RAMS READY TO RAID PLAY-OFFS
McClaren: Seagulls a danger
THE SEASON hasn’t even started for Derby according to boss Steve McClaren, who saw his Rams take their place in the record books with a hard-fought point at Leeds.
Simon Dawkins’ early strike was cancelled out by Matt Smith but the draw was enough to take the Rams to a club-record points tally of 85 ahead of the play-offs.
And McClaren, whose side will now face Brighton for a place at Wembley, has challenged his players to maintain the high standards they have set since he took over in September.
“The season begins for us now,” he said.“We wanted a performance, we wanted to be hard to beat and show good attitude and we did that.
“We knew coming here would be a good tough game, and Leeds have given us a tremendous battle.
“We have put ourselves in a position where we now have two cup ties.
“The players have done magnificently. The last few weeks, the level of performance just hasn’t dropped. We’ll take nothing for granted.
“Brighton must be so emotionally high and buzzing now.We’ve got to perform on the day, we’ve got to make sure that what we’ve done for 46 games, we continue doing.
“We’ve got to play football, because that’s what got us in this situation.We shouldn’t stop doing what we’ve been doing.”
Derby flew out of the blocks, Connor Sammon releasing Craig Forsyth in the area on two minutes but Jack Butland was equal to his powerful strike across goal.
They were in front just four minutes later though, the Leeds’ defence switching off when Jeff Hendrick beat the offside trap and though he mishit his shot, Dawkins was able to bundle in from close-range.
Derby should have doubled their advantage five minutes later, Sammon making space in the area but greedily shooting into the side-netting with Dawkins in space in the middle.
Leeds responded well though and twice in quick succession Smith’s powerful headers were saved one-handed by Lee Grant.
He went even closer on 16 minutes from Danny Pugh’s corner, Will Hughes clearing off the line, before his prod goalwards from Jason Pearce’s header was similarly blocked seven minutes later.
Michael Brown’s long-range effort was saved by Grant on 29 minutes while a flying block from Richard Keogh denied Michael Tonge on 43 minutes.
The equaliser finally arrived on 50 minutes though, McCormack evading Keogh’s wild lunge and threading a perfectly-weighted ball for Smith who dinked it over Grant from close range.
Only an unconventional punched save from Grant denied McCormack his 30th goal of the season from a 77th-minute freekick as Leeds pressed for a winner.
They could not force one though, Pugh missing a great chance with five minutes remaining when he could only head into the side-netting from Smith’s flick-on.
Leeds boss Brian McDermott said:“It was a good performance. When you consider since things have settled down we’ve won three, drawn one and lost one – that’s the equivalent of 92 points over a season.
“We showed great character and some really good stuff as players. Derby are a good team and will be the team to beat in the play-offs.
“There are a lot of reasons we are not closer to the play-offs – and these are reasons not excuses – but next season is the important one.
“I’ve been here a year and had a good look at it. You just need a stable situation and with the new ownership it’s exciting times.
“I’ve got to speak to the owner now. I’m not in the dark, I’m itching to get planning and preparing.”
NO FUSS: Matt Smith celebrates his equaliser
FIRST BLOOD: Simon Dawkins scores Derby’s opening goal