The Big Match Preview: Birmingham City (H)
Pride Park Stadium
The football is back!
After three long hard months, Derby County return to action for the 2011/12 season with a tasty-looking encounter with relegated Birmingham City.
The Rams have added nine new players to the first-team squad in the summer, with manager Nigel Clough hopeful for more, and have had a mixed pre-season with losses against lower league sides but an impressive victory against Premier League side Aston Villa.
What does that tell us? Well, nothing quite honestly, apart from the fact that pre-season is utterly unpredictable and almost meaningless. Everyone knows the real stuff starts here.
Birmingham City have endured a torrid summer with the departure of manager Alex McLeish to city rivals Aston Villa, and various charges slapped on owner Carson Yeung. It remains to be seen whether his 'alleged' financial irregularities will affect the incumbent Carling Cup holders.
What does this season hold for The Rams? Nobody really knows, but everyone associated with the club will be desperate for an end to fighting relegation every season. Oh for the heady heights of mid-table mediocrity.
Good luck to the players and staff over the course of the season and here's to challenging at the right end of the table come May.
Rams manager Nigel Clough has spoken of the need for togetherness in the coming season: 'Togetherness and character will be key qualities we need this campaign. We have already seen that the squad has knitted together as a group and care about each other and the Club; they are desperate to do well this season for themselves and the fans.'
Birmingham boss Chris Hughton is impressed with the new faces at Pride Park: 'We are facing a Derby side who have made plenty of changes over the summer, and that makes it tough because they have added some good players to their squad.
'We feel we are ready and up for the challenge.'
The Rams Team News:
Predictably, former Nottingham Forest sicknote has picked up a pre-season injury and will miss out on the opening day of the season. The pacy striker injured his groin during the victory over Aston Villa.
Joining him on the sidelines are Paul Green, Shaun Barker, Saul Deeney and the seemingly eternally crocked Jake Buxton.
Injury doubts had been Conor Doyle, Stephen Pearson and Jamie Ward but one or two of them may be fit enough to make the subs bench.
Excellent news comes in the form of Jason Shackell, who will line up for his new side in central defence.
Player to watch: Steven Davies
Former Tranmere forward Davies ended last season with a flurry of goals and has been reasonable enough in pre-season. He is seen as one of The Rams' main strikers this season and has the potential to succeed. If, and it's a big if, he stays fit.
The Blues Team News:
The Blues are without three of their four main strikers for the short trip to the East Midlands.
Cameron Jerome, Nikola Zigic and new signing Marlon King are all definitely out although their top-class defender Scott Dann is fit to start in defence.
Player to watch: Scott Dann
Former Coventry City defender Dann had a good season in the Premier League last year. He may yet move on in the transfer window, but in every game The Blues can keep him for, he will greatly strengthen their rearguard.
Match Facts & Stats:
Derby County Pre-Season:
Aston Villa (h) 2-0
Exeter City (a) 0-1
Crewe Alexandra (a) 1-2
Morcambe (a) 1-1
Macclesfield Town (a) 2-2
Burton Albion (a) 3-1
Birmingham City Pre-Season:
Everton (h) 1-2
Oxford United (a) 0-2
Hereford United (a) 0-0
Cork City (a) 1-0
Derby County vs. Shrewsbury Town, Tue 9th August, 19:45pm, Carling Cup