Derby County Under-18s face a trip to West Bromwich Albion in their first league fixture in over a month this weekend.
After a winter break, the Rams return to Under-18 Premier League - North action on Saturday (11th January) at the West Bromwich Albion Training Ground (11am kick-off).
Justin Walker’s side were handed a well-deserved rest over the festive period after their last fixture in the league came back in early December in a 5-1 defeat to high flyers Liverpool.
Walker’s side opened 2020 in the FA Youth Cup but fell out of the competition off the back of a narrow 2-1 defeat to Premier League - South outfit Brighton & Hove Albion.
Unlike West Brom, who, on Saturday, cruised through to the next round of the cup competition with an emphatic 4-1 win over Middlesbrough, serving – perhaps – as a timely warning that Derby will have to be at their best if they are to return home with all three points.
Their upcoming opponents, despite qualifying through to the next round of the cup, have fallen victim to two defeats in their last two league fixtures, conceding six in the process: a run that saw the Baggies slip down to fifth place in the table and within reaching distance of Derby.
Having played a game fewer, Derby currently sit in seventh and are four points off Saturday’s challengers. A win for Derby this weekend could see them rise to sixth above Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Derby, despite this form, should be given confidence in the knowledge that they bolster the second-best defensive record in the entire division behind only runaway leaders Manchester City. In a stark contrast, West Brom exhibit the second-worst defensive record in the league, making for an interesting tie between the two midlands clubs.
Derby will have to keep a particular close eye on Tom Fellows and Jovan Malcolm. The former bagged a brace on Wednesday and has three goals and one assist in his last four games. As too does Malcolm, highlighting the side’s frightening firepower.
The two players to watch in black and white are Archie Brown and Jack Stretton. The latter hit a real purple patch of form before the winter break, scoring seven goals in six games in the lead up to Christmas.
Brown was on the scoresheet in the disappointing defeat to Brighton at Pride Park, making him the club’s freshest goal scorer.
These two sides met in the second game of the season at the Moor Farm Training Centre in the early stages of this campaign and it was the visitors who came out on top. After taking an early lead, Osazee Aghatise levelled for Derby in a hectic first five minutes before Taylor Gardner-Hickman and Alex Gilbert helped earn the Baggies a 3-1 win.
Walker and his players will be hoping they can turn around their recent form and avoid the same fate on his return to Premier League football.
Words by: Joseph Lightfoot