Derby County will be one of the favourites to emerge from League One this season, but their chances have taken a blow with news striker Louie Sibley is set to miss the start of the season.
As reported by Derbyshire Live, Sibley has picked up a calf issue, and despite the original prognosis being positive, it seems he will now miss the big kick-off in a fortnight’s time. The Rams host Wigan on the opening day of the season, and Sibley will definitely miss out.
That means new signing Conor Washington could feature, although he hasn’t played since a minor knee operation earlier in the year. Washington, who scored five times in 35 Championship appearances for Rotherham last season, could get a run out against Sheffield United this Saturday.
Coach Paul Warne confessed Callum Elder might also be struggling for minutes ahead of their game against the Latics, meaning the former Rotherham boss will be at a disadvantage as he seeks a fourth League One promotion.
“Louie and Tom (Barkhuizen) both had calf issues,” he said. “We thought he (Sibley) was coming back, but on Thursday, he did some more running, and then it felt a bit tighter. The medical team then said, ‘look he is a little bit further behind than what his scan suggests,’ if that makes sense. With Tom, he has kicked on fine. With Sibs, he is going to miss the start of the season.”
Defender Elder will join Washington in a race for fitness, both needing minutes but lacking opportunities between now and the opening day.
“I am hopeful that Callum will be back on the grass Monday week. That doesn’t really give him enough time to be fit for the first game,” added Warne. “Wash is all about energy, and he does need some training, obviously. I’d like to try to get him minutes next week. Ideally, he will come through a week’s training and play a part next week for 20 minutes or something.”
Derby missed out on the top six on the final day of last season, meaning a second successive season in the third tier for the first time since 1986. Failure to gain promotion this season would result in their longest period outside the top two divisions since joining the Football League in 1888.
Derby will be hot favourites for promotion this season, with Warne’s experience coupled with some strong recruitment leaving them as the team to fear. Getting off to a good start is important for a title challenge, and having injuries and unfit players at this stage will leave them at a disadvantage. However, Wigan, Fleetwood, Oxford and Burton are four teams not expected to be in the top six, which means their first few fixtures are not as tough as they could be.
We also expect Warne to be active in the transfer market between now and the end of the window, and that might mean bringing players in during August. If there is a time to carry a few knocks and unfit players, it is August, when 75% of teams in the division are still taking shape.
This is a blow to getting off to a solid start, but it shouldn’t derail the Rams’ promotion train.