RAMS READY TO RAID PLAY-OFFS

McClaren: Seag­ulls a dan­ger

The Football League Paper - - CHAMPIONSHIP - By Colin Hen­rys

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.”

PIC­TURES: Andrew Var­ley

NO FUSS: Matt Smith cel­e­brates his equaliser

FIRST BLOOD: Si­mon Dawkins scores Derby’s open­ing goal

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