Derby County are braced for tough run of games starting with away trip to Sheffield Wednesday
DERBY County's visit to Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow is the start of five games in 15 days for the Rams this month.
After taking on the Owls, Nigel Clough's team make the trip to Hull City on Tuesday before they face back-to-back home games against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Bolton Wanderers, both relegated from the Premier League last season.
The busy spell is completed with a fixture at Watford on February 23.
Victory over Huddersfield Town last Saturday was important on a number of counts. The Rams needed a win following a dip in results and the three points lifted them back into the top half of the Championship and up to ninth.
The table immediately made for better reading, although only two points separates a congested group of clubs from seventh to 12th, meaning a defeat can make a stay in the top half short-lived.
Derby have an opportunity to consolidate and improve on their current placing with 15 points up for grabs in such a short space of time.
"If we are going to preserve our top-half status, it is important to get some results this month," said Clough.
"Saturday's win and performance against Huddersfield restored a bit of confidence and, hopefully, it has set us up nicely for the month."
When asked about the upcoming fixtures and the task facing Derby, Clough smiled: "We try not to dwell too long on it!
"Sheffield Wednesday are having a bit of a resurgence at the moment, Hull are right up there in the table, as are Watford, then we have two big teams coming to Pride Park in Wolves and Bolton."
Dave Jones' side have lost only one of their last nine, having suffered seven consecutive League defeats before their upturn.
They are one of the form teams in the Championship. Only leaders Cardiff City and Watford have collected more points in the last eight games.
Third-placed Hull have lost only one of their last 11 in the League, while Gianfranco Zola's Watford have won four of their last five.
Wolves and Bolton are in need of points for a very different reason at this stage of the season than many expected.
They have found life tough in their first season back in the second tier of English football. Wolves sit one place above the bottom three and are without a win in seven league outings. Bolton are one place above Wolves after a run of one win in seven.
Clough believes the struggles of the two clubs say a lot about the strength of the Championship.
"I don't think either one of those clubs expected themselves to be in the bottom half of the Championship at this stage," he said. "It says a few things, first the strength of the Championship – it says more about that than anything.
"It also says something about the reorganisation needed when you come down from the Premier League, which players you keep and so on, and also the effect relegation can have.
"We are getting to a stage, I think, where it is probably beyond them to mount a charge because it would have to be an incredible run now.
"Both clubs have changed managers during the season. I think once that happens it is unlikely – it happens occasionally – but it is unlikely they are going to mount that challenge unless things spark straightaway.
"It is almost saying 'we have got a few years' parachute money, let's get ready for a push next season'.
"That, in a way, makes them even more dangerous, looking ahead, because they are just building now."