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The return of Premier League football to the East Midlands is imminent.

Top flight football has plotted its route around the East Midlands over the past few years, with the region not having a representative since 2008, but we’ll keep that particular season quiet, eh Derby?

No East Midlands clubs in Premier League since 2008 Nottingham Forest, Leicester City and Derby County

No East Midlands clubs in Premier League since 2008

In fact, you have to look back to 1999 to see the last time all three of the regions major clubs occupied places in the top flight. Obviously the teams I’m focussing on are Leicester, Derby, and Forest, so apologies in advance to fans of Chesterfield, Mansfield, Northampton, Notts County etc.

In that particular 1998-99 season, Jim Smith led his Rams to the dizzy heights of eighth in the Premier League, with Paulo Wanchope and Deon Burton leading the line at Pride Park. Over at Filbert Street, Tony Cottee’s ten goals helped Martin O’Neill secure consecutive tenth place finishes, whilst Nottingham was left blue after another relegation at the City Ground. Dave Bassett and then Ron Atkinson both tried, and failed in their attempts to fight off relegation to the Football League, but it was to no avail, and the River Trent hasn’t seen top-flight football since.

Slowly but surely, the Premier League began filtering out the other clubs from our region, and the West Midlands flag would soon be flown in a place where the East’s used to live. Over time, Rams, Trees, and Foxes were replaced by Baggies, Wolves, Potters and Blues, but could we about to see another shift of power in the East-West divide?

I think all three clubs have a genuine chance of promotion this season. Keeping hold of key players and strengthening in the right areas is paramount for any club wishing to do anything in the Championship, one of the most competitive and unpredictable leagues in world football. I think all are doing this so far, as they aim to be ready for the big kick-off in a weeks’ time.

Nottingham Forest

Back under the guidance of Billy Davies, they definitely mean business this season. After losing out on a play-off spot in the last minute of the previous campaign, Davies has responded by bringing in seven players so far this window. Eric Lichaj and Gonzalo Jara have been snapped up on free transfers from Aston Villa and West Brom respectively, whilst the signing of exciting centre forward Jamie Paterson from Walsall has been met with positivity. Jack Hobbs has been recruited to keep the defenders guessing, whilst Dorus de Vries looks set to make the number one shirt his own, as he enters a battle with Karl Darlow.

Davies, who begins his quest for promotion in the seasons curtain-raiser against Huddersfield next week, has also bolstered his attacking options by bringing in tricky winger Djamel Abdoun and Scotland striker Jamie Mackie. Both have both been signed on deals surpassing six-figures, which shows the Chairman has stopped doing his Alan Sugar impressions and is finally prepared to back his manager and flex his financial muscle. Fawaz Al-Hasawi said he wanted ‘to bring in quality not quantity’ to Nottingham, but he seems to be doing both, and it’s difficult to envisage a top six without Forest there next season.

Leicester City

They haven’t seen a summer transfer window as quiet as this for a very long time. There has been very little activity at the King Power Stadium over the past few months, which leads me to ponder if the stadium consists only of Anthony Knockaert, a dark room, a bottle of whiskey, and a DVD of the play-off semi-final second leg. Now obviously Nigel Pearson’s hands must be somewhat tied because of these new financial fair play rules and he has himself cited that as a reason for the quiet window, but he has missed out on some quality signings which he surely could have swayed. James Perch, Lewis McGugan, and Alex Baptiste to name a few, have gone to Championship rivals.

In spite of having a small squad, it is known that Pearson must first sell in order to buy. Despite this, he seems intent on keeping his squad together from the previous campaign. This is a squad which could dismantle sides and go unbeaten through the whole of January, or go 10 games without a win whilst still holding a place in the top six. He obviously believes in his squad, and who could argue? There’s genuine quality there. David Nugent and Chris Wood is as good of a strike-force that you’re going to see this season. Ben Marshall and Anthony Knockaert possess genuine quality whilst Matty James and Danny Drinkwater are maturing into a real pairing in the middle of midfield. Add that onto the loyalty of Kasper Schmeichel and the human rock that is Wes Morgan, and you have promotion contenders on your hands.

You can see why Nigel Pearson isn’t panicking about the lack of transfer activity. Jermaine Beckford and Richie Wellens have both been off loaded to pave the way for Zoumana Bakayogo to join the club. The Ivory Coast international has been brought in to compete with Paul Konchesky and Jeff Schlupp for the left-back position and he is Nigel Pearson’s only signing to date. The former England Under-21’s manager has been opting for a formation which houses five men across the defence during pre-season, indicating that counter attacking football will be his hypothesis for the coming campaign.

Derby County

Nigel Clough’s Rams have quietly been going about their business in the last few years. The slow build up of a young and talented squad looks set to take shape in the form of a promotion challenge this season. Surviving off the enthusiasm of youth and fantastic team spirit, the Rams have kept most of their young gems relatively quiet to ensure none of the Premier League, or indeed Championship vultures would come swooping in.

The club have also whisked any new arrivals into Pride Park. John Eustace and Craig Forsyth, two of the only British players left from the Italian revolution, have signed from Watford. Johnny Russell could prove an inspired signing from Dundee United. His 20 goals in 38 games in Scotland last season shows that he’ll be a handful for most Championship defences during the coming campaign.

In the middle of the park, Nigel Clough will be hoping to keep hold of one of the most promising players outside of the top flight. Will Hughes is only 18, and has many admirers in the Premier League, including Fulham manager, Martin Jol. The classy midfielder is the second youngest player to represent the England Under 21’s side, which shows his maturity beyond his years. Elsewhere in the squad, Jamie Ward and Conor Sammon will be hoping to add to their goals tally this season, and they’ll be joined by new signing Chris Martin (no, not that one) from Norwich.

Unfortunately for Clough and Derby County, at the time of writing, they look resigned to losing highly-rated full-back John Brayford, after the club accepted a bid in excess of £2m from Cardiff City. If the deal goes ahead, it will be a huge blow for the club, who have finally built a squad worthy of putting forward a promotion challenge, albeit a small one. Nigel Clough will have to replace the Englishman as soon as possible, as Clough Jnr looks to emulate his father’s success.

I think, along with Bournemouth and Ipswich, they will be this seasons’ dark horses. Viva La East Midlands!

Post written by Asa McCoy
Blog: thatcouldbethegoal, Twitter: @AsaMcCoy

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