As Aston Villa slumped to a 6-0 home defeat against Liverpool on Sunday, their hope of avoiding relegation plunged. While Sunderland are recovering under Sam Allardyce, Villa are rooted at the bottom of the Premier League. While this Villa side will quite probably go down as a poor Premier League team, it will be no match for the Derby County team of the 2007-2008 season. In that season, Derby’s lowest point was a 6-0 home defeat against Aston Villa. Derby County managed to earn just eleven points throughout the season, the lowest in history since the 3-point rule for a win was incorporated. Even more striking is the fact that Derby managed to win just 1 Premier League game all season.
Derby’s struggles may have come due to their unexpected promotion from the Championship in the 2006-2007 season. Derby finished third and earned promotion through the playoffs under manager Billy Davies. Derby, under new ownership, spent money at the beginning of that season on the likes of Steve Howard from Luton Town and Stephen Bywater from West Ham. Nevertheless, the season had not started well for Derby. They picked up just five points from the opening six fixtures. Derby picked up after that, and won all of their league fixtures in November in addition to winning eight fixtures in a row from the end of December 2006 to February 2007. Derby strengthened in January, spending £5 million on players for the run-in for promotion. These signings included right-back Tyrone Mears, midfielder Stephen Pearson, and midfielder David Jones.
Derby County actually started the 2007-2008 season in decent fashion. They drew 2-2 against Portsmouth on the opening day of the season, before narrowly losing 1-0 to Manchester City. Soon after, however, the meltdown began. On September 1, Derby County lost 6-0 to Liverpool. Fans started accusing the owners of failing to invest in enough players for the Premier League season. Among all this, the club actually had two chairmen step down through the course of the season. While Derby County actually beat fellow relegation candidates Newcastle United 1-0, 5-0 defeats against Arsenal and a West Ham United side plagued by injuries put manager Billy Davies under pressure. Davies eventually publicly criticized the board for the lack of investment. Some people said Davies attempted to get sacked, rather than having a relegation added to his resume. Others thought Davies was a victim of his own success, getting Derby promoted before they were ready to compete in the Premier League. Too much of the squad was “Championship-material,” and simply could not have competed at a high enough level in the Premier League. Either way, Davies struggled tactically and his signings, including defender Claude Davis (who cost £3 million), failed to perform well. After Davies was sacked, manager Paul Jewell, formerly of Wigan Athletic took over. While performances improved under Jewell, results did not. Derby repeatedly conceded late goals, and the team conceded seven late winners or equalizers in the space of a month. By the end of December, relegation was a formality.
Jewell had a busy January, buying and selling several players to improve results. Among his signings were goalkeeper Roy Carroll, midfielder Robbie Savage, and defender Danny Mills. None of the signings inspired results, however, and Carroll, in particular, was extremely poor for the club. Derby’s relegation was confirmed on March 29, the only time a team has been relegated in March. In April, Derby lost 6-0 at home to Aston Villa. The defeat displayed everything wrong with Derby. Carroll made multiple mistakes leading to goals, the defending was atrocious, and the team repeatedly lost the ball in dangerous situations, inviting Aston Villa forward. This Villa team included the likes of Stiliyan Petrov, Gareth Barry, Ashley Young, Gabby Agbonlahor, and John Carew, so they duly punished Derby with clinical finishing. On the final day of the season, Derby lost 4-0 to Reading, a side who were also relegated.
The following season (2008-2009), Jewell hoped for an immediate return to the Premier League. Sixteen new players came in to the club, while twelve departed. Despite these hopes, Derby spent most of the season struggling at the bottom of the table. Eventually, they finished eighteenth. The positive of the season came in the League Cup, as Derby made it to the semi-finals before losing 4-3 on aggregate across two legs against Manchester United.
All in all, between 2006 and 2009, Derby County experienced every sort of emotion. They earned promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs and finished as the worst Premier League side in history. Their struggles continued in the Championship. While what happened was upsetting, Derby provided one of the most interesting Premier League adventures in history.
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