HEAD coach Steve McClaren is “enjoying the ride” after watching Derby County climb to second in the Championship.
Victory over Barnsley at Oakwell yesterday placed the Rams in one of the two automatic promotion places at the halfway stage of the season.
Eight wins in their last nine matches and a record of 10 wins and three draws in 14 games has seen Derby soar to second from 14th in McClaren’s three months in charge.
The head coach, who insists there is a long way to go, said: “We are on a good run. We are enjoying the ride and I think the fans are doing that too, which is the most important.”
McClaren praised the backing of supporters after the 2-1 win at Barnsley.
“The fans helped us enormously - 6,000 of them roared us on,” he said.
“They must have been impressed with the football we played, but also with the resilience we showed at the end when we had to dig in.”
Top scorer Chris Martin struck twice to put Derby in control before former Rams striker Tomasz Cywka pulled one back for the Tykes.
McClaren believes his side have learnt an important lesson after conceding a late equaliser in the 1-1 draw against Huddersfield on Boxing Day.
He said: “I thought we defended with great composure at the end.
“We needed a third goal but the players saw the game through very well.
“We kind of hung on to the 1-0 lead at Huddersfield.
“We lost a bit of composure and stopped playing our football.
“So the key for me was the response of the players when Barnsley’s goal went in.
“We had been dominating the game and suddenly it was 2-1 and they were throwing the kitchen sink at us - but we remained composed and played our football when we could.”
Asked about the chances of automatic promotion this season, McClaren said: “When you are challenging at the top, for me the season really begins in the last 10 games because that is when the pressure comes.
“Let’s see in March and April where we are and then maybe get excited. At the moment there is a long way to go.
“Credit to the players and to the club really - everybody is involved in this.
“Everybody has responded from day one and the fans have backed us.
“But we are not getting carried away. There is another big game Wednesday.”
McClaren does admit that Derby are in a strong position moving into 2014.
“I have worked in Holland and Germany,” he said. “They have a break in winter and they call the top team winter champions.
“There is prestige attached to that before the second half of the season.
“Where are is very pleasing but we have the second half of the season to go.
“Winter runners-up? That sounds OK!”