Despite potentially making £9 million on Chris Martin, per the BBC, on a player who had divided the fan base, with his apparently below-par work rate and lack of commitment drawing the ire of many in the iPro, Derby County’s decision to loan Chris Martin to Fulham with an option to buy always seemed likely to bite them on the backside.
And, although Steve McClaren’s homecoming has coincided with a rapid rise from the verge of the relegation zone to the periphery of the play-offs, that feeling still hasn’t gone away.
With 22 games gone, Derby have found the back of the net just 23 times. No side in the top half has scored fewer while league leaders Newcastle are one away from doubling the Rams tally in the same number of fixtures.
It hasn’t helped that club-record signing Matej Vydra has scored just twice; it seems a long time since he was ripping apart opposition backlines with pace and precision in Watford yellow.
Yet, the fact that McClaren can harbour realistic hopes of finishing what he started two years ago is testament to one man in particular; Tom Ince.
With eight Championship goals, the fleet-footed winger is by far and away the most regular goalscorer in Derby’s ranks. But it’s not just the volume, it’s the vitality of Ince’s strikes that are most notable.
Nine in seven games with two assists to boot, the 24-year-old netted the winner against QPR and hit a crucial brace in a 3-2 win at Wolves. And that’s without mentioning his weaving wondergoal in the 3-0 East Midlands derby win against Nottingham Forest.
And, just for context, the former Liverpool youngster scored just once in 10 Championship fixtures during the typically tumultuous reign of Nigel Pearson.
In fact, according to WhoScored, only Newcastle’s forever-on-fire Dwight Gayle has had a hand in more goals than Ince since McClaren returned to the iPro in mid-October.
With Gayle leading Newcastle to promotion, what are the odds that Ince will do the same for Derby? They’re certainly shorter than they were in September.