Sun­day, March 5, 2017 I’M AIM­ING FOR RAM-PANT RUN!

In­jury-hit Nu­gent back to lift Derby

The Football League Paper - - INSIDE - By Scott Sum­ner

IT’S a toss-up as to whether this sea­son has been more dis­ap­point­ing for David Nu­gent per­son­ally, or Derby County as a whole.

But, af­ter a false start to his Rams ca­reer, the striker is back to full fit­ness and con­vinced he can now bag the goals that will in­spire an un­likely late play-off charge.

Derby have been head­ing in the wrong di­rec­tion in re­cent weeks. A win­less Fe­bru­ary dropped them to 11th in the Cham­pi­onship.

And Nu­gent, who signed for Steve McClaren’s Rams from Mid­dles­brough in Jan­uary for a re­ported £2.5mil­lion, suf­fered a knee in­jury within min­utes of ap­pear­ing as a sub­sti­tute on his de­but at Leeds.

He was un­able to start un­til the mid­week de­feat at Black­burn. The 31-year-old com­pleted his first 90 min­utes for the club in that 1-0 loss on Tues­day and is now de­ter­mined to re­dis­cover the pro­lific goalscor­ing form that has led to him net­ting more than 100 Cham­pi­onship goals dur­ing his ca­reer.

(He made a good start by net­ting his first goal for Derby in a 2-1 win against Barnsley yes­ter­day, though the Rams re­main ten points out­side the play-off places.)

“The knee in­jury has fully cleared up now,” ex­plained Nu­gent. “It was a pretty frus­trat­ing start to my Derby ca­reer, get­ting in­jured in my first game, but I’m back to full fit­ness now.

Frus­trat­ing

“I just need a few matches to get up to match fit­ness and I’m sure I’ll start scor­ing goals.

“Against Black­burn, the team played well but we just couldn’t score. We cre­ated the chances but didn’t put them away.

“It’s frus­trat­ing. The lads are gut­ted and it was quiet in the dress­ing room af­ter­wards, but

you’ve just got to crack on to the next game. It’s go­ing to be a tough ask to make the play-offs now, but if we can go on a good run and stay un­beaten to the end of the sea­son, we’ll have a chance.

“If not, then we’ve got to make sure we’re well-pre­pared for next sea­son.”

Spells at Pre­ston, Portsmouth, Le­ices­ter and Mid­dles­brough have proved Nu­gent can score goals in the sec­ond tier. But, with Pre­mier League game time at a pre­mium this sea­son, he was forced to leave Boro in Jan­uary.

The one-cap Eng­land in­ter­na­tional’s abil­ity to find the net could be cru­cial dur­ing Derby’s run-in as – de­spite de­cent goal tal­lies by Dar­ren Bent and Tom Ince – the Rams scored just 36 goals in their first 34 Cham­pi­onship games.

Con­fi­dent

Af­ter be­ing in­volved in a cou­ple of high-scor­ing thrillers in Fe­bru­ary, they have re­turned to their de­fen­sively-sound but goal-shy for­mer selves re­cently. How­ever, if they can find the per­fect equilib­rium be­tween at­tack and de­fence, Nu­gent is con­fi­dent the Rams can pro­duce a top-six level of per­for­mance right un­til the end of the sea­son. “We’ve got to find that fine bal­ance as play­ers,” he said. “We’re the ones who cross the line and put the per­for­mance in. The man­ager can only say what he says in the chang­ing room and it’s up to the play­ers to go out and do it on the pitch.

“We’ve got the play­ers. We’ve just got to be­lieve that we’re good enough to get pro­moted.

“Ob­vi­ously, Derby were in the play-off fi­nal in 2014, but the two years af­ter that they seemed to start the sea­son well and then lose the edge come the end of the cam­paign.

“We’ve got to try to get that win­ning men­tal­ity all the way through the sea­son, stay con­fi­dent, have a good team spirit.

“I’m sure, once we all be­lieve in our­selves and our abil­i­ties, we will be up there.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

FALSE START: David Nu­gent was in­jured just min­utes into his de­but

GOALS: Dar­ren Bent

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