DERBY County will tonight aim to keep another top-six contender at arm’s length after thrashing Nottingham Forest at the weekend.
Third-place Derby face Ipswich Town at Portman Road, kick-off 7.45pm, with the Tractor Boys’ own play-off hopes boosted by a victory at Brighton on Saturday.
The Rams have beaten Queen’s Park Rangers and Forest, and drawn at Reading in the past six weeks to remain healthily positioned in the Championship promotion race.
Derby’s players were back in training Sunday morning after the Forest game as the focus quickly turned to Ipswich – the side against whom it all began for head coach Steve McClaren, first-team coach Paul Simpson and goalkeeping coach Eric Steele.
They watched from the directors’ box on that October night and saw Derby trail 4-1 at half time before recovering to draw 4-4.
“We don’t want the same occasion tonight as that night,” said Simpson.
The Rams sat 14th after the Ipswich game. They have won 16 and draw six of 27 league matches since, a tally of 54 points from 81.
Now their eyes are fixed firmly on the play-offs.
“We all enjoyed Saturday against Forest, but it is back to business,” said Simpson.
“We told all the players to get their heads back on to football and credit to them, they have done that.
“Our feet are back on the ground after Forest. The next game comes round really quickly and the good thing is we know it is a really tough game at Ipswich, a side who can be a big threat.
“I think the players got belief from the performance and the result against QPR in February.
“When we beat them we got a monkey off our back because we had not beaten a top-six side up to then.”
Derby are without injured wide men Jamie Ward and Simon Dawkins tonight, and midfielder John Eustace is still suspended.
Ward damaged a hamstring in the first half against Forest and Dawkins sat out the game with a groin problem.
Simpson said Ward could miss a “couple of weeks” and Dawkins “the next few weeks”.
Patrick Bamford and Johnny Russell are set to fill the wide roles.
Asked if Derby will move in the emergency loan market ahead of Thursday’s deadline (they have been linked with Bolton’s Chris Eagles), Simpson said: “Nothing has been talked about.
“If we feel there is a need to bring somebody in, I am sure the manager will be speaking to Sam Rush [chief executive] and Chris Evans [head of football operations] and identifying where and doing something about it before the loan window closes.”