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Derby County face a tough task when they next play under the Pride Park lights against a resurgent Queens Park Rangers. Ian Holloway’s side have won three of their last 4, the other one being a draw at Elland Road against Leeds, and are very much back on the way up.
To compound this; Derby are now without right-back Cyrus Christie and forward Nick Blackman. The latter has been suffering from a knee injury for over a month now and looks likely to miss the rest of the season. Christie has previously needed injections for a niggle in his foot, and so he may be missing out once again.
Without him, Rowett is likely to stick with veteran defender Chris Baird in his place. Baird played his part in a 2-2 draw at the City Ground against arch rivals Nottingham Forest earlier in the month and should probably retain his place in the starting line-up. There is no doubting Baird’s experience; the full-back and defensive midfield player has been capped 79 times by Northern Ireland and has played a number of seasons in the Premier League. He lacks the athleticism of Christie but will not let anyone down.
Blackman has been missing for some time but with Tom Ince in the form of his life cutting in from the right, Matej Vydra being desperate for a more central role, Johnny Russel and Jacob Butterfield chomping at the bit and David Nugent scoring plenty of goals, there are enough options up front for Derby. What sort of order Rowett will put them in remains to be seen.
Vydra might not get his wish to play behind David Nugent and will probably play out wide on the left. It’s easy to see them lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
The Probable XI:
Defence: Baird, Keogh, Pearce, Olsson
Holding Midfield: Johnson, Hughes
Attacking Midfield: Ince, Butterfield, Vydra
Whatever route Gary Rowett goes down, Derby should not underestimate the threat of QPR. Rangers have drawn at Newcastle and Leeds, as well as taking maximum points at Reading and Birmingham in their recent away trips. QPR have won 8 of their last 15 Championship games under Ian Holloway taking a total of 27 points from 45 available points. This is a kind of form which, over the course of a season would put them comfortably in the play-off picture. Derby will need to be at their very best to make this game count.