Gary Rowett is adamant that Derby County’s season is still far from over – despite a top six spot no longer being achievable.
Derby’s 1-1 draw at home to Huddersfield Town on Bank Holiday Monday meant the Rams’ faint hopes of claiming a play-off place were no more.
Following his appointment in March, after a run of one win in their previous nine games, Rowett rarely talked up hopes of finishing in the top six.
Instead, his focus has been set on achieving positive short-term goals and a positive end to the campaign.
With three games to go, starting with a trip to play-off hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday, Rowett says his players still have plenty to prove.
The 43-year-old has publicly spoken about the fact he will be looking to make changes to his squad in the summer and, as a result, doesn’t want his players to down tools.
He told RamsTV: “Every time a player pulls on the Derby County shirt it should be a case of playing with pride.
“That is not only for your own individual pride, but also that of the team as well.
“Ultimately, of course, it is never going to feel the same when there’s not that edge of having a play-off place to play for.
“However, it should not deter away from the fact we still have a lot to prove. There’s a different feel to the end of this season but we owe it ourselves and the fans to have a positive finish in the last two weeks. We want to show signs of positivity.
“The message to the players is the same as when I came in, so nothing has really changed in that regard.
“The perception from the outside, perhaps, is that this team doesn’t show enough desire and I have said before that I think that is unfair.
“What we have to do is continue to put performances in and get results; we want to end the season strongly. We’ve lost one of our last six and our form has been reasonably good of late, so we want to keep it going.”
He added: “It should be up to the players to be playing for the opportunity to be part of what we’re doing moving forwards.
“You want them to buy into that. As a player, when a new manager comes in you are aware that you have to change some things, although I have not been prescriptive with the players about exactly what we want to change.”
Rowett feels that discussing his plans for the future in public provides a different test of character to his squad.
As ever, he says the onus is on each individual to prove their worth in training and in games.
Rowett has been impressed with the manner in which the squad have applied themselves since his arrival.
However, he says all decisions in the future must be made with the best interests of Derby County in mind.
He said: “I know it can be difficult as a player to read and hear those messages (about making changes). You could say it could create some instability at this stage of the season, but I don’t think we can change that.
“In some ways, it is a test of character for the players but it is, as ever, up to them.
“Some of them will desperately want to be part of the future, some will see the remaining games as a fresh start for them and you might find there are some that don’t see themselves as part of things and how we want to play. That’s all to be expected.
“We treat all the players the same and with respect, that doesn’t change.
“I have been pleased with the attitude of all of them. We need to change some elements, of course, but that will be dictated to by the market in the summer quite frankly.
“We have to make good decisions and the right ones for this club, that’s important. We have to do what’s right for Derby County and not what is right for every individual.”
Discussing Saturday’s opponents, Rowett is anticipating coming up against a motivated Sheffield Wednesday outfit.
Sitting fifth in table with three games to go, the Owls know it is in their hands to secure a second successive play-off campaign.
Rowett said: “We know we will be up against a motivated opponent.
“I am sure Hillsborough will be full to the rafters, with a great atmosphere, and we have to go up there and play our part.
“It’s a different test and a good one. We want the players to be motivated to go and perform under that pressure, given there’s a perception that there’s nothing to play for.
“We will learn a lot on Saturday and in the other remaining games.”
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Watch: RamsTV's pre-match interviews with Gary Rowett & Scott Carson
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