Name: Patrick Bamford
Club: Chelsea (on loan at Derby)
Position: Inside Forward/Striker
In truth, Monday night's clash between Derby County and Queens Park Rangers was far from the most free-flowing of football matches. However, what it did offer was the chance to view two Premier League promotion prospects in direct competition, as well as several talented young players.
The Championship has become somewhat of a proving ground for young English talent, and there was plenty on show in this clash. England under-21 boss Gareth Southgate was in attendance and will have been pleased to see so many potential squad members in action. For QPR, Tottenham loanee Tom Carroll played in the heart of the midfield, while Derby featured Andre Wisdom, Will Hughes and Patrick Bamford in their starting lineup. While they would not appear on this occasion, George Thorne and Mason Bennett were on the Rams' bench.
With so much on the line and Harry Redknapp's QPR more about pragmatism than panache this season, it was never going to be an aesthetically pleasing encounter. It was hard-fought in midfield, both defences were uncompromising in their tackles, and the flair players were often pushed to the peripheries of the tie. In the Championship, despite improving in quality year-on-year, teams cannot afford to be unwilling to front up physically.
It was, then, not the night to get a full view of the talent that the likes of Hughes and Carroll possess. The midfield area was a battleground where experienced campaigners John Eustace and Joey Barton were in their element. However, it was a night that we could learn more about Chelsea loanee Bamford, scorer of 21 goals in all competitions this season.
Great result tonight, hard work but lads were solid at the back :) thanks for the great support as per usual! #dcfc— Patrick Bamford (@Patrick_Bamford) February 10, 2014
Bamford joined Steve McClaren's high-flying side in January, having starred in the first half of the season with MK Dons in League One. Prior to Monday night, the 20-year-old had scored in four consecutive appearances for his new side, making the right-sided attacking position his own in Derby's preferred 4-3-3 formation. In the opening moments of the clash with QPR, he had a golden chance to extend that streak as a well-timed run behind Clint Hill and Richard Dunne saw him advance one-on-one with Rob Green. The looped through ball, though, would not fall in time to prevent Dunne scrambling back to clear the danger.
The young Englishman's main strength lies in his composure in front of goal. Bamford spent the majority of his youth career as a central striker, shifting to a position on the right more regularly following his January 2012 arrival at Chelsea. The Nottingham Forest academy product is quick and comfortable on the ball, that much we knew at youth level, but what his time in League One and the Championship has shown is that he is not afraid of a physical contest.
The game on Monday evening will not be remembered as his best individual showing, but the England youth international ensured that experienced left-back Benoit Assou-Ekotto did not have an easy time of it. While his attempts at beating the Cameroonian down the line ended with little joy, Assou-Ekotto was forced to react to his direct running and, on at least one occasion, was fortunate not to concede a foul.
Bamford will not come up against a defensive line as stingy as QPR's again this season. Nonetheless, he showed that he was capable of winning aerial battles with physically stronger defenders and, had the ball bounced a little less, would surely have put his name on the score sheet in those early moments.
It would be easy to write a column praising the young forward each time he found the back of the net. However, it was his willingness to fight in the face of a challenge that impressed on this occasion. In a better side, there is reason to believe he may have had more luck against such defenders.
80 solid minutes for Bamford, certainly belonged alongside the many ex-Prem players on the pitch. Worked hard and diligently throughout.— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) February 10, 2014
In McClaren, Bamford certainly has a manager who believes in his ability. Following his arrival midway through January, the former England manager has paced Bamford's induction into the first team but showed great faith by starting him in the crucial fixture with Rangers.
At the end of last month, McClaren had this to say of Bamford's abilities following his debut goal: "He's come in, his temperament is fantastic. It's as if he's been here for years. ... He's a natural goal scorer. ... We've got a real asset on our hands. He's got a long way to go and a lot to learn, but he's a sensible and very intelligent boy and he's making the right steps. He wants to play every game, but he's being patient and showing everybody what he can do when he comes on."
At Chelsea, though, his opportunity is unlikely to come any time soon. The Blues have tended to keep their English youngsters within the domestic league system rather than using their option at Vitesse, meaning Bamford is likely to play in the Championship next season. His goal-scoring exploits with both MK Dons and Derby, though, have been worthy of note, and there will be no shortage of clubs hoping to secure his services once his current loan reaches its conclusion.
The question with Bamford is how far can he progress? The signs, at present, are undoubtedly promising, but the Premier League is an unforgiving world. Many a young talent has failed to make the step up. For strikers, it is particularly difficult, and Chelsea's level of ambition means that loans will continue to be the solution for Bamford until he is considered to be somewhere approaching international class.
His attitude and work rate, by all accounts, are faultless, and he is well on the way to proving himself as a regular scorer below the top flight. Patience will now be required, with topflight opportunities few and far between, but if he keeps up his current standards, he will undoubtedly earn his rewards. For the moment, a youthful and vibrant Derby side is ideal for his development and could be his fast track to the top flight were they to earn promotion over the rest of the season. Following Monday's result, it remains a realistic achievement.
For further discussion on any of the players featured in The Scout’s Notebook, Christopher can be found on Twitter @chris_elastico. More of his work profiling rising talents can be found at TheElastico.com.