Derby County Academy’s 2019/20 campaign has been a memorable one for many reasons.

From competing in European football for the first time in the Academy’s illustrious history, to a number of promising youngsters being accelerated into Phillip Cocu’s the first-team squad - Moor Farm Training Centre has been home to yet more success for the Rams’ young players.

The outbreak of COVID-19 brought the season to a premature abandonment for all Academy teams across the country. Unfortunate as the circumstances are, the pandemic failed to dampen the spirits of Derby’s up-and-coming talent and we’ve been treated to some great videos on social media over the last few months.

Under-18s striker Bartosz Cybulski swapped the weights for family members; Festy Ebosele kept himself busy by creating season re-enactments on TikTok; Jack Stretton treated us to some musical talent on the harmonica; and Eiran Cashin has been slide tackling his own garden fences!

The real entertainment this season, though, came on the pitch.

Both Justin Walker’s Under-18 side and Pat Lyons’ Under-23s bore witness to some fantastic moments that deserved to be remembered.

Derby County Under-18s

Bolstered by a new set of Academy graduates including Jack Rogers, Seb Thompson and last season’s Academy Player of the Season winner Alex Matthews, the new-look Under-18s had big boots to fill after last season’s campaign saw the Rams named as National Champions.

This season, Walker’s side maintained fourth place in the Under-18 Premier League North, just three points behind Liverpool in second place. The season started slowly, however, with three defeats from their opening three games. But sure enough, a run of nine wins in their next 11 outings followed as Walker’s side found their feet.

Amidst that run came their standout performance of the season, a 5-1 win over Manchester United, as the partnership between Cybulski and Stretton began firing from all cylinders.

A Look Back

Derby County 5-1 Manchester United - September 2019 (U18 Premier League North)

In the comfort of their own home turf at Moor Farm, the side disposed of Manchester United in emphatic fashion and were 5-1 winners. Braces from Cybulski and Archie Brown and one from Stretton capped off one of the Academy performances of the season in September.

Stretton would go on to become the side’s top scorer in the season with 12 goals throughout the campaign. It was a run of form that saw him called up to the Scotland Under-19 team for the first time.

Derby County 1-0 Everton - December 2019 (FA Youth Cup)

Another top performer throughout the season was Cashin. The central defender led the team to the second-best defensive record in the division beaten only by runaway leaders Manchester City. He got his just reward too, scoring the only goal of the game in a 1-0 FA Youth Cup win over Everton at Pride Park Stadium in one of the most outstanding moments of the campaign.

After 10 minutes, Liam Thompson’s corner found its way through two defenders on the front post and fortunately ricocheted off Cashin’s thigh and looped into the top corner of the net. From that point on, Walker’s side were able to withstand the Everton pressure and gain the upper hand over the side who ultimately finished one place above them in the Under-18 Premier League North table.

Derby County 4-1 Middlesbrough - August 2019 (U18 Premier League North)

Whilst not being their most emphatic or dramatic win of the season, the side’s 4-1 victory over Middlesbrough back in August was arguably one of their most important.

An underwhelming start to the season left Walker’s side with no points on show after their opening three games. Their fourth at Moor Farm put that poor run of form to bed rather comprehensively and sparked a run of seven wins from their following eight games.

It was a win inspired by the usual suspects: Ebosele, Cybluski and Brown grabbed the goals to give Walker his first win of the season. Clearly bolstered by the influence of a new formation with two strikers, it was the first time the side had managed to score more than one goal in a game.

Derby County Under-23s

It was a similar story for the Under-23s too, who also found themselves in fourth place when the season was brought to an abrupt end.

It is a position that reflects the dramatic change in the squad since the likes of Louie Sibley, Jason Knight, Morgan Whittaker and Max Bird were called into first-team action.

Whittaker still managed to make his mark in the Premier League 2 – Division 1, netting six goals in just eight games. The lions share of the goals, though, came from the side’s new signing Jahmal Hector-Ingram.

Having arrived from West Ham United on the eve of the new season, the attacker finished the competition’s second-best scorer with 10 goals in 17 appearances. Two of which – as well as an assist – came in their biggest win of the campaign as they sought off Everton 4-1.

A Look Back

Leeds United 1-2 Derby County - February 2020 (Premier League Cup)

Hector-Ingram also managed to net an important goal in what turned out to be one of the standout moments from the side’s season against Leeds United.

The team booked their place in the next round of the Premier League Cup with a 2-1 win in front of a relentless home crowd at York City Football Club in a fierce competition.

On a bitterly cold February night, Hector-Ingram’s penalty started the scoring. That was before he turned provider with a ferocious cross that flew into the path of Rushian Hepburn-Murphy to double the Rams’ lead.

In turn, the Rams came out 2-1 victors against a Leeds side bolstered by the presence of first-teamers Barry Douglas and Kalvin Phillips. The cup double over Leeds was complete.

Derby County 2-1 Feyenoord - November 2019 (Premier League International Cup)

Another memorable moment of the Under-23s’ season came away from Moor Farm and was instead hosted by the Loughborough University Stadium. There, the Rams came from a goal behind to better Dutch giants Feyenoord in the Premier League International Cup.

Derby’s perfect start in Group F continued as, once again, Hector-Ingram evened out the scoring with a penalty after the visitors had taken the lead early on. He might have had two, if his other effort had not been chalked off for a handball as he turned in Mason Bennett’s cross.

The duo made a compelling pairing and it was the latter who gave Derby the victory through yet another penalty to make it two wins from two in the competition.

Derby County 6-0 Middlesbrough - March 2020 (Premier League Cup)

The side put in some outstanding performances in domestic competitions this season. Their latest cup clash saw them turn over Middlesbrough in the first round of the Premier League Cup knockout phases after they finished top of Group H.

A quite sensational display warranted a staggering scoreline at St George’s Park as the side cruised to their most comprehensive victory of the season. A clean sheet was added to by a first-half brace from Hepburn-Murphy and a neat finish from Tyree Wilson.

The second half followed suit, as a ruthless nine-minute spell saw Hector-Ingram, Ikechi Anya and Cameron Cresswell compile the onslaught. That took the side into the quarter finals before the competition was halted by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Derby County Academy In Europe

The 2019/20 season brought an entirely new team to Moor Farm, the Under-19s. The side, a combination of Under-18s players and first-year professionals, were far from the usual home comforts of their training ground though; instead they were travelling around Europe in the UEFA Youth League.

Derby were accompanied by some of the biggest names in world football such as PSG, Napoli, Manchester City, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and Juventus among many others.

They had already made history by reaching the preliminary round of the competition, but Justin Walker and his players defied all expectations in reaching the Round-of-16.

It all started on an artificial pitch in Minsk back in October when Morgan Whittaker’s brace helped Derby to a comfortable 2-0 debut victory in the competition – a good start. Though that was nothing compared to the return leg back on home soil. At the Loughborough University Stadium, the young Rams cruised their way to a 7-2 victory to progress through to the next round with an aggregate score of 9-2 against the Belarusian side.

Next came IA Akranes which meant a trip to Iceland where Walker’s side battled in what would turn out to be their slightest win of the competition. The Rams got the better of the first leg with a 2-1 victory thanks to two first-half goals from Festy Ebosele and Jack Stretton.

The latter enjoyed himself in the contest between the two sides and managed to get on the scoresheet again in the return leg. Add that to the first-half brace from Jason Knight and smart finish from Archie Brown and the side came out 6-2 winners on aggregate to advance to the play-off rounds of the contest.

No more second legs. One match decides all. And their first opponents just so happened to be the infamous Borussia Dortmund. Walker’s side, though, were handed the advantage of a home tie. Destination, Pride Park Stadium.

It wasn’t quite the famous yellow wall seen only at the Signal Iduna Park, but Pride Park hosted a healthy crowd to watch on as Walker’s side defied all odds to better the German giants 3-1. A quickfire surge in the second half saw the Rams take a two-goal lead after a goalless first half.

The Step Up

This season has seen a tremendous amount of academy graduates feature in Phillip Cocu’s first team. Justin Walker claimed: “The biggest success of any academy isn’t the trophies. The real achievement is then seeing those young players walk out of the Pride Park tunnel for the first team.”

The Under-18s manager has certainly seen a lot of that lately. Max Lowe, Jayden Bogle and Max Bird have been joined, this season, by the likes of Lee Buchanan, Jason Knight, Louie Sibley and Morgan Whittaker.

With good effect too. Buchanan scored the only goal of the game in Derby’s 1-0 win over Scunthorpe United to advance to the Second Round of the Carabao Cup. Knight’s efforts earlier in the season were given their just reward when he netted his first and second professional goals in a 2-1 win over Charlton at Pride Park.

Of all the graduates, Sibley had to wait the longest for his first Championship start. He wasted no time in getting himself on the scoresheet either. On his first start in the black and white of Derby, the midfielder introduced himself to the Derby faithful with one of the goals of the season amidst a 3-0 thumping of Blackburn Rovers.

Combine the inclusion of all the graduates into the first team with the UEFA Youth League success, cup runs and strong league finishes, and you are left with quite a successful Academy season for these young Rams.

Words: Joe Lightfoot