LITTLE wonder Derby County supporters are snapping up season tickets for next season. More than 17,000 have been sold already.
Rams fans who have attended matches at the iPro Stadium have received full value for money in the past nine months.
The team recovered from a stuttering start to produce their best home form since the promotion campaign of 2006/07.
Fourteen wins and four draws from 23 league games on their own patch has yielded 46 points, while a progressive, attacking style of football has delivered entertainment and goals.
No team in the Championship has scored more league goals at home than Derby’s 46, giving them an average of two per game.
They have hit three goals or more in a game on 10 occasions – 11 if you count the drubbing of Brentford in the Capital One Cup.
The latest high-scoring win saw them beat Watford 4-2 in Saturday’s final home league fixture.
They had the chances to score eight, although four was enough to see off Watford and complete the double over the Hornets, one of nine clubs the Rams have beaten twice this season.
A fifth straight win cemented third place and gave the Rams 84 points, matching the club’s best tally since the introduction of three points for a win.
Their bid for promotion remains strong.
What lies ahead is anybody’s guess but Derby are in fine fettle ahead of the play-offs.
Falling behind in the fifth minute to Troy Deeney’s rising finish was not in the script on Saturday, nor was it good defending, but it proved no more than a minor irritation.
Derby’s bright movement, inter-changing and strong running soon started to stretch Watford.
Openings came and went for Jamie Ward and Chris Martin before Jeff Hendrick drove an equaliser low past Jonathan Bond after 28 minutes.
Watford’s players needed a tracking device to keep tabs on the lively Ward, Hendrick, Johnny Russell and Scottish midfielder Craig Bryson, who received the Jack Stamps’ Trophy before kick-off after being named player of the year for a second time in three seasons.
The Rams should have made more of their first-half forays. At times they sliced through Watford, whose boss Beppe Sannino watched from his technical area, searching for a solution.
Sannino’s side is not the first to struggle to cope with Derby’s tempo, and hopefully not the last with the play-offs to come.
But half time did not help the Rams.
They were sluggish and wasteful in possession for 15 minutes after the break.
Richard Keogh and Craig Forsyth defended well during uneasy moments before Derby struck on the hour.
Chris Martin and Russell combined for Bryson whose pass invited Forsyth to shoot.
The left-back accepted the invitation and his unstoppable rising drive almost ripped a hole in the netting.
Martin and Russell missed chances to further punish Watford. Derby should have been out of sight before the visitors were reduced to 10 men when defender Marco Cassetti picked up a second yellow card.
Head coach Steve McClaren had called on his players to be more ruthless following the 2-1 victory over Barnsley earlier in the week.
His words resonated when loose defending allowed Watford’s 10 men to level 20 minutes from time.
Ikechi Anya was afforded too much time to centre and Mathias Ranegie too much space to head past Lee Grant.
Derby can ill afford such lapses in the play-offs.
Not plain sailing, then, but this energetic, forward-thinking Derby side is full of goals – giving it every chance to respond to setbacks when asked to.
Usually a goal, when needed, arrives from Martin, Bryson, Russell or Patrick Bamford.
On this occasion it was Hendrick, who was influential throughout.
His second goal of the afternoon was a superb strike from 25 yards that had Bond groping in vain as the ball whistled past him.
The goal capped an impressive display by Hendrick, who is hitting top form after a frustrating first half of the season when he was sidelined by injury.
He has started six of the last nine games and scored four goals.
There is plenty of competition in midfield and recent eye-catching display’s have seen the Republic of Ireland international stake a strong claim to retain his place when McClaren picks his side for the play-offs.
What had been an open contest continued in the same vein and Deeney’s shot fizzed narrowly over just to remind Derby not to switch off again.
They heeded the warning to score a fourth just minutes from the end of normal time.
Bryson played in Martin who calmly slotted his 23rd goal of the season, and his 20th in the Championship.
Eighty-three goals is the best return in a league season by a Derby team in almost 50 years.
The side of 1964-65 scored 84. Two goals against Leeds in the final league game on Saturday would see the current Rams side beat that mark.
Derby will, however, remain well short of the club record 111 scored when crowned Division Three North champions in 1956-57.
Derby will next be at iPro for the second leg of their play-off semi-final.
With Wembley a dangling carrot, that promises to be quite a Sunday evening.
Derby’s opponents are likely to be Reading, Wigan or Brighton. None will relish the trip to the Rams’ fortress.