Derby County manager Nigel Clough hopes his side can keep up consistency in tough run of games
DERBY County's next three games are against teams in the top four of the Championship – Watford, Crystal Palace and leaders Cardiff City.
The Rams completed a tough trio of fixtures when they drew with Bolton Wanderers at Pride Park on Tuesday. They had faced another of the relegated clubs in Wolverhampton Wanderers and second-placed Hull City in the previous two games,
"We are in as tough a spell as we've had all season, especially with the players we have available at the moment," said manager Nigel Clough ahead of tomorrow's trip to face Watford at Vicarage Road (3pm).
Injuries have bitten deep into Derby's squad.
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They were without five defenders for the Bolton game and then lost right-back Kieron Freeman with an ankle injury.
Clough has had to patch up the defence in the last three games. The back four that finished against Bolton featured a midfielder as an emergency right-back in Ben Davies, a right-back playing centre-half in John Brayford and a 19-year-old left-back, Michael Hoganson, making only his second start for the club.
Clough points to the goalless draw with Wolves and the 1-1 result against Bolton as testament to how well the team have defended despite the injuries.
"To have restricted Wolves and Bolton to as few opportunities as we did, we cannot ask any more of the players. It was an incredible effort," said the manager.
"Given the quality of the strikers we have been up against in the last two games – Doyle, Sigurdarson, Ebanks-Blake, Kevin Davies, Craig Davies, Sordell, Eagles and Ngog – I think we have defended excellently in the circumstances.
"When you look at our last two games on paper, look at the squads and it is a bit of a mismatch and yet Wolves and Bolton were both relieved to go away with a point.
"The had only a handful of efforts over 180 minutes between them.
"I think the way they came to Pride Park and set up is a compliment to us and the way we play, especially at home."
Derby have drawn three and lost one of their last four games. The defeat was at Hull, who scored a late winner.
"We've got three points out of 12 and it could easily have been nine or 10," said Clough, who has been delighted with the consistency shown by his team this season.
"Apart from the defeat at Crystal Palace, we have been in every other game.
"The two League defeats in the last nine have been by the odd goal at Brighton and Hull, two of the best teams in the division.
"We can compete with the top teams in this division, as we have shown.
"We have got no reservations about our lads.
"If it is down to team spirit, work rate and work ethic, we will take anybody on in the League, as we have done so far this season.
"The consistency of the performances without getting our rewards of late has been what has pleased us most.
"We try everything we can to win games.
"We were trying to do that in the 97th minute against Wolves and I think we would have done the same against Bolton but for some bizarre decisions by the referee late on."