It’s been a nice quiet few days, hasn’t it?
Since the last edition of this scintillating delve into the recent-ish past of players of both sides, we’ve lost Uncle Tony (who we still really like), seen off two of the in form teams of the division thanks to a Mike Dodds and sniffing around managers who weren’t even legal drinking age the last time we got promoted to the Premier League.
So with that hideous comparison of age fresh in our minds, let’s look back at that Championship-winning season under Roy Keane, at one of the youngest members of that squad.
Back in 2005, Derby County were just about to make their big run up to being one of the leading lights of footballing basket cases, but made sure to disguise it by producing a couple of promising-ish players from their academy in their bid to return to the Premier League. Tom Huddlestone obviously went on to have a great career, and he’d left the Rams that summer (replaced by former Black Cat Paul Thirlwell, no less), but the next young talent to be pushed into their first team was Welsh defender Lewin Nyatanga.
His senior debut came with an unexpected start in a Carling Cup first round tie at home to Grimsby in August 2005, just a week after his 17th birthday. Derby lost that tie (because…Derby), but Nyatanga was kept around the first team, and from October onwards, he was a mainstay of their squad, ultimately featuring in 27 games for the Rams, even scoring his first senior goal, a winner at Stoke in November.
Unfortunately for Nyatanga, and presumably everyone affiliated with Derby County, they were on course for a shocker of a season, just scraping survival in the Championship with a 20th placed finish under both Phil Brown and Terry Westley (no idea either), in what should have served as an early warning for anyone playing with Lee Camp as their first choice keeper. Nyatanga did at least win the club’s Young Player of the Year award for that season so that’s nice.
The 06/07 season came around, and with it came the appointment of Billy Davies, who would ultimately win the play-offs with the Rams, but more of that later. Nyatanga found himself surprisingly made available for loan in October, despite having been involved in most Derby squads to that point, and making his competitive international debut in the process. But on loan he went, and where else but up to Wearside with Roy Keane.
We knew pretty much nothing about him, and none of us were sure if we needed him, but arrive he did. A solid, if barely memorable debut came with a second half sub appearance to replace the decrepit, Kenny Cunningham (in what would be the somehow-club captain’s final career appearance) in a 2-0 home win against Barnsley in October 2006.
The Welshman found himself thrust into a Sunderland side at one of the most turbulent periods of the season, as it looked like we were more destined for a lower mid-table finish at best as 2006 came to a close. Losses against Hull, Cardiff, Norwich, and Preston, mixed with wins against Colchester, Leeds and Leicester left us all thoroughly confused, and certainly not expecting the barnstorming, title-winning conclusion that was to come of that season.
Supposedly, everything was in place for a £1.5m permanent signing of Nyatanga once his loan stint came to an end in January, and from all accounts, Derby appeared to be waiting for the bid to come, yet it never did, so instead, one of the more forgettable signings of Sunderland’s past came and went. Thankfully for Nyatanga, he was forgettable just for being average, and not for scoring 50 own goals and setting fire to local cat and dog shelters, so silver linings there.
Nyatanga spent the rest of the season on loan at Barnsley, before returning to his parent club, with his final appearance coming in their 2-1 win at Southampton in the play-off semi-final. So up went Sunderland, and so too did Derby, but, foreseeing the car crash that was to come, Nyatanga escaped Derby’s record-breaking points low relegation, heading back to Barnsley again, for two loan spells that took in almost the entire campaign.
I say almost, as when he returned to Pride Park in January 2008, he made his Premier League debut in a 3-1 loss to Portsmouth, scoring in the process. A red card immediately followed in a 4-1 cup defeat to Preston, and it was back to Barnsley for Lewin.
Following Derby’s return to the Championship in 2008, Nyatanga found himself back as a first team regular, and even had the honour of scoring in a 3-1 win against local rivals Forest, but the club finished 18thultimately let him leave to save some much needed cash. So on to Bristol City he went, and for the majority of his four seasons at Ashton Gate, he was a first teamer, only out of the side when injury curtailed his progress.
Unfortunately for Nytanga, this was a period where Bristol City were just bang average. They’d lost a play-off final the year before Nyatanga joined, and spent those following four years trying to slide down the league as steadily as possible. In his final year in Bristol, Nyatanga had the indignity of being relegated to League One, bottom of the table.
What’s the best coping mechanism for a trying spell in your footballing career? Well, if you’re Lewin Nyatanga, the answer is simple; sign for Barnsley. In summer 2013 the Welshman started his fourth spell (and only permanent one) at Barnsley, where he promptly got relegated again, but he did at least stay for another two seasons afterwards, and got a fairytale end to his Tykes career by winning the 2016 League One play-offs.
A final foray out on loan in the 16/17 season, this time to Northampton thankfully didn’t see him get relegated, and he hung up his boots at the age of just 29. A strange, fleeting career that promised so much early on and, without any scientific backing to it, was largely crushed by the weight of Derby County’s impending implosion.