Simon Hart: Tom Ince determined to align his lofty ambitions with those of Derby

Life Beyond the Premier League: He has endured a rough ride since turning down Internazionale but is thriving at the iPro Stadium

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Internazionale or Hull City? It is a decision that in any previous era would have been a no-brainer but when Tom Ince chose the KC Stadium ahead of his father Paul’s old San Siro stamping ground last summer, the motivation was his burning wish to establish himself as a Premier League footballer.

The fact Ince lasted only four months at Hull before dropping into the Championship with loan moves to Nottingham Forest and now Derby County, suggests it was a decision he got badly wrong but the 23-year-old insists has no regrets about flying back from Milan having said no. “You make choices and don’t look back,” he tells The Independent.

“Everyone says ‘you should have gone to Inter’ but imagine if I’d done well at Hull and been given a fair opportunity of playing games. Look at Harry Kane and Saido Berahino, young English players getting regular game-time in the Premier League.”

Ince is evidently not afraid to make bold decisions – “I left Liverpool when there was a four-year deal on the table and went to Blackpool,” he recalls of his 2011 move to Bloomfield Road – and just as that move bore fruit, so has his latest, last month’s switch to Steve McClaren’s promotion-chasing Derby.

Indeed, his impressive form at the iPro Stadium – he has six goals in eight outings – has fuelled hopes of a swift top-flight return. “I want to help this club get promoted as not only will that help Derby get back into the Premier League but helps give me the chance to get back where I should be,” says Ince, whose future beyond May is undecided. “I am still 23 and that is still relatively young; this is a big period now and I haven’t started too badly.”

Ince’s top-flight history is one of thwarted ambition – three starts on loan at Crystal Palace last term, then three more under Steve Bruce, his father’s old Manchester United team-mate, at Hull. “I thought I’d done OK in the first three games [which he started] and I scored in the League Cup at West Brom [but] the manager decided to go with a different formation and play experienced players. That’s football.”

A similar thing happened on loan at Forest but at Derby he has thrived in a right-sided forward role in McClaren’s attack-minded 4-3-3. “It is the manager’s style of play – from going abroad to Germany and Holland, he has learned that the best way to win games is to attack,” Ince says.

That may be so, but anxious Derby fans will tell you their side need to stop leaking goals. The injury-time pair shipped in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Birmingham City – the first from a penalty conceded by Ince – mean they have taken one point from their last three games; it is not the best platform for a daunting run of fixtures starting at Norwich City on Saturday.

“It shows the unpredictability of the Championship,” Ince says of a division where second-placed Derby sit level on 66 points with Bournemouth, Watford and Middlesbrough. “We have to make sure, with 10 games to go, that our discipline is where it should be so when we get in that position again, we see the game out. The next 10 games will be edgy but we won’t go away from our style of football.”

Derby have not been helped by injuries to strikers Chris Martin and Darren Bent, but both are due back soon. And, as Ince adds, they are not the only side dropping points. “Middlesbrough have lost their last two away games. Norwich have momentum but no one expected them to get beaten by Wigan. Everyone is in the same boat – it is a 10-game season and it starts from now.” And ends, Ince will hope, with a return to the Premier League.

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