Derby County play host to Birmingham City on Sunday afternoon desperately requiring three points to boost their chances of avoiding relegation from the Championship.
While the Blues sit 12 points clear of the bottom three, there is still scope for the visitors being dragged into a battle for survival, particularly if they lose out at Pride Park.
As the fight to secure a new owner rumbles on, Wayne Rooney will no doubt be feeling the frustration of knowing that more players will leave Pride Park before Monday’s transfer deadline without the ability to bring in replacements.
Although things could change in their favour at some point, Sunday’s Midlands showdown with Birmingham will realistically mark the game where Derby will be at their strongest for the remainder of the campaign.
That scenario significantly ups the ante as Derby bid to further reduce the eight-point margin to safety, but Rooney has built such a rapport with his players that whoever takes to the pitch on Sunday will back themselves to come through with a maximum return.
Derby’s five-match unbeaten streak in the league came to an end last weekend when they went down to neighbours Nottingham Forest, with Tom Lawrence’s late penalty proving to be a consolation.
Rooney’s side now face a batch of fixtures against either relegation-threatened or playoff-chasing teams, and they will have to dig deep to stay in relatively close proximity to 21st position.
Like their hosts, Birmingham have also been dealing with off-the-field matters, but Lee Bowyer will be delighted that four points were still claimed from pivotal home matches.
While Bowyer would have naturally wanted to defeat each of Barnsley and Peterborough United, avoiding defeat against both teams has significantly strengthened their efforts to stay out of a relegation battle.
Despite sitting in 18th position, Birmingham are as close to the playoffs as they are to the bottom three, and they have shown the ambition to make a late bid for the former with the acquisitions of Juninho Bacuna and Lyle Taylor.
Nevertheless, at a time when Birmingham are attempting to end a three-month wait for an away win, there is a feeling that consolidation and direction both on and off the pitch is all that matters right now.
Derby County Championship form:
Derby County form (all competitions):
Birmingham City Championship form:
Birmingham City form (all competitions):
We say: Derby County 2-1 Birmingham City
There will be a part of Bowyer’s thinking where he considers a draw to be a good result from this contest. However, Blues are facing a side which will push hard for all three points, and that extra desire may serve the Rams well in the closing stages.