STEVE McClaren agrees that March is a big month, but Derby County’s head coach hopes April will be an even bigger month.
The first of seven games for Derby in March sees them take on fellow-promotion hopefuls Burnley at Turf Moor this afternoon, kick-off 3pm.
They also have to play Reading and Nottingham Forest – two other sides occupying places in the Championship’s top six – as well Millwall, Bolton Wanderers, Ipswich and Charlton.
“March is big, and we hope because we have got results that April will be even bigger,” said McClaren.
“I think the next two months are going to be huge. We have got 14 games.
“It is incredible when we talk about fixture congestion.
“I remember when we first came through the door we had only four games in five weeks, which was great for us because we could do some work on the training ground.
“Now we have got 14 games in two months! Where is the fixture logic?
“We have to deal with that. It is not a problem, we feel we have got a squad which is good enough and big enough.
“It will be an interesting two months, very interesting.
“So, whatever happens this month, it is about the next two months.
“We are there and thereabouts, and we want to maintain that position.”
McClaren believes today’s game at Burnley will be a test of how far the team has come.
Burnley boss Sean Dyche says Derby have become a really good side.
“I’ve got to be honest, I think they were a good side anyway,” said Dyche.
“Another change of manager, whether it was warranted or not they can decide that, but Steve’s brought in his own thinking like most managers do.
“He will have twisted it and tweaked it, and given his opinion to the team for what he thinks is important and they’ve become a real good side.
“They have added to their group over the last five years, first with Nigel (Clough) and then Steve (McClaren) coming in. They’ve kept adding and kept adding.
“They have got a strong group and a group that’s been together a little bit now.
“We are always aware of the opposition, but we know what we’re about and that’s what we’ll be focusing on.”
Derby’s aim, says McClaren, is to keep clear of seventh place.
“All we are doing - honestly - is we’re just looking at points, one or three, just to creep further and further away from seventh spot,” he added.
“Performances and results give us belief.
“Beating QPR has lifted us to another level but I think we have more levels to go before we have that true self-belief that says ‘we will be here and deserve to be here at the end of the season’.
“We still need to convince ourselves of that.
“I think the average position for Derby has been 14th or 15th for the last three or four years.
“I do not think any players have been in this position before.
“That could work in our favour, that innocence, but experience is important.
“It is all about holding your nerve.”