Derby County midfielder Tom Huddlestone believes the club have made huge strides both on and off the pitch this season.
Since tasting defeat against Fulham in the Play-Off Semi Finals last season, the club has been through a period of transition. Frank Lampard was instilled as the new manager last May and an overhaul of players took place as the 40-year-old shaped his new-look squad.
Exciting young players were brought in on loan, the average age of the squad was reduced and a pathway through to the first-team from Academy has been clear throughout the season.
Derby kicked the season off positively and found themselves in the hunt for promotion from the off.
Impressive performances in the league were coupled with progression in the cup competitions in the early months of the season. The Rams beat Manchester United at Old Trafford on penalties, following a 2-2 draw, before bowing out valiantly at Stamford Bridge against Chelsea in a 3-2 defeat.
The second half of the season saw the Rams end the campaign strongly to book their place in the Play-Offs and see off Leeds United at the Semi-Final stage on a memorable evening at Elland Road.
There were many highs during the season and despite the low of suffering defeat in the Play-Off Final against Aston Villa on Monday, Huddlestone was keen to reflect on a progressive season at Pride Park Stadium.
“I think it has been good,” he told RamsTV. “The age of the squad has come down and there have been some big players and characters who haven’t been around the squad or have gone out on loan.
“Especially for the manager, some of the younger players that have come in on loan, Bogle especially who has played virtually every game, I think it has been a positive.
“We have got one step further than last year, but it just wasn’t to be what our dreams were.
“It did get a bit emotional amongst some of the lads speaking and the manager speaking in the dressing room.
“The bond between the squad, the younger players and the more senior ones, has been good and everyone has got on unbelievably this season.
“Even though we had nine new signings in the summer, we almost clicked instantly, especially off the pitch.
“There are some players out of contract, the loan players will go back to their parent club, so it did get emotional afterwards but it’s an emotional day in general.”
The squad will now take a break to recover and rest ahead of the new 2019/20 season, one in which Huddlestone cannot wait to get started already.
“It’s frustrating days like this that make you raring to go for next season,” he said after the Play-Off Final.
“As much as your body and mentally you need a break, I think we will have a month off and then we will be right back at it and hopefully we can go that one step further next time.”