Welcome relief for Rams

STRUGGLING Derby County see today's FA Cup action against Ipswich Town as a bit of light relief in the midst of a survival battle, writes Derek Davis.The Rams are four points adrift from safety in Division One after last weekend's 4-0 home defeat against Norwich City.

STRUGGLING Derby County see today's FA Cup action against Ipswich Town as a bit of light relief in the midst of a survival battle, writes Derek Davis.

The Rams are four points adrift from safety in Division One after last weekend's 4-0 home defeat against Norwich City.

Central defender Michael Johnson is looking forward to a more relaxed game of football before getting stuck back into the nitty-gritty of relegation avoidance.

He said: "We have got a battle on our hands to stay in Division One.


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"We have come out of two important games with only a point and we know it's going to be tough.

"The games against Stoke City and Gillingham are going to be real six-pointers and I think this break from the league has come at a good time.

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"The cup game will come as a bit of light relief to us. Some of the players need to have a little break from our struggles in the league."

The Rams are ready to give a debut to a Spaniard called Manel with on-loan Pompey striker Lee Bradbury struggling with a thigh strain.

Manel, full name Manuel Martinez Fernandez, has been training with County after being released by Espanyol.

Finland defender Simo Valakari is hopeful of being fit after a hip injury, which has kept him out of the past two games and he has not started for Derby since the defeat at Portman Road.

An FA Cup run is important to Derby, not just for the prize-money but to lift confidence.

The last time County progressed past the third round was in 1999 when Arsenal beat them in the quarter-finals. Defeats by lower division sides have blighted their past four seasons.

Like all cash-strapped clubs, Derby are vulnerable to offers for their good young prospects with Darren Bent's England Under-21 team-mate Lee Grant one of those keepers watched by Manchester City.

Teenagers Tom Huddlestone and Lee Holmes have also been linked with Premiership clubs this season.

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