DUFFERS' DERBY DIARIES: Rams on a roll as international break looms
Three wins in a row, all of them without conceding a goal, have given Derby County's season a real injection of positivity.
It wasn't in dire need of it, as despite some lacklustre displays early on there was still plenty of cause for optimism as Frank Lampard's squad settled and his style of football became more familiar.
Nevertheless, the league wins over Ipswich and Preston and the comfortable dismantling of an admittedly weak Hull City side in the Carabao Cup will have done wonders for morale both on the pitch and in the stands.
A return to Hull on Saturday will precede a two-week international break, so another win there would complete a great couple of weeks and give the Rams plenty to build on when they go to Rotherham on September 15.
A few factors have helped the Rams in recent weeks. The novelty of Lampard being the man at the helm is gradually wearing off - the number of journalists at the weekly pre-match press conferences, for example, have dwindled and while Lampard himself no doubt remains a little tired of hearing his name attached with every mention of Derby County in some quarters, his team winning games will be a far better way to divert attention onto his players instead of defeats perhaps risking the opposite.
Another factor is the younger players in the squad learning fast. The youthful nature of the Rams side risked a degree of naivety and that has been evident at various times, but it was something that was only going to improve the more games those young players played, and with surprise packages like Jayden Bogle also having come to the fore, Lampard's desire to 'go young' could well pay great dividends moving forwards.
That will also rely on the more experienced players keeping up their end of the bargain, especially in defence. Richard Keogh struggled a lot in the early games but hopefully his better display against Preston, capped with a rare goal, will help him improve and become the key player he undoubtedly is when in form. Curtis Davies' return will be most welcome when he's ready, although Fikayo Tomori looks a class act and it may be a case of who he partners at centre-back rather than him being the one to stand aside.
As for elsewhere on the pitch, Mason Mount is clearly seen by Lampard as being a player in the manager's own mould and his potential, as emphasised already by the season he had in Holland last year, is huge. Having Lampard coaching him in this key season in his career will only help him and he's improving every game. Tom Huddlestone still, in my eyes, is the best option to play in front of the back four when he's fit although Joe Ledley impressed in his absence and Bradley Johnson too remains a viable option if he can remain consistent. George Evans is, of course, injured for now but will again offer good options.
The centre-forward position remains one where Lampard almost has too many good options for what has been one starting berth. Martyn Waghorn needed that first goal against Hull on Tuesday and one assumes he is the number one option for Lampard given his record in the Championship last season, although David Nugent isn't far behind having started the last two league games.
Jack Marriott needs regular games if he's to find the scoring touch that helped get him his move but it's hard to see where he'll get those games unless injuries give him a chance. Short substitute appearances won't do him too many favours.
Cameron Jerome could be on his way to Turkey on loan before the week is out and I'd be surprised if Chris Martin is still on the scene come Saturday too given he's surely too good to be ignored by a Championship or League One club in need of a good quality but out-of-favour striker.
Going into the international break with another good display and result will be a massive boost for Lampard and his players. It'll be a very different game to that they faced on Tuesday given Hull's strongest side and plenty more fans will no doubt be more in evidence, but the Rams are on a roll and will carry little fear as they head back north.