Striker James Collins has become the latest name to join the Derby County rebuild after he ended his contract with Championship side Cardiff City early to join the Rams.

The 31-year-old has signed a two-year deal and becomes the eighth player through the door at Pride Park Stadium following the takeover by Clowes Developments (UK) Ltd.

Here is a more detailed look at our newest recruit.

Midlands Boy

Born in 1990, Collins hails from Coventry and came through the youth system at near-by Aston Villa, where he would spend seven years. He earned a scholarship and, after impressing first-team boss Martin O’Neill, he went on to sign a professional contract with the Villans in 2009.

Collins was a regular goalscorer for the club’s Academy as he scored 23 times during his second year, and he was also a regular on the international stage, too. He featured for both the Republic of Ireland’s Under-19s and Under-21s. He continued to catch the eye of first team boss O’Neill who felt his next step was to gain valuable experience out on loan.

He joined north-east side Darlington, who were playing in the fourth tier of English football at the time, in 2009. Current Newcastle United defender Dan Burn and Huddersfield Town midfielder Jonathan Hogg were also on loan with Collins and he made a good impact during his three-month spell.

He scored on only his second appearance for the club in a 2-1 defeat against Hereford United, whilst on his fourth outing he scored a goal of the season contender from 35-yards against Chesterfield, but they suffered a 5-2 defeat at Saltergate.

The striker returned to Villa Park in January 2010 and featured regularly for their reserve side prior to the end of the campaign. Collins enjoyed another loan spell in 2010 as he joined Burton Albion, who were managed by former Rams striker Paul Peschisolido.

He once again scored on his second appearance, this time in a convincing 3-0 victory over Bradford City, whilst he netted his second goal seven days later in a defeat against Macclesfield Town. That was enough to earn him a nomination for the November Player of the Month award. In his three months at the Pirelli Stadium, he scored five goals in 12 appearances.

Ironically, his penultimate game for the Brewers came against Shrewsbury Town, the club he would eventually sign for less than a week later. He moved to the Shrews on an 18-month contract after being allowed to leave Villa and it was his first real test away from his comfort zone.

But, he did fit in well. He scored a brace in only his third game for the club, whilst further goals against Northampton Town, Port Vale and Wycombe Wanderers put Salop into a good position in the league.

A double against Rotherham United and a goal in a 2-0 victory over Hereford meant Shrewsbury had qualified for the play-offs, but it would end in defeat in the semi-finals as they were beaten over two legs by Torquay United. He would end the season with eight goals and four assists.

Now settled and in his first full season with the Shrews, the striker would flourish. Goals have never been a problem for Collins and he showed why he was so highly thought of at Villa Park as he helped Shrewsbury to promotion to League One in 2011/12.

The striker scored 16 goals in all competitions, whilst he also contributed five assists as they finished second behind Swindon Town in the League Two table. His goals were crucial, too, with many of his strikes either winning goals or a valuable second to make sure of victory.

Collins even scored at Pride Park Stadium that season, too. He scored Shrewsbury’s second goal of the evening in Round One of the EFL Cup as they got the better of the Rams, beating them 3-2 on the night.

However, with his contract up at the end of the season, and with the striker being linked with moves away Shrewsbury, Collins did opt to leave the club. He went on to join fellow-promoted side Swindon Town for £140,000 plus add-ons following a tribunal in 2012.

Now in League One, Collins took a little time to get used to the pace of the division. His first goals for Swindon coincided with his first career hat-trick as he netted three times in a 4-3 victory over Premier League side Stoke City in the EFL Cup. The striker scored twice in the first half before scoring in the 119th minute to ensure the underdog victory.

He notched his first league goal for the Robins at the start of October in a 1-0 victory over Bury at Gigg Lane before scoring in the next two fixtures as the striker hit his stride for his new club. He scored a brace against Yeovil Town in November before seeing in the new year in style as he bagged four goals against Portsmouth in a 5-0 victory.

Collins scored his first of the afternoon on the hour mark and within 12 minutes he had scored a hat-trick. His fourth goal came 23 minutes after his first, which showed his ruthlessness in front of goal as Swindon challenged for a place in the League One play-off places.

The Robins did manage to sneak into the top six as they finished sixth, but they were beaten at the semi-final stage by Brentford, who would lose to Yeovil in the Play-Off Final. Collins finished the 2012/13 campaign having scored 15 times in 45 appearances, but his time at the County Ground would only last one season as he moved north of the border to join Hibernian for £200,000.

It was another step up for the striker as he had to adapt to the Scottish Premier League. He started well, scoring against St Johnstone and St Mirren, but the goals didn’t flow as frequently as they did south of the border.

He did enjoy a special moment, however, as he netted in a 2-1 victory over Edinburgh rivals Hearts, but after one season at Hibs, the striker moved back to the familiar surroundings of Shrewsbury.

Familiar Territory

Now back in a comfortable setting, Collins once again flourished in front of goal. Shrewsbury had dropped back into League Two, but the striker had returned with the target of helping his old side back to where they belonged.

He immediately endeared himself to the supporters once more, scoring a brace on the opening day of the campaign, but Shrewsbury could only draw 2-2 with AFC Wimbledon. The goals were flowing frequently, though. He scored the only goal in an EFL Cup victory over Premier League side Norwich City which set up a Round Four tie against Chelsea. They took them all the way but were beaten 2-1.

And, with Shrewsbury flying high in the table, they secured promotion with a couple of games to spare. Collins had scored 15 league goals on his return to the club which earned him his second promotion of his career with the Shrews.

This time, he did make the step up into League One with Shrewsbury and scored on the opening day of the 2015/16 campaign, but they were beaten at home to Millwall. He scored a further six times before Christmas but was loaned out to League Two side Northampton Town for the second half of the campaign.

Managed by Chris Wilder and pushing for promotion to the third tier, Collins did what he knew best and scored on his Cobblers debut in a 2-1 victory over Plymouth Argyle. Ironically, all of his goals for Northampton came in victories. He racked up eight in total as they were crowned League Two champions, earning 99 points in the process.

But, he was on the move once again. His contract with Shrewsbury had been mutually terminated before he joined Crawley Town on a three-year contract in the summer of 2016. Over previous seasons, Collins had consistently hit 15 goals or more during the campaign, and that elusive 20-goal-season just eluded him.

However, during the 2016/17 season with Crawley, the striker did manage to break that barrier as he netted 22 times in all competitions, with 20 coming in the league. Whilst it wasn’t a successful season for the team as they finished in 19th position, on a personal level, it could not have gone much better.

He was consistently on the scoresheet, scoring in every fixture during January 2017, whilst a brace against Carlisle United towards the end of the campaign took him on to 20 in the league. Collins just needed stability to his game.

His goalscoring talents were clear to see, but he needed a settled period to get the best out of himself, because after one season his time at Crawley came to an end as he signed for fellow League Two side Luton Town for an undisclosed fee on a three-year contract.

Setting Up Home

With Luton aiming to rise through the divisions, it more than matched Collins’ ambitions as a player. The Hatters, managed by Nathan Jones, were beaten in the play-off semi-finals the season previous so they were hungry to go one step further ahead of the 2017/18 campaign.

Collins did what he usually does and scored on his debut for his new club. In fact, he didn’t only just score once, he scored a hat-trick in a convincing 8-2 victory over Yeovil to set Luton up for the campaign ahead.

He had scored 10 times prior to Christmas in his first season as Luton challenged for the title with Accrington Stanley, whilst he continued his good form following the festive period and into the second half of the campaign.

He managed to score against two of his former sides as he netted against Swindon whilst he scored a brace against Crawley in a 4-1 victory. He even scored against Coventry City, the place he was born, but the Hatters just could not chase down Accrington who ran away with the League Two title that season.

Luton did finish second and earn promotion to the third tier, and with Jones building a good squad with an identity. Collins had grabbed himself 20 goals in all competitions for the season, the second time in as many seasons that he had reached that total and there was a simmering feeling that maybe Luton could go on to earn back-to-back promotions to the second tier.

That is something they did go on to achieve in stunning fashion. The Hatters lost just six games out of 46 to be crowned League One champions ahead of Barnsley and Charlton Athletic. Collins was instrumental in their championship winning exploits.

It took him some time to get going, too. He managed only one goal before October before he ended the calendar year in double figures with 10 goals. He scored a hat-trick against Plymouth Argyle in November, whilst at the turn of 2019, he scored his second hat-trick of the campaign in a 4-0 victory over Peterborough United.

Collins just continued to score at a rapid rate. Back-to-back braces against Portsmouth and his former club Shrewsbury put Luton in a commanding position in the table, but hot on their heels were Barnsley. The striker was in the form of his life and guided the Hatters to promotion by scoring in five consecutive games towards the back end of the season.

He scored in every fixture he played in during April 2019 as Luton gained promotion to the Championship. He was recognised for his efforts as he was crowned League One Player of the Year at the EFL Awards after scoring a career-best 25 in a campaign.

Now into the second tier for the first time in his career in 2019/20, the pressure was on Collins to step up to the plate. He did just that. He scored a late equaliser in a 3-3 draw against Middlesbrough at Kenilworth Road, whilst he finished the first month with two more goals against Barnsley and Huddersfield Town.

Repping The International Stage

Collins was riding the crest of a wave. After being named as League One’s best player during the 2018/19 campaign and starting the 2019/20 Championship season in strong fashion, the striker earned a full international call up to the Republic of Ireland squad by Mick McCarthy.

The Ireland boss had been impressed with the striker’s attitude, work rate and his desire to score goals that he tested him on the international stage, and Collins didn’t let his international manager down one bit.

He scored on his debut as he came on as a second half substitute in a 3-1 victory over Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium, whilst he had to wait until March 2021 to score his first competitive goal for his country as Collins scored in a 3-2 defeat against Serbia.

The striker has 13 caps to his name so far, scoring two goals. He has been a regular part of the international sides, however, and has frequently played alongside Rams trio Jason Knight, Conor Hourihane and David McGoldrick.

Natural Finisher

With Luton fighting for their Championship survival, Collins’ goals were invaluable to them staying in the division in 2019/20. He had seven by Christmas, whilst he added another strike on Boxing Day in an entertaining 3-3 draw against Fulham.

The striker went on to score the winner against Sheffield Wednesday in February 2020, whilst just over two weeks later he again netted against Stoke City. But, with the season halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Luton decided to make a change as Graeme Jones was replaced by Luton’s former boss Nathan Jones.

That added extra impetus to the Hatters’ survival bid and after the season returned behind-closed-doors, Luton pulled off important victories to steer clear of the drop.

Collins managed three goals following the restart, scoring in a 1-0 victory over Swansea City and in a 1-1 draw against Queens Park Rangers, but on the final day of the campaign, he scored what proved to be the winning goal in a 3-2 victory over Blackburn Rovers.

Now into his fourth successive season with the Hatters, Collins started the 2020/21 campaign the same as he did his debut as he netted a hat-trick against Norwich City in the EFL Cup. It took him 13 minutes to score all three goals, whilst he started his league campaign with a goal too in a 1-0 victory over Barnsley.

Collins had another hat-trick before the end of 2020 as he scored three times in a 3-0 victory over Preston North End at Kenilworth Road. In total, Collins scored 13 times for Luton during the campaign. With his contract coming to an end, and with other teams circling to secure his contract, Collins chose to leave Luton at the end of the campaign.

He left a huge imprint on Luton’s recent history having scored 72 goals in 183 appearances. He left the club to join fellow Championship side Cardiff City at the start of the 2021/22 campaign, but with the Bluebirds in a transitional period, he found it tough to get going.

The striker was a regular part of Neil Harris’ squad at the start of the campaign, hitting the back of the net three times before January, but after he was dismissed and replaced by Steve Morison, the striker’s game time was significantly reduced. 2021/22 was the only time the striker hasn’t reached double figures since the 2013/14 campaign.

After appearing only three times under Morison, Collins took the opportunity to end his time with the Bluebird prematurely to join Derby on a two-year contract where he becomes the eighth player to sign up for the upcoming 2022/23 campaign.