Derby County full-back Ashley Cole is feeling the benefit of increased minutes on the field as he prepares for his first taste of the East Midlands derby against Nottingham Forest on Monday.
After making his debut in a brief cameo off the bench in the 2-0 win against Hull City earlier this month, Cole was brought at half-time against Brighton & Hove Albion in the Emirates FA Cup last weekend.
The defender scored in the Rams’ 2-1 defeat before he was handed his first start against Millwall on Wednesday night.
“I have gelled into the team and the environment very quickly and had the chance to play in the last few games which was good on a personal note, but we have lost the last two matches so I’m very disappointed about that,” Cole told RamsTV.
“When I played the second 45 minutes against Brighton I felt good and against Millwall I felt good too. It was definitely hard for me not doing anything for three months. I was keeping fit but it’s not the same as chasing players back!
“I feel good now. My body feels good and now it is just game by game.”
Against Brighton, the full-back made a telling contribution in a second half full of positives for the Rams.
“When I came on, the team had nothing to lose,” Cole said.
“In the second-half we fought a little bit more and put more pressure on Brighton and of course the goal gave us a little more confidence and we thought we could get another – we had chances to do it.
“After that game we were disappointed. Yes, they are a Premier League team, but I think the way we put ourselves about and put ourselves in a good position in the second-half, we were happy with that last 45 minutes.
The next game against Nottingham Forest carries a lot of significance.
Not only is it a local derby, but the Rams currently sit four points ahead of Martin O’Neill’s side.
A win could extend that gap to seven points heading into the final stages of the season.
“We have got 14 games left of the season, maybe more hopefully, and we have to start winning games if we want to fight for automatic promotion or getting to the play-offs,” Cole commented.