JOHNNY Russell knows he has a fight on his hands to regain a regular place in Derby County’s starting line-up.
Russell joined the Rams from Dundee United over the summer and netted five goals in his first 11 league outings for the club.
However, the Scottish striker was sidelined for six weeks in October with a broken leg.
By the time he regained fitness, Derby had just started their impressive run of seven successive wins.
Since Russell returned to the fold, he has made two starts and six substitute appearances.
The 23-year-old forward completed his first 90 minutes since sustaining the injury in Sunday’s 2-1 victory over Barnsley.
With Jamie Ward rested at Oakwell, Russell now hopes to give Rams head coach Steve McClaren a selection headache ahead of the New Year’s Day clash with Wigan Athletic at the iPro Stadium.
“It’s been a long time that I’ve been trying to get back in the team,” he said.
“Hopefully, I’ve done enough to stay there but if not, I’ll be ready when called upon.”
Russell accepts he could not expect to walk straight back into the side after his lay-off, especially with the team in such scintillating form.
He said: “I came back from injury and the boys were on a seven-game winning run!
“So it was always going to be tough to get back in – and I’ve had to be patient.
“That’s not really my best virtue, but I’ve got myself back in there and, hopefully, I can stay there.
“The boys who have been playing have been brilliant and they deserve to keep their place in the team.
“I’d be foolish to think that just because I’m fit, I’m going to get straight back into the side.
“I know I have to work hard and I will continue to do that.”
Russell’s last goal came in the 3-1 win over Leeds United, just before he suffered the injury.
“It’s been a while since I scored,” he said.
“I love to score but as long as we’re winning, I don’t really care where they’re coming from.”
Russell scored on his Derby debut from the penalty spot, against Blackburn Rovers on the opening day of the season, but missed from 12 yards in the home defeat to Burnley.
Derby’s last two spot kicks, taken by top scorer Chris Martin, have both been saved.
“I don’t think they were bad penalties, to be honest,” said Russell. “The keepers just guessed right.
“We’ve had a discussion about who will take the next one.
“Everyone else seems to get two (misses) and I’ve only had one, so I’m putting my hat back in the ring!
“We’ve practised them – we do actually practice them in training – and I’d definitely be up for taking one – but it’s up to the gaffer, if he wants to nominate someone.
“I think (Craig) Bryson’s trying to get in there too – but he’s already got enough goals!
“As long as whoever is confident at the time steps up and puts it away, that’s all we care about.”
Victory at Barnsley saw Derby end 2013 in an automatic promotion spot, having climbed to second in the Championship.
“It’s nice to have a wee look at the table going into the new year and see the reward for the hard work we’ve been putting in,” said Russell.
“It’s only the start of the new year, so there’s still a long way to go and it’s up to us to maintain what we’re doing.
“I think we’ve always had the belief in the squad – it’s just nice to see yourself up there now we’re getting the results.
“Hopefully, we can keep it going into the second half of the season and I see no reason why we can’t.”
Derby won 3-1 at Wigan at the start of December but the Latics are unbeaten in four under new boss Uwe Rosler, including back-to-back clean sheets.
“We had a good win at Wigan but we know it’s going to be a different proposition,” said Russell.
“They’ve a change of manager and changed the way they’re playing.
“It’s going to be a completely different 90 minutes.
“We’ll work on that before the game and, hopefully, if we do what we can do, we’ll get the win.”