Clough expecting another tough pre-season test at Bristol Rovers tonight.

Nigel Clough is convinced Derby County are getting sharper in every day that goes by as they prepare to hit the halfway stage of their pre-season games programme tonight at Bristol Rovers.

In the third of five pre-season friendlies for Derby’s first-team ahead of the 2013-14 season, Clough is anticipating another challenging workout for his side against John Ward’s League 2 outfit this evening at the Memorial Stadium.

With the new season only a fortnight away Clough believes his players are edging towards full match sharpness.

He said: “Bristol Rovers will be another step up and with every game and day that goes by the players are getting that bit sharper.

“Tonight’s game will be a similar sort of test to what we got from Port Vale and we feel that the challenges they ask of us is just what we want out of these pre-season games.

“The players have looked sharp in the two games so far but we know they can get that little bit sharper, and things are bound to step up now the season is only two weeks away.

“The competition for places is strong and everyone is trying to impress us and we’re at the stage now where we’ve had two games, and there’s only three left for players to stake a claim to be in the starting XI against Blackburn.”

Clough has also spoken of his admiration for Rovers boss John Ward.

He believes the way his sides play football is ideal as part of Derby’s preparations for the new season.

“We like John Ward, he’s a good manager and his sides play good football,” he said.

“He did well there last year and guided them away from the lower end of the table, and he’s got a very competent side at his disposal.

“He’s someone we’ve got on well with down the years and that’s why we know he’ll give us a good pre-season game.

“We pick our pre-season games with a great deal of consideration and we don’t just pick out random games, they have to be suited towards being a learning curve and provide a suitable workout ahead of the season.”