Phillip Cocu believes Derby County are heading in the right direction ahead of Saturday’s Sky Bet Championship fixture at home to East Midlands rivals Nottingham Forest (12:30pm kick-off).
Cocu’s side head into the Pride Park Stadium encounter against their local rivals off the back of an impressive run of five successive league victories.
Three of those wins have come since the resumption of the season in mid-June following a three-month suspension because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Derby’s form in the second half of the campaign has seen them steadily climb up the table and with six games left to play they sit one point away from a play-off spot.
Cocu is happy with the progress of his side for the way they have navigated their way through various challenges during the season.
In the lead-up to Wednesday’s 1-0 win at Preston North End, the Rams were shocked by the news that defender Andre Wisdom was the victim of an unprovoked assault and robbery last weekend.
Wisdom sustained injuries which resulted in him being admitted to hospital, but he was released in time to visit his team-mates ahead of the game at Deepdale.
Speaking to RamsTV ahead of Saturday’s game, Cocu said: “I think we can be proud of our team; the event with Andre affected the players and staff as well. The players had to deal with the situation, act as professionals and perform and they did that.
“It was not the first challenge we have had to face this season. It hasn’t been an easy ride, but it has made the team closer and stronger.
“We have six very important games to play and I think we have overcome some difficult situations and issues this season.
“We are still fighting for a play-off spot at the end of the season and we are in a good place right now. I cannot be unhappy at this stage.
“I think we are heading in the right direction, but there is still room for development and improvement as individuals and a team.”
He added: “If we can continue to play our football right now, we have a chance. We will compete until the very end of the season.”
Saturday’s local derby will be played in the unique setting of an empty Pride Park Stadium.
All matches must be played behind-close-doors for the remainder of the season, in line with UK Government rules.
Cocu says the Rams will miss the backing of the Derby faithful in another big game.
“I am looking forward to it because it is another big game for us,” Cocu said. “Without our fans, it will be quite different and that is a pity.
“Forest are good team and they are hard to beat, but we have a good home record and we will push to get a win on Saturday at Pride Park.”
Derby have already faced Forest twice already in the 2019/20 season.
They were defeated 3-0 at the City Ground in the Second Round of the Carabao Cup back in August, before tasting a 1-0 loss at the same venue in November.
Cocu, it goes without saying, would like it to be a case of third time lucky on Saturday against the Reds.
Sabri Lamouchi’s side occupy a top six spot and have been one of the division’s most consistent sides during the campaign.
On Saturday’s opponents, Cocu said: “I think we did quite well in the games against them, but many teams have had the same feeling when playing Forest.
“I think that is one of their greatest strengths; you feel like you are doing well against them but at any moment they can score a goal.
“They have good organisation and defence and when they go ahead, they are difficult to beat.
“I think we played some good football in those games earlier in the season, but we didn’t get the results. That is something that we have to change on Saturday.”