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09 December 2023

Rams set to fight

Derby manager Nigel Clough celebrated a win over Manchester United in his first match in charge and will hope to repeat the feat. (GETTY IMAGES)

By Ahmad Lala

With Manchester United scheduled to turn out for their fourth game in 12 days in Tuesday's Carling Cup semi-final, Derby have a golden chance to book their trip to Wembley.

Ordinarily, Sir Alex Ferguson would put this competition at the bottom of his list of priorities with today's Premier League game against Bolton and next Saturday's FA Cup clash with Tottenham Hotspur arguably viewed as the more important fixtures.

However, the fact that he is two wins away from a 23rd trophy with United adds an interesting spin to the equation and the Scot may well choose to employ a rotation policy that will allow him to utilise some of his best players in all three games.

Derby's new boss Nigel Clough, whose first match in charge was in the first leg, will be hoping the Red Devils decide to play their youngsters – as is the usual policy from Ferguson in the Carling Cup.

The Rams have a goal advantage from the first leg, thanks to a Kris Commons strike, and unlike the Premier League and Champions League holders, who are challenging on four fronts at present, they sit in 18th position in the Championship table and will in all likelihood approach this game as if it was the Cup final itself.

Victory, if achieved, will be sweet for Derby, who spent the better part of last season propping up the Premier League table. They were relegated as 'the worst team ever in top-flight history' after collecting a mere 11 points, with only one win in 38 games. They certainly owe their beleaguered fans some cheer.

One man who definitely won't be fielding an understrength team in the other semi-final on Wednesday is Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp. The former Portsmouth manager won only his first trophy in 32 years of management when Pompey clinched the FA Cup last season.

A chance to claim trophy number two less than a year later will be an opportunity Redknapp will not want to miss. His team are virtually all but through to the final after a 4-1 win against Burnley in the first leg.

Goals by Michael Dawson, Jamie O'Hara, Roman Pavlyuchenko and an own goal by Michael Duff cancelled out an early Martin Paterson strike to give Spurs a massive advantage.

The defending Carling Cup champions will not want to underestimate the Championship side though, as they have already knocked out Chelsea, Arsenal and Fulham in earlier stages, but it will take some doing to overcome the three goal deficit and Burnley's fairytale looks set to come to a disappointing end.

"It's not over yet," Redknapp warned his players. "But if we can't defend a three-goal lead then there is something wrong, let's be honest."

Stranger things have happened though – especially when Spurs are involved.