Cottagers Confidential: Derby had a pretty wretched start to the season with only one win in their first nine games. Since then you've been much better. You've won six in a row, are just behind Fulham in points, and have the 4th best goal difference (also just behind Fulham) in the league. The advanced ratings have you pegged as the third best team. Did anything change, or is this just a matter of bad luck early and better luck lately?
Nathan Morely: We began the season full of hope but it quickly emerged that the players just weren't responding to Nigel Pearson in the way hoped, tensions behind the scenes result in him leaving in October. Everything was a little lackluster under Pearson, there seemed to be little fight and a lack of creativity with few chances being converted. Pearson tried to change the 4-3-3 system Derby have generally played for the past few years to a more rigid 4-4-2 and it didn't show many signs of turning around, this experiment and the manager's eagerness for a new, fresh Rams side resulted in Chris Martin heading your way.
Bringing back Steve McClaren has proved very successful so far. Sometimes some people at certain clubs are the right fit. It seems that's McClaren at Derby. He gets the team playing good football and it was easy to see the difference since the beginning of the season. We're now seeing some players play with huge confidence that was lacking so clearly. The defense has been solid for most of the season and has blossomed in recent weeks, a big part in this side's ability to win ugly again after some soft defeats.
CC: By goals allowed you are tied for the best in the league, and the advanced stats say you are the second best defense. Unfortunately, only two teams have scored less and no team in the top ten has scored as few goals. Have the goal scoring problems been solved, or are you still concerned? If so, can you score more goals without threatening your defense?
NM: In the Pearson days the side never looked massively like scoring. Games were boring. With the transformation in performances under McClaren, goals have started to come. I'd say that it's been solved now, more chances are being created, however with the tightness of the defence fewer goals hasn't been too much of a problem recently. We've seen a few ugly 1-0 victories recently and we saw a few in McClaren's last spell here. Getting promoted out of this division commands that.
In terms of goals it's been Tom Ince who's been the main source recently. He's in blistering form and has been a revelation since the managerial change (scored 6 of the 15 goals since the change of manager). With the quality in the side not many chances should be needed in front of goal for a goal to be scored.
CC: Only Newcastle have scored more goals than Fulham, and it seems to be heating up as Fulham have managed 80 shots in their last three games. A great offense versus a great defense, which one do you favor?
NM: It's going to be a fascinating game on Saturday. I think both sides like to play good football on the front foot but it's difficult to see one side dominating this one and may boil down to who can take their chances when they arrive. Fulham will have to get past a tough, well-organised Rams defense with Bradley Johnson guarding the back four in excellent form. Chris Baird is likely to start at right-back and has enjoyed a great run of form recently after being cast out the side last season, including the loan spell at Craven Cottage.
I'd predict a narrow, hard-fought 2-1 Rams win if anything as predicting seems a fool's game in this division! I can't believe Derby are now on run of seven straight victories after the difficult start so you can imagine the spirit at the moment at the Rams camp, something that could carry us over the line.