Phillip Cocu believes Derby County’s Sky Bet Championship fixture against Fulham on Friday night is an important one for his side.
Derby will take on the Cottagers under the Pride Park Stadium floodlights to kick off another busy weekend of action across the EFL (7:45pm kick-off).
Fulham, managed by former England midfielder Scott Parker, are third in the table and firmly in the automatic promotion picture as they chase an immediate return to the Premier League.
Derby, meanwhile, sit in mid-table and are nine points adrift of the top six with 13 games left to play.
Cocu believes a positive result for his side on home turf, where they have been so strong this season, against Fulham would demonstrate the Rams are on the right track.
After an inconsistent first half of the campaign, for various reasons, Derby have showed more consistency in their results and performances since the latter stages of December.
Those encouraging signs have provided good reason to be optimistic for the weeks and months ahead.
Speaking to RamsTV, the Derby boss said: “It is an important game for us. We lost when we played the away game against Fulham back in November (3-0) and I think it was one of those games where we didn’t really give ourselves a chance to get a good result.
“Now we play at home at Pride Park and I think we are in a better place. We have a better shape and the confidence is better than when we played at Craven Cottage, so it is a test.
“If we can get a good result, we can confirm that we are on the right track.”
On Friday’s opponents, Cocu added: “It will be difficult because Fulham are a strong team.
“They have quality players individually but also as a team. They keep the ball well, especially in their combination play. I am looking forward to this game.”
With 13 games remaining, Cocu believes there’s still so much to play for.
He believes his side are showing their football identity more, particularly in recent months, which is a result of hard work undertaken on and off the training pitches since his appointment back in July.
He said: “We just focus on one game at a time, as always, but we want to see a certain style of football. I think it is getting more and more clear if you see us play, even if we play home or away, the difference isn’t as great anymore.
“It is getting really into the system for all players about how the team should play, when we have ball possession, how we want to press and initiative in the games, regardless of if it is a home game or an away game or against any opponent.”
He added: “The style of play we face sometimes can be slightly different, but what I want to see is a Derby County side that keep playing a good style of football and of course combine it with results.
“That is what football is about and I think we will make a lot of people happy if we win games, not only ourselves. That is what we will try to do in all the remaining games.”