Championship Analysis – Derby and Fulham demonstrate the joys and pains of youth policy

Derby hammered Fulham on Saturday, allowing the Rams to break free from their lukewarm start to the season and send the Cottagers to the foot of the Championship table on goal difference.

Fulham manager Felix Magath has largely looked towards promoting a youth policy during his short time at the club but it’s a strategy Derby have been working on for several seasons and it was clear which team had its structure in better shape.

A free-flowing Derby side, understandably favourites for promotion after narrowly missing out last season, overpowered a Fulham outfit containing six players under 21, some of whom are clearly not ready for first-team football at this level as the team’s four straight defeats have shown.

Putting such a plan into place inevitably requires patience but Fulham’s alarming slide means edging towards a ‘here and now’ balance has to intervene soon, something Magath alluded to in his post-match analysis.

“That was the worst performance but the good thing about today is that it is clear we have to change something,” he said. “A few minutes after the game is not the time to talk about what we will change but for sure there will be new players in.”

Magath’s record at Craven Cottage has been poor so far and unsurprisingly the media has speculated on his future but owner Shahid Khan has already sacked two managers – Martin Jol and Rene Meulensteen – in less than a year and that may mean Magath will be given time to execute plan B with the players he plans to bring in before the transfer window closes.

Another manager under severe pressure is Leeds United’s Dave Hockaday, who at the time of writing has not been sacked by the club. That’s despite several media sources claiming owner Massimo Callino had wielded his well-used axe immediately after Leeds were comprehensively beaten by Watford, leaving the club just above the relegation zone after three losses in four.

At the top end of the table, Nottingham Forest, as they did at the same point last season, lead the way with 10 points from a possible 12, with Britt Assombalonga and Michail Antonio bagging seven goals between them already this season.

21-year-old Assombalonga, reportedly Forest’s record signing at around £5m, is going from strength to strength, having scored 15 goals for Southend at League 2 level two seasons ago when on loan from Watford, then 23 for Peterborough in League One after he signed for Posh for £1.1m.

He is reportedly being tracked by the Democratic Republic of the Congo in terms of a potential international future, having been born in Kinshasa, although he moved to the UK at eight months old. Playing for England would almost certainly be Assombalonga’s first choice, but his father may yet persuade him otherwise – Fedor was an international footballer himself when the country was under its former guise of Zaire.

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