Has Derby County's transfer blunder handed rivals initiative in promotion race?

Derby manager Gary Rowett  looks on during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Bristol City at the iPro Stadium on January 19, 2018 in Derby, England.

Derby County weakened their options on the flank during the January transfer window.

Gary Rowett manager of Derby County gives his players instructions during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Brentford at iPro Stadium on February 3, 2018 in Derby,...

Derby County’s decision to allow Johnny Russell to leave the club without signing a like-for-like replacement could well have handed the initiative to their rivals in the race for automatic promotion.

The Rams moved in to the automatic promotion places in January but a run of just two wins in six league matches has seen rivals Aston Villa overtake them following seven consecutive Championship wins.

While Derby do preside over an impressive 12-game unbeaten run, their lack of goals has stunted their progress somewhat and no doubt draws are starting to feel like two points dropped.

In recent weeks the Rams have posted 0-0 draws against Bristol City and Millwall, while 1-1 home draws with Norwich City and Sheffield United were opportunities missed to get one over a potential arrival.

Johnny Russell of Derby County during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Bristol City at iPro Stadium on January 19, 2018 in Derby, England.

With Derby in such a promising position in January, it therefore came as quite a surprise to see popular winger Johnny Russell leave to join MLS side Kansas City without a like-for-like replacement come in.

It was well documented that Derby were keen on a loan deal for Everton’s Ademola Lookman, but the player instead opted to join Bundesliga side Leipzig prompting the Rams to turn attentions to Chelsea’s Kasey Palmer.

While the Blues youngster has promotion experience with Huddersfield Town, he is predominantly a central attacking midfielder and as a result leaves Derby short in wide areas.

Shaun Hutchinson of Millwall tackles Tom Lawrence of Derby County during the Sky Bet Championship match between Millwall and Derby County at The Den on January 30, 2018 in London, England.

Tom Lawrence, Andreas Weimann and Ikechi Anya are the only three recognised wide players in Derby’s senior squad, and the latter has barely featured this season while Lawrence is suffering from a lack of confidence.

As shown by an online poll via Twitter, a majority of a handful of supporters participating believe that boss Gary Rowett made a mistake in January and recent results haven’t helped his cause.

Derby have drawn three of the last four matches, and in particular at Millwall and against Norwich it was evident that the team were crying out for added creativity on the flanks and some fresh impetus.

With just Matej Vydra providing that spark at present, the East Midlands side now appear too reliant on one player compared to a Villa side who have goals coming from numerous options in the final third.

Matej Vydra of Derby shoots past Aden Flint during the Sky Bet Championship match between Derby County and Bristol City at the iPro Stadium on January 19, 2018 in Derby, England.

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