HEAD coach Steve McClaren has challenged his Derby County players to stay in the Championship’s leading pack of clubs and keep the place buzzing.
Derby sat in their highest position of the season, fifth, ahead of last night’s programme of fixtures.
Tonight, they have the chance to extend an impressive run under McClaren when they face Middlesbrough at Pride Park Stadium, kick-off 7.45pm.
A sequence of three consecutive wins and just one defeat in eight has fuelled excitement among the fans.
A crowd of around 24,000 is expected this evening.
McClaren says the majority of the credit for the progress made goes to the players.
“They have had to adapt, and from day one they have adapted,” he said.
“They’ve taken on board everything we have thrown at them, which hasn’t been a lot because we haven’t changed a lot.
“To react the way they have, to have gone on the run they have and to play the football they have been playing is great.
“Can they maintain it? That’s the challenge.
“We will lead them to water, it is up to the players what they want to do.”
McClaren admits such a run of results – five wins and two draws in eight games – looked highly unlikely at half-time against Ipswich Town at the beginning of October.
He had been officially appointed that morning and watched the game from the directors’ box as Derby conceded four goals in the first half to trail 4-1 before they fought back to draw 4-4.
“The run has surprised me,” said McClaren.
“It’s great that there’s a buzz around the
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place. That’s the first thing we wanted to create when we came here. What we have to do is keep performing for the fans.
“How do we make sure nobody gets carried away? I think that is dressing room-driven.
“We can give everybody all the warnings, and all the old cliches can come out about keeping feet on the ground, but it’s really down to the mentality of the players and what they want to do.”