Shane Nicholson is convinced that Derby County’s senior players will have a big part to play in tonight’s Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round tie at Northampton Town (8pm kick-off).

Derby will head down the M1 to take on the Sky Bet League 2 side as they look to progress to the Fifth Round of the competition for the second season in succession.

Keith Curle’s side are firmly in the promotion race in the fourth tier and, like Derby, are unbeaten in their last six matches in all competitions and will be fired up to pull off a cup upset.

Nicholson, who played 87 times for Derby between 1992 and 1996 and made almost 600 career appearances in the professional game at left full-back, feels the Rams’ old heads will be vital against the Cobblers.

The 49-year-old believes the experience of the likes of skipper Wayne Rooney and Tom Huddlestone will need to be called upon alongside the Rams’ youthful energy.

Rooney and Huddlestone both impressed in the Third Round of the competition as Derby ran out 1-0 winners at Premier League side Crystal Palace earlier this month, with striker Chris Martin scoring the only goal.

Speaking on RamsTV’s latest episode of the Derby County Show, Nicholson said: “The proposition is totally different to how we approached the Crystal Palace came because we were the team from a lower league going to a Premier League side.

“We were the underdogs, with no pressure on the side, and now people will view Derby as the favourites in this tie.

“Keith Curle has got his side bang in form and playing good football and scoring a lot of goals so it won’t be easy at all.

“This is where the blend of youth and experience is important. We will need the energy around the pitch but the senior players like Wayne Rooney and Tom Huddlestone will really come into the game for me.”

Nicholson, who began his career at Lincoln City in the late 1980s, believes a run in the FA Cup could be beneficial for the Rams.

He believes Derby will face a tough test against the Cobblers and says, above anything else, the priority is to be in the hat for the Fifth Round.

“I am sure Northampton will go for it and want to have a go at Derby,” he said.

“That said, a win to get Derby through could be massive for the club. If you can get through, all of a sudden you are looking forward to a big draw and a match that can bring some revenue in.

“It’s not about the performance or anything like that; it’s about being in the hat for the next round.”

He added: “We are making progress as the season goes on but a run in the cup would be good too.”