To put it quite simply, Billy Davies over-achieved in his first season at Pride Park. Taking the reigns in June 2006, the Scot was under no illusion of the task facing him in terms of getting one of the Midlands’ proverbial sleeping giants back into the top flight. His three predecessors had departed within the space of a year and the Rams had flirted several times with relegation the previous campaign before finishing in 20th place.
Although money was made available to Davies, enabling him to sign the likes of Steve Howard, Dean Leacock, Craig Fagan and Jay McEveley, it was clear that nobody expected the Rams to challenge for promotion last season. The manager and board talked about having a long-term plan which presumably spanned several seasons rather than twelve short months! The bookmakers made them 50/1 shots to win the league.
After a slow start in August, Derby’s new-look team started to pick up the pace and it wasn’t long before they’d positioned themselves in the top two, a placing they would retain for virtually the entire season. Never mind the fact that they were edging a lot of matches by the odd goal (especially at home)
The board and fan expectations started to change as the season drew to a close and depression at missing out on automatic promotions turned into delight when County fortunately beat the Baggies in the play-off final. However, it was then a race against time to get themselves equipped for this coming season in the Premier League. The third promoted team are always at a disadvantage, not knowing their destiny until the end of May, giving them just two months to recruit new players for the new campaign.
Would Billy Davies still be at Pride Park if the Rams had missed out six months ago? It’s likely that they’d instead be challenging near the top of the Championship instead of being rooted to the foot of the Premier League, especially if the likes of Earnshaw, Miller, Davis and Todd had still agreed to sign for the Rams. The Scot is entitled to feel that he was a victim of his own success at Derby, and that a narrow failure last term might have served his future career prospects better.