Derby County head into the Championship’s home stretch knowing they still have a shot at the playoffs.
The recent draw at Brentford leaves the Rams in seventh position, two points behind Bristol City in sixth. Aston Villa a further point ahead in fifth position, with the Villans having played an extra game.
Victory in their game in hand would put Derby level on points with Villa. That said, Dean Smith’s side’s six-game winning streak means the west Midlands outfit are bang in form as they look set to consolidate a playoff position.
The general consensus suggests it’s a race for sixth spot. Middlesbrough, Preston North End and Nottingham Forest are all just behind Derby. Each, however, suffered a morale-knocking defeat on Saturday.
Derby County’s uphill task for the playoffs:
Bristol City and Derby are the two most likely to enter the playoff lottery. However, despite scoring nine goals in their last two matches, the Rams face an uphill task when looking at the remaining fixtures.
Derby’s final games of the campaign are as follows: Blackburn Rovers (A), Bolton Wanderers (H), Birmingham City (A), Queens Park Rangers (H), Bristol City (A), Swansea City (A) and West Bromwich Albion (H).
Of their seven games remaining, Frank Lampard’s side face only three of them at Pride Park. Bolton and QPR are in disastrous form, while West Brom may end up resting players for the playoffs on the final day of the season. Nine points are a must, but even if Derby manage that, they must get back to winning ways on the road.
Derby haven’t won an away game in the league in 2019, conceding 11 goals in six games. Moreover, their upcoming opponents each represent a different challenge. Birmingham just beat Leeds United 1-0 at St Andrew’s, while Swansea are undefeated at the Liberty Stadium in the league since the turn of the New Year.
The standout fixture is the trip to direct rivals Bristol City. Derby may have to win that game, against a side who just recorded back-to-back away wins at Sheffield United and Middlesbrough.
There will no doubt be plenty of twists and turns to come between now and the end of the season. But whatever happens, it has been a positive debut campaign for Frank Lampard with the future looking bright.