The worst Premier League team of all time: Derby County


Over the years, I have been lucky enough to witness some incredible teams ply their trade in the Premier League. During my childhood, first it was Arsenal’s invincible team in the 03/04 campaign, then Jose Mourinho’s ruthless Chelsea side that broke all kinds of records in their 2005/06 title defence, and of course Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominant red devils.


Nowadays, it very much seems like Jürgen Klopp’s ‘mentality monsters’ and Pep Guardiola’s star-studded Manchester City side have created their own mini-league at the top of the Premier League. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to the 2016/17 season to find a title winning team that wasn’t Liverpool or City, as Antonio Conte’s Chelsea were crowned champions. 


Whilst there have been some truly great sides in England’s top division, there’s a few that have failed to flatter. Norwich and Fulham are the names that immediately spring to mind. These two must have some sort of agreement that they can’t play in the same division, as when one is relegated, the other is promoted. The 17/18 Championship season was the last time that they’ve been in the same division, justifying the ‘yo-yo team’ nickname that both clubs are branded with. Admittedly, Fulham have made a decent start to their current campaign. Isn’t it incredible what happens when you actually build your tactics around a striker that scores goals. Yes, I’m talking about you Scott Parker.


I do however feel a bit sorry for Parker following his rather reactionary sacking from Bournemouth. It doesn’t help the former West Ham midfielder’s cause that interim coach Gary O’Neil has been lapping up the well-renowned new manager bounce, picking up four points in his first two games. Just three games in, Parker was relieved of his duties following their 9-0 defeat against Liverpool. The performance was a complete shambles from start to finish, even resulting in fans branding Bournemouth as the worst ever Premier League team.


It may go down as the worst individual performance the top tier of English football has seen, but when you look back through the 30-year history of the Premier League, there is only one team deserving of the tag ‘worst Premier League side’. The unfortunate recipients of this dreaded label are of course Derby County.


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As they currently sit 9th in League One, ridden with financial troubles and corrupt ownership, it would be hard for football fans to imagine that this was once a Premier League side as recently as 2007. Regrettably for the rams, their last top flight campaign will forever be remembered for their absolutely atrocious record.


Whatever way you view Derby’s 2007/08 season, it reeks of absolute disaster. 38 league games, 29 losses, and just one single win all season. They actually recorded more league losses than they did goals scored, which is an incredible feat for all the wrong reasons. Not even the most die-hard rams supporter could argue the label of ‘worst ever Premier League side’.


This article will take a look at exactly what went wrong for Derby County in 2007/08.


P.S. Sorry Derby fans!


Over-Achieving in the Championship


Having finished the 2005/06 Championship campaign in 20th place, agonisingly close to the drop zone, it was clear to the rams supporters that change was needed. Chairman at the time, Peter Gadsby, seemingly agreed and appointed Scotsman Billy Davies as first team manager. The former Dunfermline and Motherwell midfielder had previously guided Preston North End to two successive play-off campaigns. Albeit neither were successful, however, but his ability to get the best out of an underperforming team was very much required at Pride Park.


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Supporter’s expectations were raised ahead of the 06/07 season, but not even the most delusional of Derby fans would have had them down as title candidates. The bookmakers didn’t rate their promotion credentials too highly either, pricing them at 66/1 to be promoted to the Premier League. With the odds firmly stacked against him, Davies repeated the play-off trick.


The Scotsman guided the rams to a 3rd place finish, exceeding all the odds. They defeated Southampton on penalties in the semi-final of the play-offs, before beating West Brom 1-0 under the iconic Wembley arch to secure their promotion to England’s top tier. Graham Poll blew the full-time whistle and the camera panned to Davies, who had a face of complete disbelief. He had finally broken his play-off curse at the third time of asking.


Don’t get me wrong, this was a monumental accomplishment for Davies and his side, but like the negative Nancy I am, it has to be said that the team severely over-performed throughout the season. 25 wins in 46 Championship games, 20 of them by a one-goal margin. Derby were winning lots of games, yet they never looked convincing doing so.


Regardless of whether they were convincing or not, Davies had ended the rams’ six-year absence from the Premier League.


Victims of Their Own Success


Winning promotion via the play-offs is a bit of a double-edged sword. The obvious benefit is the joyous day out at Wembley and of course the security of Premier League football. The drawback with a play-off victory is the lack of time to plan ahead. Until that final whistle is blown in the final, clubs and managers don’t know if they are planning for a Championship season or a Premier League season.


I think Steve Cooper faced a similar problem this summer, as his Nottingham Forest side made a whopping 21 signings, many of which look like panic buys on paper. Davies wasn’t quite as fortunate as Cooper has been, as Derby were working with a shoestring budget. In total, the Scotsman bolstered the side with 10 new players, who combined cost just over £10 million. To put their budget into perspective, Sunderland were promoted in the same season as Derby and spent £9 million alone on goalkeeper Craig Gordon.


Notable signings for the rams included Kenny Miller from Celtic, Robert Earnshaw from Norwich, and Claude Davis from Sheffield United – none of which strike me as Premier League quality players. It definitely felt like the promotion took everyone involved at the club by surprise. Rightly so too, as just one season prior to their promotion campaign, they were in a relegation scrap. Davies had worked miracles to get Derby to the Premier League, but it quickly became apparent that they weren’t at the required level that the top division demands.


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Although they started their 07/08 campaign off with a 2-2 draw at home to Portsmouth, away defeats to Manchester City, Tottenham Hotspur, and Liverpool provided Davies’s side with the harshest of reality checks. 10 goals conceded on the road without reply. Throw in a 2-1 home defeat to relegation rivals Birmingham and you could clearly see that Derby had become victims of their own success. They were the perfect example of the cliché ‘peaked too soon’. Their promotion to the Premier League had come way too early, neither the manager nor the chairman were prepared in the slightest for the step up that was required to compete at the top level.


Newcastle Anomaly


After being battered 6-0 away at Anfield in alarming fashion, the league was brought to a halt by a two-week international break, which actually benefited Davies massively. Whilst he did have some internationally capped players, there were fewer in the Derby squad in comparison to the other teams in the league was minimal. It basically provided the Scotsman with a clean slate, and two weeks to try and turn the rams into a competitive Premier League side.


Following the international break, Derby hosted fellow strugglers Newcastle at Pride Park. Even though it was only August, it already had the feel of a real relegation six-pointer, with Sam  looking for a victory to kickstart their season. In what looks like an anomaly now, the Rams actually came out as 1-0 winners, all but securing the sack for Big Sam, who departed the Magpies shortly after.


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More impressive than Miller’s 30-yard volley was the fact Derby actually kept a clean sheet. In the Championship the rams were relatively secure defensively, but in their first few Premier League outings, they were leaking goals like there was no tomorrow. In Davies’s post-match press conference, he claimed that he hoped the “players could take confidence from the result and kick on”. Would this result be the much-needed catalyst for a change in fortunes?


Absolutely not.


Davies Departure


I feel for Davies a bit. He walked into the club and inherited an average squad and an owner who was actively looking to sell the club. The fact they over-performed in the Championship in their promotion campaign meant that the top calibre players had zero interest in signing for the club as they were odds on to be relegated. Paddy Power had already paid out on them being relegated after six games, and it looked like the players themselves knew they were merely making up the numbers.


The win against Newcastle didn’t have the desired impact that Davies had hoped, as results continued to decline. Five days later and they were humiliated by Arsenal at the Emirates. Derby’s body language was indicative of a team that appeared to be beaten well before a ball was kicked. I’m no manager, nor would I want to be these days, but I’m sure the Scotsman’s team talk before the game would have been something along the lines of; “Away against one of the big boys, keep it tight at the back early doors”.


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Whatever it was that Davies said to his players, they certainly didn’t listen. A hall of shame performance from Tyrone Mears gifted Arsenal their first goal and Emmanuel Adebayor

quickly added a second before halftime. It got far worse for Derby in the second half, as Adebayor helped himself to a hat-trick. The game finished 5-0 to Arsenal, although the final score line could have been in the double-figure territory had it not been for Derby keeper Stephen Bywater.


Davies’s final game in charge was against Chelsea on the 24th of November, a game that for the most part they dominated. Even though they lost 2-0 on the night, it certainly wasn’t their worst performance of the season, and some may argue it was their best since the Newcastle victory. Nevertheless, Davies’s time at the club was up. Exactly six months after guiding Derby to the unlikeliest of play-off victories, he was handed his P45. It’s a cruel world for football managers.


The Paul Jewell Era


The rams hierarchy waited exactly 48 hours after Davies’s departure before unveiling Paul Jewell as their new manager, which stinks of a pre-planned agreement behind his predecessor’s back. Jewell was joining the club on the back of becoming a Wigan legend. He joined the Latics in 2001 and immediately got them promoted to League One. He then repeated the trick in 2004/05 getting the club promoted to the Premier League for the first time in their history. In his first season managing in the top flight, he guided Wigan to a top half finish, their highest finish to date.


Jewell faced a bigger challenge in his second Prem campaign, as second-season syndrome kicked in. Despite struggling at the bottom end of the table for the best part of seven months, Wigan pulled out a miraculous final day escape. He resigned just days later, citing the need to take a break from football.

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Refreshed from his six-month break, Jewell began the toughest challenge of his managerial career. If he was stressed enough with the Wigan job to need a break, the Derby hot seat may have killed him off. The Jewell era is certainly not one that is remembered fondly by the rams supporters.


January Window


One point out of a possible 18 is not the new manager bounce that Jewell would have hoped for, but it did at least see him through to the January transfer window. Desperate for some Premier League level players, he brought in a total of eight players, as well as offloading some of the deadwood.


Roy Carroll was signed from Rangers to become the club’s new number one. My only memory of him is when, whilst playing for Manchester United, he dropped an absolute clanger against Tottenham, only to be saved by one of the worst linesman/referee decisions of the Premier League era. 


Robbie Savage was purchased from Blackburn in a £1.5 million deal and was immediately instated as club captain. The Welsh Xavi, as he is known by absolutely nobody, had several years of Premier League experience behind him, with Blackburn, Birmingham and Leicester. Despite never quite making the grade at Manchester United, Savage was a solid Premier League midfielder.


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Then there was Danny Mills, who joined on a six-month loan from Manchester City. With 19 England caps to his name, rams fans were pleasantly surprised by his arrival at Pride Park. Jewell had done well to recruit Premier League experienced players, but it didn’t have any bearing on the results, as they continued to deteriorate. In fact, they only picked up three points between the end of the January transfer window and the end of the season.


Mills, arguably the best of their January recruits, played just two games for the club due to injury, announcing his retirement shortly after. Carroll tried bless him, but the problem wasn’t with his attitude or application, he just simply wasn’t a very good goalkeeper. Don’t get me wrong, Derby’s abysmal defending didn’t do him any favours, but he was never going to be the catalyst signing for a change in fortunes.


Likewise, Savage was never the type of character that the club needed as captain. He wasn’t the type to speak up, nor was he going to unite and motivate a dejected dressing room. The players were stepping onto the pitch with full knowledge that they were about to receive a hiding. It can’t have been an enjoyable time for the Rams supporters, but credit to them, they stuck with their side through thick and thin. It got to the point where fans were sarcastically cheering their team for being awarded a corner. That’s how bad it was.


Relegation Confirmation


Whilst it was just one of nine times that Derby would not be on the receiving end of a defeat, the 2-2 draw to Fulham on the 29th of March sealed their fate, as it became mathematically impossible for them to avoid relegation. Another unwanted record set. The rams became the quickest side to suffer relegation from the Premier League. Not that they want this accolade, but I can’t see it being beaten anytime soon.


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The point at home to Fulham was actually their last of the season, as Derby lost their remaining six games. Awful in defence, lacklustre up front, and non-existent in midfield. Add to that the January signing of a goalkeeper who is renowned for having butter fingers and you have the recipe for an absolutely horrific season. Yet another unwanted record, but the final league table is the first time that a Premier League side has recorded more losses than goals scored. Miller finished the season as the club’s top scorer, with an almighty six goals, a tally that Erling Haaland reached after just four games.


The most humiliating part of it all, Derby supporters had to wait a whole 12 months between league victories. No, I promise you I am not exaggerating. Their one and only Premier League victory was recorded on the 17th of September 2007, a 1-0 triumph against Newcastle. Fast forward nearly a whole year, 362 days to be precise, and the rams had their next league victory, a 2-1 win at home to Sheffield United in the Championship. At the 27th attempt, Jewell had picked up his first victory as Derby boss.


Jewell resigned from the Derby manager’s role shortly after, leaving them 18th in the Championship table. With a win percentage of just 20.69%, it surely has to go down as one of the worst managerial reigns in history.

While I am sure it has quickly been erased from Derby fan’s recollection; their 2007/08 season will live long in the memory of Premier League fans for all the wrong reasons. Sadly for Derby’s faithful supporters, there hasn’t been much to cheer since either. Three failed play-off attempts, an administration caused by careless ownership, and relegation to the third tier of English football sum up what has been a miserable two decades for the Rams.