Play-off fear fuels Derby County

Derby County stadium entrance

Having looked certainties for automatic promotion at the turn of the year, Steve McClaren's Derby could drop out of the play-off places on Tuesday night.

Nobody has taken a convincing grip on the promotion race in the Sky Bet Championship in recent weeks, but that applies particularly to the Rams, who have won just once in the last nine games.

Derby occupied one of the top two places for much of the first half of the campaign but injuries to key strikers Chris Martin and Darren Bent have halted that form and left them looking nervously over their shoulder at the chasing pack.

Following Saturday's 1-1 draw at the iPro Stadium with play-off rivals Brentford - salvaged by a Darren Bent equaliser in injury time - Derby sit in fifth place in the table, but with just one point separating them from Brentford, Ipswich and Wolves in the places below them.

Tuesday night sees Steve McClaren welcome already-relegated Blackpool to the iPro Stadium, and it could be just the fixture his team needs, as they face the prospect of dropping out of the top six for the first time in 2015 and at a critical time.

Defeat or even a draw could leave Derby in eighth place and stealing themselves for a desperate battle to regain a top six place.

In a crucial round of fixtures on Tuesday, Ipswich entertain Cardiff, Wolves visit automatic promotion-chasing Middlesbrough and Brentford go to Hillsborough to play Sheffield Wednesday. 

Derby's faltering recent form has seen their automatic promotion chances recede, and they now lie seven points behind second-placed Norwich, and while several teams at the top have lacked consistency, none have laboured quite as badly as Derby have in recent weeks.

With Martin and Bent having returned from injury - and crucially, already back among the goals - Derby will be hoping the Easter Monday win at Wigan and the creditable draw with Brentford are signs that the tide has turned back in their favour at a pivotal time.

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch