, the Rams held their own and their resilience remained strong until the final day when they met title contenders, Leicester City and beat the drop.
More impressively, Derby survived in the top division with one of the youngest and least-experienced sides, while others made strides to be involved with the first-team or gain experience on loan.
Reflecting on the season, Wassall told dcfc.co.uk: “First and foremost, by playing in Premier League 2 Division 1 we are playing against the very best all year.
“We want to be in that league and want to be a Category One club, but we also want to test our younger players in the Under-23s to see if they can cope at an early age with the standard of football that is required.
“Not only have they played but they have held their own. The game against West Ham, where it proved in the end that we needed that win to stay up, a lot of those players were very young and they contributed magnificently in that victory.”
In the penultimate game of the season, the Hammers travelled to the Training Ground in partnership with the University of Derby for a critical game for the Rams.
A goal from Jayden Bogle secured a 1-0 win for Derby, and proved to be a vital three points that separated them from Sunderland and the final relegation spot.
Other highlights on the season included a 3-1 victory over Everton, 2-0 victory over Liverpool and a hard-fought 3-3 draw against title winners, Arsenal.
The fearless mindset is one that trickles down throughout the academy and sets the foundation for a bright future.
“The Under-18s are having similar results coming against similar top-opposition so there are really good players coming through,” Wassall said.
“We have competed against the very best in the land, consistently over the season. We haven’t won every game, but it’s the manner in which each age group has played.
“It shows the good quality of the players that we have got at the club that the likes of Manchester United and Everton aren’t guaranteed victories against us.
“In fact, they know they are in for a tough game from the way we approach games, the way we want to play an attacking style of football and out of possession we are a very honest and hardworking club and that filters down from Under-23s throughout the academy.”
The Rams also built on their Premier League Cup campaign from the previous season, cruising through the group stage, coming out on top against Middlesbrough, Birmingham City and Nottingham Forest.
In the round of 16, however, Derby fell short with a 2-1 defeat to Sheffield United.
Wassall said: “We were disappointed with our performance [in the last-16] because, all credit to them they probably deserved to win on the night, but we knew we had the quality to get through to at least the quarter finals.
“We were really pleased with the group stages and another improvement for next year we have to make sure in those one-off games we are really at it and we are ready for anything anybody throws at us.
“It’s the first time in the year that we wre probably favourites rather that the underdogs and we need to handle that a bit better.”
Wassall praised his squad's dedication throughout the season and believes their successful results reflect their hard work.
“They have had a really good season, all of the players, both individually and collectively in terms of what they achieved and we think they have all improved.
“Certainly results and performances have shown and they have really taken on board everything we have asked of them this year so the improvements great.”
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