Frank Lampard has enjoyed a fantastic debut season as manager, but he fell at the last hurdle as Derby succumbed to their second Championship play-off final defeat in five years.
Derby consistently challenge at the top-end of the Championship, finishing in the play-offs in four of the last six years, but this year Lampard’s achievement is even greater when one considers the reduction in the budget.
Derby have excelled due to the performances of young loan stars such as Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori and Harry Wilson, but they fell narrowly short against Aston Villa.
Judging from the last 20 minutes, it could have been completely different. Lampard made the controversial decision to once again leave Jack Marriott on the bench, just as he had done at Elland Road 12 days earlier.
It was a shock decision, Marriott had scored within seconds of coming on against Leeds to give Derby a glimmer of hope and then got the winner late on – both goals were exemplary of brilliant poaching play, and were just what Derby could have done with in the final.
Marriott proved it too, he once again got his side back into the game (albeit the goal was awarded to Martyn Waghorn) after coming on to give Derby a fighting chance against Villa but it was too little too late.
Lampard then, may have made a fatal mistake in opting not to play him. Mason Bennett started instead, and although his pace proved useful to Derby in getting them up the pitch after being penned in for the duration of the first-half, he lacks the killer instinct and striker know-how that is key in a one-off game such as the play-off final.
Derby went with a diamond formation in an attempt to combat the Villa midfield trio of Conor Hourihane, John McGinn and Jack Grealish, but were made to pay as Villa enjoyed far too much space out-wide, particularly on the left-flank where Anwar El Ghazi had the bettering of Jayden Bogle for much of the match.
In truth, Aston Villa were afforded too much respect. Yes they’re a good team and played well, but Derby didn’t play their way, they lacked width and as a consequence became too easy for the Villa backline to nullify. Lampard will no doubt learn from this experience. When he showed attacking intent late on with his substitutions Derby showed what they’re capable of, and one can’t help but feel that it is another missed opportunity for Derby County.