Paul Newman: Clough looks long-term after Derby facelift

The Football League Column

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Derby County are proposing major changes, but fans will be relieved that they do not involve the departure of their manager, Nigel Clough. The Rams have submitted plans to the city council for a £7m development of shops, cafes, restaurants and offices at Pride Park, the Championship club's home of the last 14 years. The scheme is a less ambitious version of a £20m one which was approved four years ago but later shelved.

Perhaps the Derby board has been encouraged by the success of another facelift, that overseen by Clough over the last year. Having flirted with relegation last season, his team are among the early pace-setters this season, to the evident delight of their fans. Saturday's 1-1 draw at home to Southampton, the leaders, was watched by a sell-out crowd of 33,010. It has taken time for Clough to make his mark since his arrival at the start of 2009, 42 years after his father Brian joined the club, but the former England international had shown in his only previous management job that he is a man for the long term. Clough spent 10 years at Burton Albion before leaving the club on the brink of a Football League place.

Derby were languishing just above the Championship relegation zone when Clough junior arrived and were still there at the end of the season, four months into his reign. If a 14th-place finish the following summer represented very modest progress, some Derby fans must have wondered whether the manager would ever come close to finding his father's magic touch when their team ended last season in 19th place. Although Derby played some sparkling football at times, Clough's team were all too often punished for their defensive frailties.

With the backing of his board, however, Clough has applied major surgery to his squad in the last year, particularly since the end of last season. Of the 11 starters on Saturday, only two – Russell Anderson and Steve Davies – had begun a League match for the club before the start of last season. Gareth Roberts, the left-back, joined on a free transfer from Doncaster Rovers in the summer of 2010, Ben Davies, an attacking midfielder, signed from Notts County in this year's January transfer window, and three players made permanent moves to Pride Park after loan spells last season: Frank Fielding, an England Under-21 goalkeeper, arrived from Blackburn Rovers, while the strikers Jamie Ward and Theo Robinson were recruited from Sheffield United and Millwall respectively.

Craig Bryson, a Scottish international midfielder, joined from Kilmarnock this summer, when arguably the most significant signing was Jason Shackell, the former Norwich City defender, who arrived for a reported fee of £1m from Barnsley. Two of the latest products of the Derby academy – Mark O'Brien, an 18-year-old defender, and Jeff Hendrick, a 19-year-old midfielder – made their full League debuts only this season. Fears that the club might suffer following the retirement of Robbie Savage in the summer have proved unfounded.

Clough, who is expected to sign a new three-year contract in the near future, is a manager who likes to keep his feet on the ground. Although Southampton had to come from behind to take a point on Saturday, Derby were often on the back foot against opponents Clough expects to stay at the heart of the race for promotion.

As for his own team, the manager knows that they have big challenges ahead, which will be made more difficult by the absence of Steve Davies, their leading scorer, who is expected to be out for six weeks after breaking a bone just above an eyebrow. Another recent mainstay, John Brayford, who played every minute of every game last season, has a thigh injury and missed his first game for the club on Saturday since his arrival in May 2010.

Clough appreciates the demands of a long season and gave his squad a week off at the start of the latest international break. Saturday's match was the first of six over a period of 22 days before the next round of internationals.

"We're facing a tough run with Reading, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth and Cardiff coming up, but if we show this sort of character and step up our touch and our quality we should be OK," Clough said.