Since rejoining the top flight in 1996, Derby County, along with Leicester, were hailed as a blueprint for Premiership consolidation. Recently Derby have been sailing a little close to the Nationwide wind.
After finishing 12<sup>th</sup>, 9<sup>th</sup> and 8<sup>th</sup> in their first three seasons back in the big league, Derby battled against relegation last season, finishing 16<sup>th</sup>, and are fighting a similar fate this campaign.
When Derby visited the Lane in October, they did so without a single Premiership win under their belts - Jim Smith's men returned to the east midlands still chasing a three point haul.
The elusive win eventually came in mid-November when Bradford were accounted for at Pride Park, a match that saw the debut of Nigerian international Taribo West - a loan signing from Inter Milan.
West's arrival did much to galvanise Derby's season, his presence inspiring those around him, notably Chris Riggott, to a higher level of performance.
West's was not the only in-comer to have a notable impact on the Rams' fortunes. Former England international defender Colin Todd was recruited from Swindon to assist Smith in November - four clean sheets followed Todd's arrival.
Prior to Smith's astute strengthening on and off the pitch, Derby did appear doomed to the drop and the 'phone-in fans' were demanding the manager's head, reasoning that he was too much of an old head to cope with the demands and tactical nuances of the modern game.
For his part, the 'Bald Eagle' said he would head the search for his own successor if it was thought to be in the best interests of the club. A right-hand man and a top-notch centre-half turned out to be in the best interests of all connected with the Pride Park outfit.
Derby have certainly evolved in the last couple of seasons. On promotion to the Premiership, Smith dabbled heavily in the import business and put together a team whose components were every bit as cosmopolitan as Chelsea.
Previously unheard of names like Baiano, Eranio, Wanchope, Asanovic, Carbonari, and Schnoor rolled off the tongues of the Derby faithful.
While Smith has retained some exotic names like Kinkladze and bought in West, the wily old sage recognised that the future was in home produce.
He has, in recent seasons, added the likes of Seth Johnson, Craig Burley, Rory Delap, Lee Morris and Danny Higginbotham and promoted starlets Malcolm Christie and Chris Riggott.
The latter two both featured in England's latest under-21 squad.
A venue such as Pride Park demands Premiership football. The impressive stadium was officially opened by Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1997 and capacity has since been increased to more than 33,000.
It is recognised as one of the country's best new stadiums was placed on the category A list for England's 2006 World Cup campaign and has staged England under-21 games in front of packed crowds.
Derby will wish to ensure that it is not recognised as the best ground in the Nationwide League - and who better than the wily old sage Smith to avoid that?
By Richard Hubbard