NIGEL Clough, like any football manager, often bangs on about the importance of consistency.
Unfortunately, his Derby team haven’t been able to find any of the stuff.
It has been a curious season at Pride Park – the Rams started great, beating the Seasiders at Bloomfield Road and hovering around the top four for the opening months.
But two horrid sequences of results have threatened to kill their season.
They lost five on the bounce in a November to forget (then, bizarrely, won five in succession).
In the middle of January, their form took another turn for the worse and they have failed to win any of their eight games since.
As a result, Derby have slipped out of the play-off picture and down to 16th in the table – a massive 12 points off the top six, though comfortably above the drop zone.
Clough might be regretting his decision not to strengthen too much during the January transfer window.
He brought in Tottenham midfielder Tom Carroll but then declared: “We are OK regarding incoming transfers. We have a pretty full squad.”
Despite Derby’s dismal recent run, they made a return to form of sorts by grabbing an impressive 2-2 draw at Birmingham on Saturday, battling back from two down.
The manager was pleased, and reckoned it was down to a positive outlook. “Playing such a strong side as Birmingham we thought long and hard about how to play. We decided to play three up front and to score two goals was doubly satisfying,” he said.
“We could have played 4-5-1 but we decided to give it a go and the draw was very satisfying.
“It was nice to come back after three successive defeats. We now have three home games (Pool tonight, followed by Watford and Nottingham Forest) and to get up to 50 points would be good.
“We now have three first-choice strikers available and we are hopeful of doing better.”
Those strikers are Nathan Tyson, Stephen Davies (playing with a plate in his head after fracturing his skull last October) and Theo Robinson. Davies has six goals, Robinson is top scorer with seven and Tyson is yet to get off the mark after struggling with injuries since signing on a free in the summer.
England Under-21 keeper Frank Fielding is between the posts, while there is a familiar figure at the heart of the defence – Shaun Barker faces his former club for the first time since departing for Pride Park in summer 2009.
Needless to say, he is looking forward to it. “The first games I look for on the fixture list are the away games at Nottingham Forest (Barker was born in the city) and Blackpool, but I missed them both through injury,” said the 29-year-old.
“There are still a lot of players at Blackpool I consider good friends and keep in touch with, so it will be nice to play against them and hopefully do the double over them this season.”
Victory for Pool would keep them in fourth place. Defeat, however, and they could drop out of the play-off places if results elsewhere go against them.
But Clough is warning his team to be on guard, for he reckons Blackpool are one of the most potent attacking forces in the Championship.
“I think they are better for the experience they gained last season in the Premier League, never mind from their promotion the year before,” said Clough.
“They are one of the most dangerous sides in the League in terms of firepower.
“I think they are even more of a threat away from home. When the onus is on the home side to go and create, that is when Blackpool can be at their most dangerous.
“Kevin Phillips can score from anywhere and at any time. He is one of the most naturally-gifted goalscorers we have had in English football in the last 15 years.
“They have got Roman Bednar and Matt Phillips, who has had an extremely good season.”