Paul Warne will just want a little more from his Derby County players as the promotion race heats up in League One, the Rams gaining wins but often stumbling over the line to the three points rather than confidently dispatching of opponents.
Conor Hourihane bailed Warne’s side out on Monday night, scoring a last-minute winner for the automatic promotion candidates to overcome lowly Burton Albion 3-2.
Yet, with the experience and quality at the ex-Rotherham United’s manager disposal at Pride Park evident, promotion could well be achieved with the personnel already there without really blowing people away.
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But, Warne will want his Derby side to be more exciting and forceful in their approach which could see the third-tier giants make a number of additions this month to make them more of a feared team who show no mercy.
With that in mind, here is what Derby’s dream XI could look like after the January transfer window is up with two new signings in the starting lineup…
Although the usual Rams number one goalkeeper was dropped for the home win against the Brewers on Monday, Warne should stick by ex-Sheffield Wednesday figure Joe Wildsmith for the rest of this League One season.
Keeping ten clean sheets this term when played by Warne, the 28-year-old shot-stopper could be crucial as games get tenser as the season winds down.
Although the right-back is currently out at the African Cup of Nations with Namibia, Ryan Nyambe will slot straight back into the team on his return to Derbyshire.
The 26-year-old has helped the Rams pick up four clean sheets when present, the former Blackburn Rovers man a valuable asset to the League One club.
Curtis Nelson will also be retained in the Derby starting XI, the experienced ex-Plymouth Argyle centre-back chipping in with two goals from the back this campaign alongside giving the promotion hopefuls grit when required.
His pivotal goal away at Wigan Athletic on Boxing Day helped the Rams secure all three points on their travels to Lancashire, with seven duels won by Nelson on the day also helping preserve an away day clean sheet.
Derby will do everything in their power to keep Eiran Cashin around at Pride Park past this January, despite the potential of a number of higher-up suitors coming in for the breakout Derby star.
Even with the League One titans shipping two goals last game against the Brewers, the 22-year-old shone with ten aerial duels successfully won to ensure Derby had the platform to then pull off a last-gasp win.
With Craig Forsyth reaching the twilight of his career now at 34 years of age, the time could be right for the ageing full-back to hand over first-team duties permanently to Callum Elder.
The Australia international has performed competently in recent weeks, winning his fair share of duels alongside Cashin with nine won in total against Burton.
Moreover, Elder has two promotions to the Championship already present on his career CV with both Wigan and Hull City. Could he make it a hat-trick of achievements this campaign?
Despite Nathaniel Mendez-Laing also showing signs of his age at 31, Warne will stick by his reliable right-winger for the rest of the campaign.
The former Cardiff City attacker has seven goals and 11 assists next to his name this season in all competitions, including an assist to tee up Tom Barkhuizen for the opening strike against the Brewers last game.
Much like Cashin, Derby will have everything crossed this month that Max Bird remains a Rams player despite a number of clubs wanting to poach their star man.
The electric number eight stole the show in a 3-1 win away at Fleetwood Town in early January, notching up two assists alongside coming away from the contest with a 100% successful dribble rate.
Derby being able to call upon a player with the stature of Conor Hourihane in League One is mightily impressive, the ex-Aston Villa midfielder showing signs this season of his obvious pedigree when his team need him to come up trumps.
Scoring a vital last-minute winner last game, Hourihane’s expertise at carving open opposition defences with ease shone in an equally dramatic contest at Oxford United in late December – assisting Cashin at the death to beat promotion rivals Oxford on their own patch 3-2.
The first new signing Derby could implement into their side this January is Corey Blackett-Taylor, utilising the slick Charlton Athletic winger down the left-hand side where he’s caused defenders all sorts of bother playing for the Addicks.
With football journalist Darren Witcoop confirming Derby’s interest initially – which has now seen a bid flat-out rejected from Michael Appleton’s side – there’s no wonder clubs higher up League One are interested in securing the services of the former Tranmere Rovers man.
Helping himself to nine goals and seven assists this season for a lacklustre Addicks, Blackett-Taylor’s game could come on leaps and bounds playing alongside the likes of James Collins in attack.
This addition to the Rams ranks could see Tom Barkhuizen dropped however, Warne adding healthy competition to places at Pride Park to keep his players on their toes and to make them strive towards playing at their A-Game.
James Collins is a feared striker at League One level for good reason, the EFL veteran bagging 17 goals in all competitions under Warne so far but will aim to be an even deadlier finisher in the months to come.
His most prolific season at the level to date saw the 33-year-old Irish striker net 25 goals during the 2018-19 campaign for Luton Town, as the Hatters romped home to the third-tier title courtesy of Collins’ heroics.
The second signing that Warne will add to his starting lineup if he can would be Sheffield Wednesday striker Michael Smith, who is also another renowned expert in front of goal at League One level.
The 32-year-old signing on the dotted line for the Rams would however see Warne drop youngster Tyreece John-Jules for a more authoritative figure to lead the line alongside Collins, two ice-cold finishers for the division with Smith netting 16 goals in his last full season in League One.
Bagging 75 goals in the third tier across his extensive career to date – helping secure a promotion for Rotherham United up to the second tier as a result – signing Smith this January could be a statement of intent from Warne’s men to show that they’re going full steam ahead to win promotion.