There are, Kenny Miller believes, a number of parallels between playing for Scotland and playing for Derby County. Some are obvious; others may not beso apparent.
"When Scotland began the qualifying campaign [for the 2008 European Championship] everybody looked at the teams we were up against and wrote us off," said the former Celtic striker. "Even when we were still in it after a few games, nobody seemed to think we couldget any better. That's a big motivation for any team.
"It's the same here at Derby. All the experts have us down as relegation fodder. Even when we play well, as we did at Fulham last week, I saw some muppets on television describing the game as a good advert for Championship football."
Miller gestures in disgust. "But the point is that we have quality players in the Scottish team, used to playing in the Champions' League with Rangers and Celtic, or in the Premiership. And there are good players here too, getting better all the time."
That, as much as a simple desire to prove the naysayers wrong, is why Miller insists Derby can survive the relegation battle. He reckons that with every game that passes, the members of the Derby squad – many of whom were fighting to avoid relegation to League One 16 months ago – are coming to realise they have the ability to compete at the highest level. "We're clearly progressing. We came away from Fulham not so much pleased to have picked up our first away point as disappointed not to have won, but as with Reading and Bolton, and Newcastle before them, it was another team we matched from whom we know we have nothing to fear. We didn't score, but we created a lot of chances, we were a threat.
"When you're promoted by the play-offs, with just a few weeks before your first match, you're inevitably playing catch-up, the more so when you think how far the club has come. To be in the position where a single win will lift us into mid-table has to be encouraging."
It may be difficult toover-estimate how dearly County's manager, Billy Davies, would like that win to come today, when his team take on Everton at Pride Park, the first of three home matches in their next four games. Miller, who Davies reckoned looked a touch tired at Fulham after flying back from Scotland's defeat in Georgia, concedes he is feeling the benefit of a full week'suninterrupted preparation.
"International trips are refreshing, from the point of view of being with a different set of lads, so mentally it's not a problem, but though I feel as though I've settled quickly, you do need time to develop understandings and partnerships.
"The coaching staff here is top-notch, so at the moment every minute spent on the training ground is useful for me."
Goals in his first game, against Newcastle, and third, against Bolton, have been followed by blanks against Reading and Fulham, so Miller would relish scoring against Everton, the more so because he is likely to be up against his close personal friend Joleon Lescott.
"We became good mates during our time together at Wolves. He was always a seriously good player, so I wasn't surprised to see him play for England, but what has surprised me is that he has started scoring goals. At Wolves we used to tease him because he was always getting into good positions and never scoring."
His intention is to keep Lescott too busy defending to spend much time in the Derby penalty area, though no one at Pride Park will be too concerned how the win comes, as long asit does.
The fact that both Everton's previous Uefa Cup ties were followed by defeats in the Premiership may boost the hopes of Derby supporters, but the successful return from injury of Tim Cahill gives David Moyes' team a sharper edge, and with County suffering something of an injury crisis among their central defenders – Claude Davis and Dean Leacock are doubtful, and Andy Todd is definitely out – attack may be the best form of defence for the Rams.
For all the brave talk of finishing higher than 17th, Miller admits that he would take staying up on the last day of the season, especially if it was achieved in the knowledge that he would then be heading off for a summer with Scotland in the European Championship.
"That would be a dream. But we could be safe before the last game too."Reuse content