Clough confident of defending Derby lead at Old Trafford

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The Independent Football

His father would have doubtless had an adage for the way that a week or so can drown any footballer manager's delusions of grandeur.

It probably seems a lifetime, not a fortnight, since Nigel Clough's arrival at Derby County coincided with the magnificent 1-0 Carling Cup semi-final first leg win against Manchester United but the crashing 2-0 defeat at home to Queen's Park Rangers on Saturday provided the reality check. That defeat, Clough reflected as he prepared for tonight's journey to Old Trafford, was worse than anything his old side Burton Albion might have achieved – lowering the Rams to two points above the relegation zone.

"We have come from dealing with players three or four leagues down but there were things going on [on Saturday] – basic things, that lads at the level we used to be at were better at," Clough said. "There wasn't a spark out there and defensively the two goals were very poor from our point of view. I've been in a state of shock for the last 48 hours."

United, who may give the Serbian signing Zoran Tosic a debut after his £8m move from Partizan Belgrade, look capable of making good that deficit with some ease but Clough has memories of the famous draw he achieved at Old Trafford with Burton two years back and has impressed on his players that a draw is all they need. "We are not sure what side they will put out but we are certainly capable of getting a result there, whether it be a draw to hang on to the lead or whatever," said Clough, who has Paul Connolly and Jordan Stewart back from suspension.

"It is a long, long time since Derby have been to Wembley," Clough added. "That is the incentive and it should spur everyone on in training. We have got to look after the lead – so we won't be playing three up front – but you can't defend for 90 minutes at Old Trafford. When we get the opportunity to go forward we have to. We must have an element of a threat going forward in order to try to get us a goal. If we could get a goal at any point, that would make their job that much more difficult. We don't need a win, we only need a draw and then we have a big Cup game [against Nottingham Forest] on Friday. Anything at all would give the players a great boost."

Sir Alex Ferguson has pledged to field a youthful line-up, so Darron Gibson, Rodrigo Possebon, Rafael and Danny Welbeck can also all expect to play a prominent part. However, the Scot did introduce Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo during the second half at Pride Park, so a strong bench can be anticipated as well should United find trouble overcoming the Coca-Cola Championship side. Edwin van der Sar and Dimitar Berbatov have the night off.