STEVE McClaren wants his Derby County players to use the belief gained from tackling Chelsea to fulfil their top-six ambitions in the Championship, writes STEVE NICHOLSON.
Derby return to league action on Friday when they face leaders Leicester City at the King Power Stadium.
A run of only two defeats in 15 lifted the Rams from 14th to fourth at the halfway stage of the season.
There is an eight-point cushion between themselves and Brighton who sit just outside the play-off positions. The Seagulls are the next visitors to the iPro Stadium on January 18.
Derby lost to Premier League Chelsea in the FA Cup but McClaren says the tie gave the players a taste of life in the top flight and can act as an incentive in the second half of the season.
Asked if the Leicester game was vital to their hopes, McClaren replied: “The remaining 22 games are all vital in terms of where we want to be. We have got ourselves into a good position.
“The players have set the standard and the fans, ourselves and the players themselves expect that every week.
“Our belief must grow following the Chelsea game.
“The players experienced the occasion and we want more of it. We want that every week.”
McClaren says the game at Leicester will be a different proposition to the Chelsea match.
“It will be a tough game, a different game,” he said. “Can we handle that?”
The Rams’ head coach was pleased with the way his squad handled the busy Christmas and New Year programme of fixtures.
Four matches in 12 days saw them beat Doncaster Rovers and Barnsley, draw against Huddersfield Town and lose narrowly at home to Wigan Athletic.
“The majority of the players played every game over that period,” McClaren said. “We have not been able to rotate, maybe just one or two.”