GMM: So, we have the season back on Friday! What are your hopes/expectations for Derby Country this year? From a neutral perspective, it seems like you’re the Championship’s constant underachievers.
JM: We are becoming the nearly men of the Championship. Losing the 2014 play-off final to QPR following a last minute Bobby Zamora goal has left deep psychological wounds across the club for both supporters and players. The season before last kind of sums us up; we got to the play-offs and lost the first leg at home to Hull 3-0. I can't remember a more inept performance ever. We went up there bereft of hope for the second leg and absolutely played them off the park, winning 2-0. Ridiculous.
Managerial changes have hindered us, although many fans do feel optimistic. We're pretty solidly behind Gary Rowett. We want some stability with him! If your club is badly ran and players don't turn up, you'll get found out extremely quickly in the Championship. I'd be happy with top 6.
GMM: You’ve lost a huge portion of your team this summer - Will Hughes, Tom Ince and Cyrus Christie have all moved on. How much of an impact do you think losing that trio will have on your season?
JM: We lost creativity in Ince and Hughes. I think most Derby fans are prepared to swallow that pill and sacrifice flair for solidity. They were our most salable assets and with our near misses in recent seasons, it feels like the manager had to break up the team in order to make his mark. Shipping those two out is a big statement but also it's a symbolic one. It was a bit of a shock but it's done now - move on.
As for Christie, Rowett never fancied him. I liked him but the acquisition of Andre Wisdom as right back fills that position well. The impact of the loss of those three remains to be seen but I think it's about a change in system and philosophy and so for that reason I think the impact ought to be minimal.
GMM: Gary Rowett is a manager that many of our fanbase looked to when David Moyes was struggling last year. How impressed have you been with him so far?
JM: He communicates very well and his signings have been good ones. As a former player he seems like a good fit.
He's a wee bit unproven but his Birmingham side were in the top six when they fired him and Zola managed to take them to the brink of relegation afterwards. He won't suffer fools gladly and I think the Derby dressing room has contained one or two fools in recent times. I think Rowett will deliver the stability and medium to long term strategy that Derby fans crave - the fans too have to be patient, easier said.
GMM: This week we’ve had the now infamous Darron Gibson outburst and got battered off Celtic 5-0 at home. From a neutral viewpoint, what do you think of the going’s on at Sunderland over the last year?
JM: Sunderland are obviously a massive club and one steeped in history. I'm bringing my son up to the game on Friday and it struck me the other day that it will be the biggest crowd he's ever been a part of (apart from that Wembley final) so that speaks volumes.
I won't pretend to know tons about what's happening at the Stadium of Light, but I think you’re at a similar point to us - get shot of the big names and allow someone who isn't after a payday to settle the club down.
It's about hunger and if your players have it. That's a big test but will be pivotal. If your players respond to what the manager wants to do then you could storm it. If they don't respond, you'll drop like a stone.
GMM: We’re a mess right now, but do you still worry about us being your opening game? Which Sunderland players are you most worried about?
JM: This league gets tougher every year. Away to Sunderland is a tough start. But perhaps its a good time to play you. Your new ‘keeper (Steele) looks nervous. You'll have that big crowd as always - but if they get restless that might benefit us.
Grabban is the eye catching signing. I like Cattermole. I've seen some scorn about him - but he’s exactly the type of player you need to roll his sleeves up and kick a few in the middle of a long hard season. I'd like to see Kone start - just saying!
GMM: You’ve brought in some good experience in Curtis Davies and Tom Huddlestone. Which players should we be looking out for?
JM: I'm pretty pleased with those acquisitions. We've bought in plenty of experience, grit and much needed characters for the dressing room. In pre-season his (Huddlestone) distribution has looked outstanding. We needed to freshen up our defence and Davies looks the part.
Chris Martin is back at the club too, he's the kind of player that will irritate the hell out of your fans - always buying niggly fouls - but ultimately he can be the kind of nuisance that we want.
GMM: Finally, what’s your prediction for the game?
JM: I don't really have happy memories of playing Sunderland. I remember playing you when you had Mick McCarthy in charge. It was a special game for us as it saw the return of Mart Poom. He'd been a legendary 'keeper for us and the fans adored him. Then in the last minute you won a corner and sent the 'keeper up. Of course he bloody scored, didn't he!
I think now is a good time to play Sunderland, so for that reason I'm gonna call a 2-1 win for us. Sorry! Good luck for the season and see you Friday. Come on you Rams!
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