Having fallen agonisingly short in their efforts to secure promotion to the Premier League last season – with play-off final heartache suffered at Wembley – Derby County could have been forgiven for stumbling out of the blocks this term and taking a while to hit their stride.
Questions were inevitably asked over the summer as to whether Chris Martin could once again hit the 20-goal mark, would Craig Bryson be as influential in midfield and could Will Hughes be kept from the clutches of top-flight suitors.
The answer to all of those queries has been a resounding ‘yes’.
Derby can also boast a forward in Johnny Russell who is performing at the peak of his powers and proving that the £750,000 spent on his services in 2013 represents remarkable value for money.
The hard-working Scot endured the worst possible start to life under Steve McClaren in 2013/14, with an unfortunate injury suffered during the former England manager’s first game in charge.
Russell was, however, to return and play a leading role in the push towards the Promised Land and cement his standing as a talismanic figure at the iPro Stadium.
That form has been carried over into the current campaign, with an international recall deservedly secured on the back of a flying start which has seen a man still waiting on his first senior cap weigh in heavily in key areas for his domestic employers.
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Russell has been Derby’s top provider this term, with his assist numbers bettering those of Hughes and Bryson – men the Rams lean heavily on to provide a creative spark.
He is also well on course to better his goal return from last season, with the most made of opportunities presented to him by early injuries to Dawkins and Ward.
His productivity, along with his tireless running, has now been noted by Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, but it is also worth pointing out that there will be 23 Championship bosses paying closer attention to what he brings to the Derby cause, with his card well and truly marked.