Derby County didn’t have much to celebrate during their last season in the Premier League
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It is a number that has been seared into the minds of Derby County supporters for over a decade: 11.
That was the points tally from the club’s ill-fated Premier League season in 2007-08, the lowest ever recorded by an English side since the introduction of three points for a win in 1981.
It is a record that looked untouchable – until now. With Sheffield United adrift at the foot of the table with just two points from 17 games ahead of Tuesday’s encounter with Newcastle, there is a sense in the East Midlands that the most unwanted accolade in English football could finally be wrenched off their backs.
To put United’s miserable season into some context, Derby had four more points at this stage of the campaign 13 years ago. However, for those who were there, the memories of that doomed season at Pride Park remain painfully raw.
“I had worked all my career to play in the Premier League but this was like the year from hell,” recalls Steve Howard, the forward who had scored 16 goals in the Championship the season before. “We had got promoted way ahead of schedule at Derby and it was an horrendous experience. Sadly we just weren’t good enough, and it was almost like we gave up halfway through.
“We weren’t getting beaten every week, we were getting hammered. We were dreading games and going into them thinking we needed to score two or three goals to even draw.”
After beating West Brom in the 2007 Wembley play-off final, Derby always feared a tough season back in the top flight with little time to prepare. Though they drew 2-2 against Portsmouth on the opening day, and fought hard in a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City, the anticipated momentum from promotion never materialised. A 4-0 defeat against Tottenham was followed by a 6-0 humiliation at Liverpool and 5-0 beatings against Arsenal and West Ham.
“Confidence was on the floor and we feared a goal every time any team came to attack us,” says Howard. "We were picking ourselves up every five minutes, and it really affects you mentally. You take it home because losing, whatever the sport, is the worst feeling when it’s happening sometimes twice a week.
“I remember turning to my dad early in the season and saying: ‘I’ve worked so hard all my life to get here and now this!’”
There was also chaos off the field. Billy Davies, the manager, was sacked in November, less than 48 hours after a remarkable post-match outburst directed at chairman Adam Pearson over the club’s transfers.
Derby and Sheffield Utd
Paul Jewell was parachuted in as Davies’ replacement, and it appeared a shrewd appointment. He had left Wigan at the end of the previous season having guided the club to safety on the final day and was a streetwise operator, with a solid reputation at Premier League level.
Yet nothing could have prepared him for the Derby experience. Jewell secured just six points from 24 matches, suffering 19 defeats, before relegation was confirmed on March 29.
“I’ve never really recovered from it,” Jewell tells Telegraph Sport. “Paddy Power asked me recently to do an advert and make a joke out of it, but it wasn’t a funny time for me. It’s never far from my mind.
“It was a horrible situation, and whatever could go wrong did go wrong. David Moyes called me when I was driving in the car to Derby telling me not to take it, and I should have listened.
“I was so embarrassed about the whole situation, it was draining. I tried everything I could. This sounds crazy but it was a brilliant place to work. The facilities are outstanding and the fans turned up every week to watch rubbish, basically. They never turned on us.
"It’s always about your players, and we had a Championship squad playing in the Premier League.”
Jewell, who now works at Swindon as director of football, knows exactly what United manager Chris Wilder is going through. Derby’s painful season has hung over him for more than a decade, so it would be easy to understand if Jewell was desperate for the points record to be beaten.
“Chrissy is a mate of mine so hopefully somebody else will take it,” he says. “It’s a brutal time and it takes it out of you. I really feel for him. When you’re promoted the feeling is euphoric from the chairman down to the players, but the second year is always the hardest.
“At Wigan we finished 10th and reached the League Cup final in the first season, but in the second year they are all ready for you. The Thierry Henrys and Roy Keanes of this world want to come and beat you, you’re treated with more respect.
“At Derby we never got the wins in succession to give us that momentum but hopefully Chris can turn it around before it’s too late.”