Burley sets Derby target of five wins to preserve status

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The Independent Football

George Burley, the Derby County manager, believes his side will need to win at least five of their remaining 12 matches to stand a realistic chance of staying in the First Division, an order which some sceptics believe is a tall one given the Rams' form not just recently but over the last 18 months.

The struggling East Midlanders have achieved only five wins in their last 24 League matches and to isolate a sequence of 12 Derby games that includes the requisite five victories it is necessary to go back to the middle part of last season.

None the less, Burley believes improvement is possible and he raised the stakes in the relegation battle with two significant signings this week, bringing in the experienced former Southampton and Blackburn Rovers defender Jeff Kenna from Birmingham City on a free transfer and recruiting Paul Peschisolido, the one-time Birmingham striker, who had turned down a new contract with Sheffield United.

Their availability was timely, given that Derby have used all their eight loan options for the season.

Kenna, a 33-year-old Republic of Ireland international, will bring know-how to a largely inexperienced back four. Like the 32-year-old Peschisolido, who leaves Bramall Lane despite scoring nine goals from only 12 starts this season, he was offered the lure a two-year contract at Pride Park.

Derby have a poor goals record this season. Among their forwards, Lee Morris is the most successful but has only five goals and no other striker has more than three, although Junior, the Brazilian acquired from Walsall last summer, might have done better had he not been injured after only seven appearances.

Their remaining fixtures offer scope for Burley to achieve his five-win target but there are precious few "bankers" among them. They ought to regard Bradford City at home in that category as well as Wimbledon away but the latter is on the final day of the season, when Burley would prefer not to be seeking a vital three points.

Given Derby's dreadful away record - eight defeats in their last 11 games - they can probably write off as lost the trips to Sheffield United, Sunderland and West Ham United, while Burnley and Watford will be favourites on their own territory.

Of the Rams' home programme, Walsall, Bradford and Nottingham Forest - due at Pride Park a week today - are all scrapping for survival, while Preston North End and Millwall still have promotion ambitions. All of which means that victory in today's home match with Rotherham, themselves still not safe, looks essential.

The same remark probably applies to Walsall, Bradford and Forest, all of whom are at home today. Walsall may throw Paul Merson back into the fray against Wimbledon only two days after returning to training after his stay in an addiction clinic, but Joe Kinnear, the Forest manager, has decided against recalling the striker David Johnson to face Crystal Palace after his return to action in the reserves in midweek.

Bradford welcome their former manager Paul Jewell back to Valley Parade, but his ambitious Wigan side will see the trip as a chance to restart their promotion drive after last weekend's surprise home defeat to Crewe.