HERE ARE two clubs who are living proof that it is possible to win a place in the Premiership and keep it. For each, this is the third season since promotion and neither looks set for relegation yet, despite Leicester's lowly current position.
The key is canny management. Jim Smith, whose League experience spans more than 26 years, is as shrewd as they come. Martin O'Neill, while a rookie by comparison, has already proved he has outstanding qualities.
Neither missed Europe by much last season and both aim to rectify that this time. So far, Smith inspires more confidence and his side looks to have made the greater progress. Part of the reason is the signing of a Leicester player, the centre-back Spencer Prior.
Last season Derby had an abundance of flair, but not always enough substance. Smith believes he has corrected the imbalance and results so far back him up. Six matches without defeat represent the club's best start to a season in the top flight for more than 50 years.
"We threw some silly games away last season but bringing in Spencer Prior as an out-and-out defender has made us more solid," Smith said.
Prior, who cost pounds 700,000, replaced Christian Dailly, sold for pounds 5.3m to Blackburn. It hardly seemed like for like, but Prior was outstanding against his former colleagues, vigilantly restraining the dangerous Emile Heskey, who never gave up trying to get the better of his marker but was rendered ineffective.
In the wing-back's position on the left, Smith has installed Stefan Schnoor, a free transfer signing from Hamburg, in place of Chris Powell, sold to Charlton for pounds 830,000. Good business again. Schnoor scored his first goal for his new club on Saturday and played an important role in setting up the second. The only blemish on his performance was the push on Robbie Savage that should have been punished with a penalty to Leicester.
Both goals also involved Lars Bohinen, the Norwegian midfielder, for whom Smith paid Blackburn pounds 1.45m last March. Bohinen took time to bed in last season, but has hit the ground running this time. Technically adept, he passes the ball superbly, as he did to release Dean Sturridge before the first goal and to launch Schnoor before the second.
He outshone Muzzy Izzet, Leicester's creator, while Darryl Powell and Lee Carsley between them marginalised Neil Lennon in the ball-winning department.
Goals: Schnoor (34) 1-0; Wanchope (51) 2-0.
Derby County (5-3-2): Hoult; Delap, Prior, Stimac (Elliott, 49), Laursen, Schnoor; Carsley, Powell, Bohinen; Wanchope, Sturridge (Harper, 81). Substitutes not used: Poom (gk), Eranio, Baiano.
Leicester City (5-3-2): Keller; Savage (Parker, 55), Sinclair, Elliott, Kaamark, Guppy; Campbell (Taggart 55), Lennon, Izzet; Heskey, Cottee (Wilson, 69). Substitutes not used: Arphexad (gk), Zagorakis.
Referee: G Poll (Tring).
Bookings: Derby: Carsley, Schnoor, Hoult, Elliott; Leicester: Sinclair, Taggart.
Man of the match: Bohinen.
Attendance: 26,738.Reuse content