Gary Rowett wants Derby County to “hurt” Fulham whilst remaining respectful of their quality, as he gets ready to lead his side into the Sky Bet Championship Play-Off Semi-Final First Leg at Pride Park Stadium on Friday night.
The Rams will go into the tie looking to overcome Slavisa Jokanovic’s side for the first time this season at the third attempt, and they can take confidence from the lift in form towards the end of the campaign, with big wins against Cardiff City and Barnsley on the final day.
Fulham on the other hand are aiming to recover after their 23-game unbeaten run came to an end against Birmingham City on Sunday, and Rowett believes it is important that his players are aware of the ability of their opponents.
He told RamsTV: “They are a really good side, it’s a strange one because throughout my managerial career, Fulham are one of the sides that I have done really well against.
“We beat them 5-2 down there once and it’s one of the best away days that I have had.
“This season, you can see that they are a slightly different team this season, with [Aleksandar] Mitrovic and [Ryan] Sessegnon, they have enhanced their goal threat.
“They are an excellent side, Jokanovic is an excellent manager and he’s been around for a few years now, they are a very good passing team and they can cause problems with the way that they move the ball.”
Rowett added: “We will always respect the opposition, but what we have done recently is focus on what we’re good at and how we can affect the opposition and hurt them.
“They beat us here but they know that it was a very tight game and we are in a very different mindset now, so we will respect them but we will look at how to hurt them.
“When you see the Birmingham, Sunderland and Millwall games, there are moments when the opposition have caused them problems, so we have to try and do the same.”
Having secured their play-off position on the final day of the season, Rowett believes that his side can carry their momentum into the following two games.
He said: “I would rather go into the play-offs off the back of some positive results than after some disappointment.
“It has no real bearing on the result. It just means you’re going in with a more positive mindset.
“There are times when the team that stumbles into the play-offs without expecting to be there manages to keep rolling with that mindset, and I think that we are that team.
“We are the team that probably felt that we wouldn’t be in the play-offs but we have produced four very good performances to get there.
“That is where we are, but I don’t think that it will mean anything on Friday night.”
The stand-out performance of the last few weeks came against Cardiff City at Pride Park towards the end of April, and the Rams’ comeback was completed in front of a vibrant atmosphere.
It’s fair to say that Rowett is hoping for more of the same, and he wants the performance of his team to inspire the home support under the lights.
He added: “In the last two or three games, the team have performed well and the fans have really been up for it.
“We will try and give them what they want to see and if they can get behind us like they have done, then it will be a massive help.
“The players do notice, they talk about it, it energises them and in recent weeks that has been a real togetherness around the stadium. As we know, we will need in these upcoming two games.”