Suddenly, Steve McClaren’s decision to rest 10 players for Derby County’s FA Cup clash with Leicester City does not seem quite so astute. After eventually falling to a 3-1 home defeat to Claudio Ranieri’s crisis-ridden team, the Rams’ star men returned for selection for two eminently winnable Championship fixtures.
Bristol City and Cardiff, two sides flailing at the wrong end of the division, were to travel to the iPro to face a team supposedly re-energised after a midweek rest. So of course Derby picked up a grand total of one point from both fixtures, conceding seven times across 180 minutes.
Only a second-half blitz turned a 3-0 deficit against Lee Johnson’s Robins in a vaguely respectable scoreline but letting in four against Cardiff, including a last-gasp Joe Ralls penalty, is hardly indicative of a side with genuine promotion ambitions.
McClaren could do little wrong when he returned to the iPro earlier in the season, dragging a team punctured by Nigel Pearson into play-off contention. Now, however, thanks to a nightmare three days, Derby are eight points adrift of sixth place.
No wonder McClaren looks so dejected. His master plan has fallen flat and his Derby side’s Premier League hopes are under severe strain.
Derby's prospects of another comeback looked good when Darren Bent levelled the scores at 3-3 with 15 minutes to go.
Though a dramatic late winner leaves Derby's play-off hopes in the balance.