Frank Lampard admits it is “do or die” for his Derby squad as they look toend their play-off curse.
Lampard is facing the biggest game of his emerging managerial career in the crucial second leg against Leeds and has sent a stirring message to his players as Derby bid to recover a 1-0 deficit.
Derby have suffered heartbreak in three of the previous five seasons at the play-off stage and their young squad are preparing for a hostile atmosphere at Elland Road.
And Lampard has told his players to relish the challenge of upsetting Leeds in front of their own fans to secure a Championship play-off final at Wembley.
“These games are critical, the pressure games that will define us. A game mid-season may not be but these games are do or die and that brings the jeopardy in. They separate the men from the boys as such,” he said.
“I want them to come off the pitch having given everything. These are the matches the players, when they were young boys, were dreaming about.
“For the players who have been here a while, this means a lot for them. They have been trying for a few years, some of them. The last thing you want to do is come away say, ‘We could have done something.’
“We have played at Elland Road before and at some fierce grounds this season and it is something the players will need to be ready for, to know what is coming.”
Derby’s hopes of securing a result could rest on their young loan stars, Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori from Chelsea, and Liverpool’s Harry Wilson.
The trio will return to their Premier League clubs this summer and Lampard is challenging them to sign off with a flourish.
“We have some younger players who are on loan who might go back to their parent clubs, but what a chance for them in their own careers to lay down a marker and to feel a game like this,” he said.
“If they are going to be successful as they want to be there will be more of this and bigger and better than these games potentially for some of them if they go to the higher end of the Premier League or European football.”
Derby will head into the game with a burning sense of injustice after Saturday’s first leg, in which a penalty was awarded by referee Craig Pawson before the decision was overturned on the advice of his assistant.
And Lampard is calling for cool heads as Derby bid to avoid a fourth defeat of the season against Marcelo Bielsa.
He said: “It could take one mad moment, so it has to be a passion and a drive that’s controlled. One moment can change the game, particularly when you’re away from home because of the element of the home crowd and the pressure that can put on the officials heightens that from our point of view.
“So we must make sure we do the right things, show absolute desire in football terms, without over-stepping the mark.”
Derby's probable team: Roos; Bogle, Tomori, Keogh, Malone; Holmes, Johnson, Mount; Wilson, Nugent, Lawrence
Featured from our writers: