Bywater's mission is to keep the red tide at bay

As baptisms into the world of League management go, Nigel Clough conceded with a wry smile last week, facing the best club team in the world three times in your first eight games can reasonably be described as being of the fiery variety. And yet, as Clough pointed out while his Derby County squad completed their preparations for today's FA Cup fifth-round tie at home to Manchester United, it has probably been no bad thing.

"First, the pressure on the players is less than usual because there are no points at stake and people don't expect them to win; and secondly, they're measuring themselves against the best, which usually means they lift their game to the sort of levels you want to see them playing at in every match," Clough said.

Derby's results since they lost the second leg of their Carling Cup semi-final 4-2 at Old Trafford last month bear this out. A draw at home to Nottingham Forest in the Cup was followed by an unfortunate defeat at Birmingham, then there were successive victories over Coventry, at Forestin the replay and away to Plymouth last week. The banter level has risen accordingly at County's impressive training complex.

"It's amazing how three wins changes everyone's perceptions," said Clough. "You wouldn't have heard them a few weeks ago, but they're looking forward to coming in to work again.

"Of course United could dent that, they can put four or five past any team. There's no point worrying about individuals when they have 25 world-class players. You could get murdered whether you sit back or go for them, so you might as well be positive."

Having seen his team score eight goals in those three successive wins, Clough's intention may be understandable, but he acknowledges County's defence will have to provide a solid platform if they are to have any hope of success. In that respect, the clean sheet at Plymouth pleased him almost as much as the three goals scored, although as Derby's goalkeeper Stephen Bywater said, the United examination will be somewhat more severe.

Asked, inevitably, how long he has ever gone without conceding a goal compared to his United counterpart Edwin van der Sar's current record of 1,212 minutes unbeaten in the League, Bywater laughed. "Over the past 18 months, probably about three minutes.What he's done is magnificent, but for me the priority is wins. Someone said to me, the season we got promoted to the Premier League, that Preston goalie Carlo Nash had the most clean sheets. Did they get promoted? No."

At 27, Bywater, a Lancastrian by birth who was signed by West Ham from Rochdale when he was a teenager, has not enjoyed the sort of career many predicted when he, Paul Robinson and Chris Kirkland were in the England Under-21 squad. Injuries, including broken bones in his wrist, have not helped, but Clough's decision to bring him back into the Derby first team at the expense of Roy Carroll has been rewarded with some impressive displays – and a new three-year contract.

"My aim is to play consistently, and be in a similar situation to Robert Green when he was at Norwich, when he played well for a few years and then got a move into the Premier League. I'm still young for a keeper, and I hope to do the same with Derby. Realistically it's going to be tough to reach the play-offs this year, but next season we'll start with a clean sheet."

In the meantime, United await. "We've not really been thinking about the likes of Ronaldo and Rooney, it's a chance to express ourselves," said Bywater. "It's exciting – and you never know in football."

Today's games

Everton v Aston Villa (2.30pm, Setanta Sports 1)

One for old-timers here: a tie between British managers and mainly English players from two clubs with 12 Cup wins. Villa have outstanding away form but the game is less crucial to their season than Everton's.

Derby County v Manchester United (4.30pm, ITV 1)

In Brian Clough's day, Derby would have been favourites. Nigel has it harder, despite the shock of a Carling Cup semi-final first-leg victory the day after he took over. At least they will not have to get past Edwin van der Sar once again, as he will be rested. (The draw for the quarter-finals of the FA Cup will follow this match.)

Steve Tongue

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
News
i100
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
people
Life and Style
techApp to start sending headlines, TV clips and ads to your phone
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment