With Derby County joint-top of the Championship and looking like genuine promotion contenders, Steve McClaren’s side face a struggling Nottingham Forest in the East Midlands derby tomorrow. Joel Clyne from the Derby County Podcast tells us what to expect from the home side

Steve McClaren took you to the brink of the Premier League last season and it looks like you’re heading that way again — what’s changed so much from the Nigel Clough era?

In short, Steve McClaren is a better coach than Nigel Clough.

There was a strong sense at the time that things had become rather stale under Clough, an opinion that has only been strengthened since the arrival of McClaren, last year’s run to the play-off final and this season’s strong campaign. McClaren brought a fresh approach, a defined formation and system, and air of confidence that Clough never seemed to quite have. In doing so, the fans responded and the momentum shifted massively.

It’s true that McClaren has been given much more money to spend, whether that be on transfer fees (including loan deals) or wages as well — the club extended the majority of contracts for the first team this past summer and the management also signed new deals — but McClaren has also earned the club more money with the performances on the pitch as well as money through cup ties (tickets and TV) against Chelsea and obviously gained extra income from our run in the play-offs.

The club as a whole has shifted in the right direction and taken a modern approach to football ever since Sam Rush was appointed as chief executive a few years ago. A top coach in McClaren was needed to take the club out of this division and, as of this moment, it appears to be working quite well.

What are your expectations now for the season?

Promotion is the expectation now. We came so close to it last season and it’s testament to the club that they invested and retained the squad that served us so well. The majority of the squad signed contract extensions, along with the coaching staff. The continuity has been key, you only have to look at the other play-off semi-finalists last season in Brighton and Wigan to see where a club can go after suffering defeat.

The side struggled for form in the first part of the season, perhaps suffering from a hangover from the play-off final, but have managed to stay at the top end of the table for the majority of the season and there is a real sense now that the side will push on in the coming months and go for automatic promotion.

Is there any reason to think you can’t last the pace?

For me, there is no reason to say that we can’t last the pace. We appear to have learnt an incredible amount from last season and there is a huge motivation within the playing and coaching staff to go one step further this year. The club have been smart in the transfer market so far this January, taking Darren Bent on loan along with the potential addition of a centre-back and full-back, cover and depth which is needed. And the return of George Thorne in the coming month should give us a timely boost to reach the Premier League.

Is Forest versus Derby just another game?

Derby versus Forest is never just another game. There’s far too much history for it to be classed as just that. It’s a cliche in saying that it’s the first fixture fans look for when the fixtures are released in the summer but it’s certainly true. I’m sure I speak for the majority of fans when saying that this is the game that we want to win most and it’s probably the same on the other side!

Who are the players to watch out for?

Chris Martin is the obvious choice when it comes to star players. He has 18 goals already this season and is the focal point of the side. In my mind, he’s one of the best pieces of business Derby have ever done. Signed on a free transfer 18 months ago, he has been nothing other than superb and in my mind is the best striker in the division.

What do you think will happen on Saturday?

As much as I’d like to see another drubbing, I imagine that the game to be quite a tight affair. Derby’s form has been excellent in recent weeks whilst Forest’s has been poor for a number of months but if there’s ever a time to turn that around it would in this fixture. I’d anticipate a Derby win, given the upward trajectory we appear to be on. Derby 2-0.

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