Gary Rowett praised David Nugent as the striker prepares to take on his former club when Derby County travel to Middlesbrough in the Sky Bet Championship on Saturday.
Nugent played 38 times as Boro achieved automatic promotion in 2016, but he only made four appearances in the Premier League the following season before joining the Rams in January 2017.
Ahead of the trip to the Riverside Stadium, Rowett explained why the former England international is such a crucial component of his squad, and hailed his partnership with top scorer Matej Vydra.
The Derby boss told RamsTV: “You know what you’re going to get, he just loves playing football, he runs around with a smile on his face and he’s an infectious character.
“You need that positivity around the club and in the team, he’s been excellent for us and his goal record is pretty good.
“Him and Vyds have been the two in-form strikers, they’ve probably had more opportunities than anyone else.”
The Rams are currently in the midst of a hectic run of fixtures, the game against Boro is their third in eight days, with both Ipswich Town and Burton Albion set to face Rowett’s side next week.
The boss is confident that Derby can cope with the schedule and he has backed his squad players to continue to make an impact when given the chance, following the impressive form of Chris Baird and Andi Weimann over the past seven days.
He said: “It’s in my mind that I need to maybe make one or two changes, but when you’re on a reasonable run, it’s difficult to do that.
“Sometimes the players that have been waiting for their opportunity are certainly motivated because they have to perform to stay in the side.
“You do get that impetus from some of those players, Bairdy did it, Weimann as well, Chris Martin and Sam [Winnall] did it away at Leeds, so it’s something that you can utilise if you do it in the right way.
“It’s difficult to pre-empt who is going to be fatigued and who’s going to have an effect so sometimes you just have to go with your gut feeling and pick a side that you hope will go and get another result.”