Derby boss Steve McClaren admitted his team’s Championship play-off chances are all but over after they lost to Blackburn Rovers on Tuesday.
A 1-0 loss to struggling Blackburn at Ewood Park – which came via Craig Conway’s 58th-minute penalty after Alex Pearce fouled Sam Gallagher – left the 11th-placed Rams without a win in February and still 10 points off the top six.
With only 12 games remaining, McClaren knows it is still conceivable they can stage a late-season surge to crash into the play-offs, yet right now the former England boss would just settle for a string of results.
“It’s very, very important,” he said of their end-of-season run-in.
“There’s no relaxing, there’s no easing off. We know we’re capable of doing it, we’ve done it before, we’ve gone on a great run.
“We need to finish the season strong otherwise there will be changes. (We’re) not even looking at the play-offs, we’re looking for a run, we’re looking for results and who’s got the drive and desire to get them in the last 12 games.
“It’s been an up-and-down season – first 10 games we were bottom four then you get up to fifth then you’ve dropped out and dropped down.
“It’s simple really – when you look at the table in terms of goals conceded we’re up there with Brighton and Newcastle and goals scored we’re down there with the bottom lot. I knew that after two weeks.”
McClaren was dejected at the end of a “bizarre” run of games that has seen them pick up just two points from fixtures with Bristol City, Cardiff, Burton, Aston Villa and Blackburn.
“We’d started looking at teams getting in the play-offs and what they do is they make sure that they don’t get beat to a top-six team and they make sure they beat the bottom six and that’s what we’ve failed to do,” he added.
“We’ve lost games that you look on paper we shouldn’t have lost. We’re losing by the odd goal, it’s always frustrating but doubly when we’re not scoring.”
In keeping the Rams at bay, Blackburn recorded just their fifth Championship clean sheet of the campaign in Tony Mowbray’s first home game in charge and they are now only being kept in the relegation zone by goal difference.
“They showed some qualities that we’re going to need over the course of the remaining games – resilience, togetherness, putting bodies on line, working hard,” said Mowbray, who succeeded Owen Coyle last week.
“You have to win football matches all different ways. I’m delighted for the players, supporters and the club but this is just one step, there’s 13 to go.
“When you’re down the bottom, you win a game and if you lose you’re back where you were, you have to try and pick up points every game if you can.
“You need a run of five unbeaten to actually start to pull away and create a gap. Somewhere along the line you’re going to lose a football match and if teams around you win you’re back to where you started. Let’s not get carried away, this is just the start, we’ve got a long journey.”