Steve McClaren says Saturday’s trip to Queens Park Rangers will be Derby County’s biggest test yet since his appointment as Head Coach at the end of September.
McClaren’s side are unbeaten in four games since his arrival but that record is set to be put the test when they travel to Loftus Road.
Harry Redknapp’s men are hot favourites to return to the Premier League at the first attempt and currently sit on the cusp of the Championship’s automatic promotion places.
Rangers are yet to taste defeat on home territory since being relegated from the Premier League and McClaren, who was First Team Coach at Loftus Road prior to his appointment at Derby, is backing his former side to return to the top flight at the first time of asking.
He told Rams Player: “Queens Park Rangers, for me, are by far the favourites to go up this season.
“That’s measure of the task we face this weekend and it is the biggest test we’ve had so far.
“We’re four unbeaten and it’s a good test for us at this stage to go up against a side with Premier League players really playing in the Championship.
“I thought the Watford game was a big one for us a few weeks ago, but this is even bigger.”
McClaren has heaped praise on Rangers boss Harry Redknapp for giving the chance to return to the game in the summer.
Redknapp took charge of the Hoops midway through last season but his quickly turned around their fortunes and has mounted a strong promotion challenge.
He said: “Harry was great for me and I’ll always be grateful to him for giving me the opportunity down at QPR.
“He took me in and gave me the responsibility on the field to just go and coach.
“We got on very well and he’s a fantastic manager with a great squad and coaching team.
“He’s done a great job at QPR turning things around and only someone like him would have been able to do what needed to be done there.”
He added: “Their mentality is so strong and that’s required in this division more than anything.”
If Derby are to be successful this weekend in claiming their latest away win, with four already recorded in the Championship so far this season, McClaren believes a performance similar to the one produced in the 3-2 win at Watford will be required.
He said: “Away from home we’ve had a good run of late so it would be nice to keep that going.
“We’re going to have to work incredibly hard if we’re to get a result down at Loftus Road.
“We did that a Watford and played our football too; so if we can do that again we’ll have a chance of getting something.”
Watch Steve McClaren’s full pre-match interview on Rams Player.