Valentin Gjokaj believes survival battle will be avoided
VALENTIN Gjokaj is confident Derby County will not be dragged into a Championship relegation battle.
A run of eight games without a win has seen the Rams slip out of the top half of the table and down to 15th place.
Now only six points clear of the drop zone, Nigel Clough's men are looking over their shoulders for the first time this season.
There are nine games left to play – starting with a home match against East Midlands rivals Leicester City at Pride Park Stadium tomorrow, (5.20pm).
"We have to be careful because we're going down the table towards the relegation places – and we never expected that," said Gjokaj.
"We feel we should be higher up the table but we need to keep our heads up and look to the next game. We're all together.
"There have been so many games this season when we've played well but got zero points.
"We feel that results will come and it's only a matter of time.
"We've got a strong team and I'm sure we'll get back up the table.
"I don't think we will be in a relegation battle.
"We've got good players, good characters – we just need a change of luck."
Big-spending Leicester are in the play-off places but have not been in the best form themselves of late.
"It's going to be a hard game but we are at home and we want to play well for the fans," said Gjokaj.
"Our target is to play a good game and, hopefully, get the three points.
"If we can get that win, I think it will push us on."
Gjokaj has started the last two games, having been handed his full Rams debut in last week's 1-1 draw at league leaders Cardiff City.
The 19-year-old, primarily a central defender, has filled in at right-back following injuries to John Brayford and Kieron Freeman.
"I was a little bit surprised to start at Cardiff," he said. "I have played right-back for the under-21s but I didn't expect it, to be honest.
"But then I realised it was a good moment for me and I tried to take my chance.
"It's different playing at right-back but as a professional, I think you should be able to play in every position.
"I've played there before, so it was nothing new for me.
"I just want to play and try to help the team wherever I can – whether it be at right-back or centre-back."
Gjokaj joined the Rams from Swiss club FC Luzern last summer after a pre-season trial.
He made his first-team debut on the opening day of the season – as a late substitute in the 2-2 draw at home to Sheffield Wednesday.
The teenager had a brief loan spell with League One side Carlisle United towards the end of last year but only made one appearance for the Cumbrian club before returning to Derby.
Gjokaj, who was born in Switzerland but recently made his debut for Albania Under-21s, is enjoying life in England so far.
"I'm very happy that Derby gave me the chance to sign a professional contract here," he said.
"When I think back to last season, I was playing in front of 100 supporters.
"Now I'm playing in the Championship and it's an amazing feeling for me.
"I'm very happy to be in Derby and I will just try to do my best for the team."