Town fans vote against 'doing a Derby'

WOEFUL Derby County are today facing up to the ignominy of becoming the first ever Premier League team to be relegated before the clocks went forward. Their demotion was confirmed following a draw with Fulham and after a season in which they have managed just one miserly victory.

WOEFUL Derby County are today facing up to the ignominy of becoming the first ever Premier League team to be relegated before the clocks went forward. Their demotion was confirmed following a draw with Fulham and after a season in which they have managed just one miserly victory. As Ipswich continue in their quest for promotion, JOSH WARWICK asks whether supporters would rather Town competed in the Championship or struggled in the top flight.

SEPTEMBER 17, 2007 will be etched into the memories of every Derby County supporter.

For it was on that late-summer's evening that the east midland club last recorded a victory, narrowly overcoming Newcastle United at Pride Park.

In the six-and-a-half months since, County have become the division's laughing stock, snatching the odd draw here and there, but more often than not receiving morale-sapping hammerings.

The whites have managed just 16 goals, conceding 67 in the process, including six against Chelsea, six at Anfield, five at home to West Ham, and another five at Arsenal.

For a club not dissimilar in size to Ipswich Town, Derby's misery has been a brutal reminder of the task facing clubs promoted from English football's second tier.

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County's inadequacies have thrown open the question of whether competing in the Premier League is all it's cracked up to be.

In an Evening Star poll this week, nearly 60 per cent of Blues supporters admitted they would rather Ipswich challenged at the top of the Championship than watch on in horror as Jim Magilton's team toiled against the nation's footballing aristocracy.

James Wheeler, chairman of Derby County's Rams Trust, is one of the hardy souls who have braved the pain of this season's campaign.

But despite the heartache, he is looking forward to competition on an even playing field next season.

“Whether it was such a good thing that we won the play-offs at Wembley is an interesting question and one I have been thinking about a lot,” he said.

“Do you want to watch your team competing at a higher level and testing themselves against the best teams in the country or would you rather stay in the Championship and see your team win every week?

“There's a bigger issue here. The gap between the Championship and the Premier League is growing and growing, to the extent that it's almost impossible for any team without a major financial backer to survive.

“I was chatting to our previous chairman, Peter Gadsby, and he said the gap is so much wider than when we last got promoted a few years ago. The gulf in class has got bigger. These days, any player who is any good is worth £4m or £5m.”

With no major summer spending spree, the odds were stacked against County, Mr Wheeler admitted.

“Derby had just come out of severe financial difficulties and there was no way we were going to risk spending millions on gambling to stay up.

“The board decided they were going to invest reasonably but not gamble the club's security. Having said that, we still spent £10million to £12m and bought a few players in January, too.

“I always knew this season would be difficult but I didn't think we would be 20 points adrift at the bottom.

“We have never even looked like competing. And looking at the Championship, I can't see any of the teams in contention of promotion being able to compete next year, either.”

While Pride Park has regularly sold out, the torment the supporters have endured could make them think again when it comes to renewing their season tickets.

“I'm looking forward to next season because I think the Championship is going to be competitive and enjoyable,” said Mr Wheeler.

“But morale is very low at Derby at the moment. The finances at the club are secure and that will provide a platform for us. But you can't take into account the public's attitude.

“We have been sold out for virtually every game, but because of the season we have had, a lot of those fans will think again next year.”

Derby manager Paul Jewell this week urged promotion-chasing clubs to continue “chasing the dream”.

“People look down their noses as Hull and Bristol City but why shouldn't they be in the Premier League? Those players are at the top of their league. Don't kill the dream.

“Getting beaten every week is horrible, but I'd say to the players you're there because you deserve it.

“I was part of a dream like that at Wigan and everyone laughed at the thought of us in the Premier League, saying 'go back where you belong'. We ended up 10th and reached a cup final.

“It can be done. It takes good coaching, planning, players, recruitment and a little bit of luck.”

Jewel's optimistic view is shared by Liz Edwards, chairwoman of Ipswich Town's supporters club. She believes the task of getting up and staying up is not insurmountable.

“Of course we want to be promoted,” she said.

“Most seasons, at least one of the promoted teams stays up, and in recent years some, notably Reading and Wigan - quite apart from ourselves in 2000/01 - have had very successful first seasons in the Premier League. Even this year, two of the promoted sides are likely to stay up.

“Derby were not a great Championship side last year. Remember we beat them at Portman Road towards the end of the season, and, although they won the play-off final, it was a poor game, and their game plan was negative, aimed primarily at stopping West Brom's playmaker, Jason Koumas.

“They had few, if any, players of Premiership quality - a problem previously for Sunderland and Watford.

“Teams who go up and stay up have a sound defence, pace upfront, and at least a couple of midfielders who can compete at the higher level.”

Mrs Edwards said three quality reinforcements - in defence, midfield and attack - would transform Town into survival hopefuls.

She added: “We are already better equipped than Derby were.

“You don't have to be that good to stay up - you just have to be better than the other two promoted sides, and one existing Premier League side.

“Our FA Cup performance against Portsmouth showed that we can compete at that level.

“Of course it would be tough, but we could succeed.”

Carl Day, chairman of Ipswich Town 1st, believes Ipswich will miss out on promotion this season - but reckons the club could be better off as a result in the long term.

“I think we will miss out and I think we might well be a stronger team for it.

“Every team should aspire to be the best and the Premier League is the best.

“Derby have suffered but Ipswich proved back in 2000 that if you have a nucleus of a side who have played together for a while, you can do well.

“With Burley, we missed out on a number of occasions but the squad got better and better until the club got promoted and then did so well in the Premier League.

“However, the gap is definitely widening between the higher echelons of the Championship and the bottom of the Premier League.”

Would you rather watch Ipswich win regularly in the Championship or struggle in the Premiership? Write to Sports Desk, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail sportsdesk@eveningstar.co.uk

DERBY County have been labelled as the worst Premier League team in history, but they could avoid that title by winning five points from their final six games.

Sunderland, in 2005/06, managed just 15 points - four more than Derby's current total of 11.

Here are the worst six Premier League teams in the competition's history:

6 - Swindon (1993/94)

Swindon are managed to notch just 30 points from the 42 games played each season up until 1996.

Goals scored: 47

Goals conceded: 100

Points per game: 0.71

Top scorer: Jan Fjortoft (13)

5 - Ipswich (1994/95)

Swindon's stint in the Premiership was soon in the shadows thanks to Ipswich's desperate season a year later.

Not only did Town muster just 27 points from 42 matches, the Blues suffered a humiliating 9-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Goals scored: 36

Goals conceded: 93

Points per game: 0.64

Top scorer: Claus Thomsen (5)

4 - Watford (1999/2000)

Graham Taylor worked miracles to get Watford into the Premiership but the Hornets were completely out of their depth, winning just 24 points.

Goals scored: 35

Goals conceded: 77

Points per game: 0.63

Top scorer: Heidar Helguson (6)

3 - Sunderland (2002/03)

The Black Cats became the first Premier League team to fail to register 20 points.

Mick McCarthy's side grabbed 19 points as relegation beckoned.

Goals scored: 21

Goals conceded: 65

Points per game: 0.5

Top scorer: Kevin Phillips (6)

2 - Sunderland (2005/06)

Sunderland again - this time winning only 15 points in a truly awful season.

Goals scored: 26

Goals conceded: 69

Points per game: 0.39

Top scorers: Dean Whitehead and Liam Lawrence (3)

1 - Derby (2008)

They can lose the number one slot if they manage the unlikely challenge of winning five points from their last six games.

From the Premier League kick-off in August, Derby have always looked a Championship side in waiting.

Goals scored: 16

Goals conceded: 67

Points per game: 0.34

Top scorers: Kenny Miller, Matt Oakley and Tito Villa (3)