As we come to the business end of the season, there is still an awful lot up for grabs in the Championship in terms of promotion and relegation. However, it looks like it could be the same old story for Derby County who have slipped out of the play-off places and are in danger of missing out on another chance of promotion to Premier League.
The Rams have not been in the top flight since 2008, and it looks like they will not be returning next season. Their form has been dreadful since the turn of the year, as they have picked up just four wins and their promotion challenge has taken a significant hit. They even suffered losses to relegation-threatened sides Sunderland and Burton Albion.
The question for Gary Rowett and his staff is how they can rejuvenate the side to keep up hopes of grabbing a playoff place because with games against Cardiff City, Aston Villa, Barnsley and Middlesbrough remaining they may struggle to find their early-season swagger.
It looked like it was going to be Derby’s year as they had not been out of the playoff places since their 17th game but things have changed as they now sit 7th place behind Millwall. So can they turn it around?
Of course, they can. The beauty of the Championship is its unpredictability and Derby are a very good side who have an excellent array of talent in their side. They have the top goal scorer in the league in Matej Vydra, vast experience in goal with Scott Carson and a game changer in the exciting Tom Lawrence.
However, their mentality will come into question. They have failed in the playoffs twice in the past four seasons in the semi-final and final. But they have also finished just outside the playoffs twice; once having been in a commanding position just like they are this season.
There may only be Richard Keogh left from the Steve McClaren side that jolted near the end of the season, but there is an atmosphere at the iPro Stadium. There is a real feeling of pressure and want that has eaten away at the confidence of the players. Derby fans are sensing it is same old, same old with Derby. They would have been hoping for automatic promotion so they can avoid the stigma of the playoffs.
It will be a case of how do they conduct themselves now. They have tough games against three sides higher in the league than them and all in better form. They hope to pick up as many points as possible starting with a massive 6 point promotion clash with Middlesbrough at home. However, even if they do make the playoffs this season, it will feel like a disappointment having been in 2nd place for six weeks before February.