HEAD coach Steve McClaren says his Derby County team must take the Leicester City defeat on the chin and bounce back.
Friday night’s 4-1 thumping by the Championship leaders at the King Power Stadium was the Rams’ heaviest defeat of the season.
They had not conceded more than one goal in any of their previous 10 league matches but found the Foxes strike partnership of David Nugent and Jamie Vardy too hot to handle.
Derby entered the New Year on an impressive nine-match unbeaten run which included eight wins.
They have now lost their last three games – although one of those was against Premier League Chelsea in the FA Cup.
McClaren felt the Chelsea clash took an awful lot out of his players, but was not searching for excuses.
The head coach accepted that his team were second best against the Championship leaders.
“Leicester are top of the league and on that performance, you understand why,” McClaren said.
“We were well below our best – second best to everything but it is part of a long journey in the Championship of ups and downs.
We have had a lot of ups and so we have to take this on the chin.”
League defeats by Wigan Athletic and Leicester sandwiched the televised Chelsea tie, played in front of a sell-out crowd at the iPro Stadium.
Goals from John Obi Mikel and Brazilian Oscar gave Jose Mourinho’s classy side a deserved 2-0 win, but Derby earned plenty of plaudits for their spirited display in the FA Cup second round tie.
Looking back at the game, McClaren said: “Chelsea was an emotional high and the lads were fantastic.
“The players did ever so well to come back from the home defeat by Wigan and put on a performance like they did against Chelsea.
“You are going to get a dip after such a high, and I think the Leicester game came a day too soon for us.
“But I cannot criticise the boys. They have been magnificent since we have come in.”
Derby have won 10 and drawn three of McClaren’s 16 games in charge since he replaced Nigel Clough.
Thirty three points from 48 have lifted the iPro Stadium outfit from 14th to fourth.
Leicester lead the Championship by four points from Burnley, who won 2-1 at Yeovil on Saturday.
Queen’s Park Rangers beat Ipswich Town 3-1 at Portman Road and remain third, one point adrift of Burnley.
The gap between QPR and Derby is five points and there is a six-point cushion between the Rams and Reading, who sit just outside the top six after winning 1-0 at Watford.
On the form they showed against Derby on Friday, McClaren believes Leicester are as good as any team in the division – and ranks them as favourites to be playing Premier League football next season.
“They are physically strong,” said the Rams head coach. “They have got the experience.
“They can score goals and the way they are going, yes, they are favourites for automatic promotion.
“Looking at them, and the momentum they have, it is for them to lose.”